An Act of Desperation or a Political Act? Migrant Protest in Greece

Wednesday, July 12, 2017
Gilbert Scott Conference Room - 250 (University of Glasgow)
Georgios Karyotis , Politics, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow
Stratos Patrikios , School of Government and Public Policy, University of Strathclyde
Dimitris Skleparis , Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP)
Predating both the austerity and the refugee crises, Greece has been facing a migration crisis since the early 1990s, when it unexpectedly became a de facto host country. Against this backdrop, 300 immigrants commenced a hunger strike in January 2011, which lasted for 44 days. Protesters sought to bring attention to their dire living conditions, exacerbated by the economic crisis and inadequate state immigration policies. Through face to face interviews with migrant protesters, this paper seeks to analyse how they got mobilised and explore both their retrospective evaluations and their emotions in relation to the protest action. It distinguishes between political action as a function of instrumental rationality with the aim of maximising individual utility, and political action as the reflection of expressive concerns. Drawing on this distinction, the paper contributes to the more general and longstanding debate regarding the relative validity of utilitarian and affective explanations of political behaviour. The analysis demonstrates that the hunger strike was not an act of desperation, but a political, rational and ideologically defined act. In particular, our findings suggest that the most radical types of protest activity may best be explained as self-interested behaviour, challenging conventional public understandings of such events as driven by affective factors.