Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 July 2012
In 1991, barricades in the streets of Rīga, Latvia, shielded important landmarks from Soviet military units looking to prevent the dissolution of the USSR; in 2006, barricades in the streets of Oaxaca, Mexico, defended members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca from paramilitary incursions. We employ these two cases to compare the historically specific public socialities and politics formed through spatial and material practices in moments of crisis and in their aftermath. We show how the barricades continue to animate social and political formations and imaginaries, providing a sense of both past solidarity and future possibilities against which the present, including the state of the polity and the life of the people, are assessed. We trace the convergences and differences of political imaginaries of barricade sociality that formed in the barricades’ aftermath and consider what their transformative potential might be. Attentive to the specificity of particular practices and social relations that produce a collective subject, we consider how our case studies might inform broader questions about social collectives like the nation and publics. Though they point in different directions, we argue that the barricades provide an enabling position from which to imagine and organize collective life otherwise. In a moment when much mainstream political activism remains spellbound by the allure of discourses of democracy that promise power to the people, the Mexico and Latvia cases provide examples of social life that exceeded both state-based notions of collectives and what Michael Warner has called “state-based thinking,” even as they were also entangled with state-based frames.