Creating Space by Spreading Atmospheres: Protest Movements From a Phenomenological Perspective


  • Sandrine Gukelberger Universität Konstanz
  • Christian Meyer Universität Konstanz



phenomenological sociology, sociology of space, refiguration of spaces, social movements, protest cultures, atmospheres, province of meaning, appropriation of spaces, Senegal, South Africa, ethnography, video analysis


How are spaces constituted through social action, and how do they constitute social action? We address these questions by studying how protesters appropriate spaces by occupying streets and public buildings and by spreading specific atmospheres. We apply Alfred SCHÜTZ's phenomenological take on the constitution of multiple realities in terms of "province of meaning" as a heuristic device to capture the diversity of protest atmospheres along with their spatial, affective, and epistemic dimensions—those embodied and situated as well as virtual. This perspective allows us to describe empirical examples of protest situations in South Africa and Senegal where "the streets" and the media meet. Our research material spans documents, tweets, video material collected online, and ethnographic interviews. In this article, we look at how embodied practices reproduce and manifest particular "provinces of meaning" and "protest atmospheres," and how these embodied practices are complemented by social media practices. Our proposed approach not only provides an example of how a social space is created and refigured through social protest, but also allows a further understanding of the situational emergence of protests as collective action that creates "we-experiences." The phenomenological perspective goes beyond the widespread mind/body dualism that underlies so many interpretations of social movement culture.


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Author Biographies

Sandrine Gukelberger, Universität Konstanz

Sandrine GUKELBERGER works at the Department of History and Sociology at the University of Konstanz as one of the principal investigators in the DFG-funded research project "Jugendbewegungen und der Wandel des Politischen" [Youth Movements and Political Change]. In her main research she focuses on urban theory, protest and social movement theory, postcolonial cultural studies, gender studies, and ethnographic methodologies. Her book "Urban Politics after Apartheid" was published by Routledge in 2018.

Christian Meyer, Universität Konstanz

Christian MEYER is Chair of general and cultural sociology at the University of Konstanz. Having conducted extensive fieldwork in Senegal on everyday life and village politics, he co-directs the DFG-research project on "Jugendbewegungen und der Wandel des Politischen" [Youth Movements and Political Change]. His research interests focus on social theory, phenomenological sociology and ethnomethodology, interaction, culture and practice, and qualitative methodology. His newest book is "Culture, Practice, and the Body" (Metzler, 2018).




How to Cite

Gukelberger, S., & Meyer, C. (2021). Creating Space by Spreading Atmospheres: Protest Movements From a Phenomenological Perspective. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 22(3).



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