Alienation, protest and the idea of a manifesto

The principal aim of this period of writing and research is to complete a chapter from a short book, tentatively entitled Marx@Marikana: Reading Marx in South Africa today. The book as a whole is made up of an Introduction, Conclusion and four core chapters (‘The Constitutional Imperative’, ‘Press Freedom’, ‘Alienation, Protest and the Idea of a Manifesto’, ‘Representing Marikana’). The time at STIAS will be spent on the preparation of a final draft of Chapter Three ‘Alienation, protest and the idea of a manifesto’.

This chapter examines the recent swathe of student protests under the rubric of the protest-manifesto. It argues that while mobilisation through social media has strengthened the reach and immediacy of protest, it has perhaps weakened the capacity for analysis and reflection associated with the manifesto form. It shows how the tensions between action and contemplation (which reach their highest point in the Theses on Feuerbach) are resolved in and through the form of the manifesto, and how its active interpellation of social agents is enabled by forms of theoretical analysis and historical narration. In going beyond the idea of protest as simply the expression of alienation, Marx’s arguments point to the need to situate student protest in contemporary South Africa in an analysis and understanding of the higher education system as a complex totality.

(For a preliminary sketch of the proposed analysis, see

Project leader(s):
  • Higgins, John (University of Cape Town)

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