Last month The Guardian newspaper ran an article entitled ‘How Punk Changed Cities – and Vice Versa’. The article, while focusing upon Punk music from the mid-1970s until the present, expands the idea of Punk beyond the riffs of Suburban Disease, Crass and the like, to include a wealth of socio-cultural and political activities that make up what has been termed D.I.Y. Counterculture. One such activity is setting up and running ‘autonomy centres’. Sometimes referred to as social centres, these D.I.Y. spaces are nodal points of creativity for this decentralised and diverse scene. (I use the term scene to capture a range of cultural tropes that link this collection of groups and individuals). According to the Guardian article, these centres are beginning to emerge as important places for those whose politics stands in direct opposition to the extremes of the far-right and the post-politics of the mainstream party system.
Autonomy centres have sprung up all over Europe and the US over the last century or so and each centre has its own story, very much related to the towns and cities they are found in. What follows is a very short history and geography of European autonomy centres and the autonomous scene in Europe more widely (for further insight see Chatterton, 2008 and Miguel Angel Martinez Lopez, 2016). Three waves of autonomy centre activity preceded the latest centres mentioned in the Guardian article. Understanding the political dynamic within today’s centres and what purpose they might serve is made easier through understanding their history.
The first wave: socialism from below:
The second wave: reclaiming the city
The third wave: re-territorializing struggle
A fourth wave …