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Cracking Under Pressure

Cracking Under Pressure: Narrating the Decline of the Amsterdam Squatters' Movement

Lynn Owens
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  • Book Info
    Cracking Under Pressure
    Book Description:

    What goes up must come down, and social movements are not immune to this rule. Yet most academic studies have focused almost exclusively on the emergence of movements, paying less attention to decline. But decline is an important, and active, period for any mobilisation, as all activists know. This book broadens and enriches social movement theory through a close investigation of the fate of the squatters' movement in Amsterdam. Responding to the housing shortage of the 1960s, the movement emerged in the late 1970s, peaked in the early 1980s, before falling into a period of prolonged decline. Owens explores how the movement declines, focusing on the subjective experience and culture of decline.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0644-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. 11-41)

    The mood in Amsterdam in 1982 was tense, but electric. An economic slump, coupled with a severe housing shortage, bogged down the city. Amsterdammers were tired and frustrated. But change was in the air. The squatters’ movement challenged this dreary status quo, demanding housing for everyone – housing as a space to live, but also as a place tolive. They made big promises, and with their massive protests and clever tactics, they were beginning to deliver. They had convinced not only themselves but also many in the larger public that they stood on the threshold of toppling the existing...

  2. 1 Radicalization: The Birth of the Squatters’ Movement
    (pp. 43-87)

    Tanks rolled through the streets of Amsterdam early on the morning of Monday 3 March 1980 (Andreisson 1981). They moved toward the corner of the Vondelstraat and Constantijn Huygenstraat, through a normally quiet neighborhood near the Vondelpark. Authorities wanted to clear out the large group of squatters who had occupied the building over the weekend, beating back the police in the process. But negotiations went nowhere, as squatters threw up one obstacle after another to compromise. They then set their aims on the only obstacle they knew they could overcome: the barricades blocking the streets and protecting the squat. Behind...

  3. 2 Luck Runs Out
    (pp. 89-131)

    Narratives are powerful tools that social movements use to interpret events, forge identities, and plot strategies (Davis 2001; Polletta 2006). People understand the world not simply through ideologies, but through stories. A key strength of narratives is their flexibility. Since they are based on a theory of historical or chronological progression, they lend themselves to smoothly incorporating new events. Plots twist, or, more significantly, plots can be twisted in order to rescue a narrative from seemingly contradictory evidence. This is what happened following the events of April 30, 1980. The movement, and the radicalization narrative that defined it, dodged a...

  4. 3 Holiday Inn, Wijers Out
    (pp. 133-169)

    Wijers is a large Dutch textile manufacturing company, which had operated a factory at the corner of the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and the Nieuwendijk in Amsterdam since the early 1900s. Due to increasing costs incurred in maintaining an older factory in the city, they relocated in 1978 to a new location outside of Amsterdam. For three years, the sprawling complex, consisting of a seven- story main building and 16 smaller buildings with over 170,000 square feet of floor space, sat empty. The empty building represented the myriad problems of the city: an abandoned downtown, housing shortages, loss of jobs, wasted empty...

  5. 4 Death in the Movement, Death of the Movement
    (pp. 171-217)

    Hans Kok was found dead in his jail cell on Friday afternoon, October 25, 1985. Kok, a 23-year-old squatter from the Staatslieden district, had been arrested the previous night, along with 31 other activists, after a failed attempt to re-squat a building recently evicted by the police. A popular fixture in the neighborhood squatting and music scene, Kok had been severely beaten during the struggle with police while being taken into custody. The police claimed he had already been dead several hours by the time he was discovered.Official time of death: 10 a.m. The official cause was a methadone overdose...

  6. 5 The End: Now, Near, or Never?
    (pp. 219-251)

    Where will it all end? The battles that erupted inside the squatters’ movement in the late 1980s centered on whether the movement had reached its end, but also, just as importantly, on the question of when and how the movement had actually emerged. In other words, this conflict went beyond any efforts to merely control the strategic choices of the movement towards an attempt to produce the final word over what the movement was, what it had been, and what it would become. Although the original questions were more tactical (“What are we doing?”), they ultimately became more existential (“Who...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 253-274)

    Movement is always a complex balancing act. Walking, no matter how easy it looks, is perhaps best described as “controlled falling.” To remain upright and moving forward requires an enormous amount of concentration and coordination. Yet movement seems to come so effortlessly. It takes an unexpected shock to force us back to attention. A stumble or a fall shakes us up, causing us to think more closely about how we are moving. The challenges and complexities of movement help explain why changes in mobility are used to denote critical life transitions. Learning to walk marks one of the great achievements...