The autonomous life?

Paradoxes of hierarchy and authority in the squatters movement in Amsterdam

By Nazima Kadir

The autonomous life?


  • Hardcover

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-7849-9411-2
  • Pages: 232
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £19.99
  • Published Date: June 2016
  • BIC Category: SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural, POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Ideologies / Anarchism, Society & social sciences / Social & cultural anthropology, ethnography, Society & social sciences / Anarchism, Anthropology, Social & cultural anthropology, Anarchism
  • Series: Contemporary Anarchist Studies


The Autonomous Life? is an ethnography of the squatters' movement in Amsterdam written by an anthropologist who lived and worked in a squatters' community for over three years. During that time she resided as a squatter in four different houses, worked on two successful anti-gentrification campaigns, was evicted from two houses and jailed once. With this unique perspective, Kadir systematically examines the contradiction between what people say and what they practice in a highly ideological radicalleftcommunity. The squatters' movement defines itself primarily as anti-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian, and yet is perpetually plagued by the contradiction between this public disavowal and the maintenance of hierarchy and authority within the movement. This study analyses how this contradiction is then reproduced in different micro-social interactions, examining the methods by which people negotiate minute details of their daily lives as squatter activists in the face of a fun house mirror of ideological expectations reflecting values from within the squatter community, that, in turn, often refract mainstream, middle-class norms.

Using a unique critical perspective informed by gender and subaltern studies, this study contributes to social movements literature through a meticulous analysis of the production of power and hierarchy in a social movement subculture.


'This is far and away the best ethnography of a squatters movement, or really any European anti-authoritarian movement, I have yet to come across. Nazima Kadir's bold interrogation of the concept of "autonomy" alone is well worth the ticket. But the book is much more. Combining vivid and sensitive ethnography with a willingness to ask challenging and fundamental questions about contemporary anti-authoritarian ideas, this book does everything good anthropology - the best anthropology - should do. I hope it provides a model for the ethnography of social movements in the future.'

David Graeber, Professor at the London School of Economics, activist and author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011) and The Democracy Project (2014)


1. Squatter capital
2. The habitus of emotional sovereignty
3. 'Showing commitment' and emotional management
4. Liminal adolescence or entrapping marginality?


Nazima Kadir is an Urban Anthropologist based in London. Prior to squatting houses in Amsterdam, she received awards from the Fulbright program and the National Science Foundation

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