Constructing Alternatives: Envisioning a Critical Psychology of Prefigurative Politics


  • Carlie D. Trott


Psychological contributions to social movement scholarship have disproportionately concentrated on a "politics of demand", rather than on a "politics of the act", or prefigurative politics. Prefigurative actors, rather than making demands of power-holders, take direct action aimed at creating change in the ‘here and now’ by constructing alternative modes of being and interacting that reflect a given movement’s desired social transformations. Given that the prefigurative process takes place within and between individuals—with aims of changing the macrostructure by altering micro-relations—psychological perspectives are imperative to their understanding. Despite relevant theories and concepts, a psychology of prefiguration has yet to emerge. This theoretical discussion explores several reasons why prefigurative practices have been largely overlooked and at times misunderstood within mainstream social movement scholarship, traces the distinctive dimensions of prefiguration deserving of further (especially psychological) inquiry, and calls for methodological techniques both responsive to the context-driven nature of prefigurative praxis and consistent with the ‘bottom-up’ approach embodied within these unique spaces of resistance. After highlighting important points of disjuncture and possibility within the study of prefiguration, this discussion offers critical questions and methods aimed to envision and invigorate a critical psychology of prefigurative politics.