Toward a City of Friends

Affinity, Autonomy, and Social Movements


Much of the story of friendship and movements starts with the concept of affinity among “small, face-to-face groups that form the basic units for a protest” (Kauffman, 2002, p. 36). Here organizers work in autonomous units of sometimes five to ten people instead of bureaucratic structures. Autonomous movements tend to steer clear of professionalized models of advocacy or party politics, functioning as “rejection[s] of the mediation of struggles by institutional forms, especially since representation and mediation are all too often the first step in the recuperation of these struggles” (Shukaitis, 2009, p. 17). Such movements are characterized by “nonhierarchical organization, horizontal communication and relationships, and the necessity of individual autonomy in relation to collectivity” (p. 17). Flexible rather than rule bound, countless groups, including the Spanish Anarchists and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) working groups, followed this model of engagement among like-minded peers (Kauffman, 2002; Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers, 1968). Here companeros meet, share space and expertise, and take care of each other as equals (Sitrin, 2006). These phenomena extend around the globe and across time.


Social Movement Harm Reduction Affinity Group Syringe Exchange Civic Life 
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© Benjamin Shepard 2015

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