Nuit Debout as Heterotopia: Some Early Thoughts


Since March 31st, protestors in the Place de La République in Paris have been convening every evening, staying in place the full night as part of the ‘Nuit Debout’ protests. The protests, which began in opposition to the ‘Loi Travail’ labour laws, form part of the wider series of anti-austerity, anti-neoliberalist protests by young people in Europe that date back to the Occupy movement. Indeed, ‘Nuit Debout’ translates roughly as ‘here all night’ and this implies a strength and permanence that the term occupy also sought.

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Image published on Twitter by Céline Burr, @CygneDistinctif (no affiliation)

As this image of events scheduled for one night of protests shows, the protests have spread to discuss a wide-range of issues (a ‘climate commission’ and a ‘feminist commission’ are shown).  The Nuit Debout movement is evolving into a movement for discussion and debate aimed at creating, as one protestor told Le Monde, “a new form of collective”.

These protestors are making several interesting uses of ‘night’. Spending time with people in darkness is more intimate than daylight, as we can’t as clearly distinguish between people, objects and the environment. Ideas, sounds and sensations thus more easily flow between people, generating a closeness. Added to this, the protests have incorporated impromptu concerts, debates and other events, more easily held in night as a time associated with leisure. This intimacy in combination with a relaxed atmosphere creates a moment, space-time for discussion and conversation among strangers.  Michel Foucault describes such places as ‘heterotopias’, moments which operate outside of the normal rules of hegemony. For Nuit Debout, the night is key to making this a heterotopia

Protesting at night is, in many ways, more disruptive than protesting in the day. Power tends to be less centralized as high-ranking officials sleep and rest – there is a vacuum into which the protestors can step. Fewer police and other state agents are in work, so to respond to the protests rotas must be altered, overtime arranged, and this will clearly have impacts beyond the protest itself. For people who work, night-time protesting is crucial to allowing the protests to continue over several days, without disrupting their working lives. As the Occupy movements discovered, presence at night seems to have a suggestion of strength and permanence to it that day does not: our association of night with home, as a time where things return to their ‘proper place’, seems to transfer to the protestors, offering an image of them as perhaps more serious and important.

The Nuit Debout protests spread across France and to some other European cities on the weekend of the 9th/10th April. Protestors were dispersed from La Place de la République on the morning of Monday 11th at 05:30, but the Nuit Debout website promises a return this evening. We shall wait and see whether the protestors continue to make use of the unique qualities of the urban night.

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3 thoughts on “Nuit Debout as Heterotopia: Some Early Thoughts

  1. Pingback: Nuit Debout as Heterotopia: Some Early Thoughts (2016) | Foucault News

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