Mar 4, 2015

geographers on and with social movements

I have a chapter in the forthcoming new edition of the Blackwell Companion to Political Geography on social movements.  A long version of it is available here and I have hopes that it could be interesting and useful not just to geographers but also to activists and other academics interested in social change. It comes with a collaborative zotero bibliography that you can add to.

Rather than an abstract, below are some nuggets from it:


... Social movement is not a clearly defined or well agreed upon category for collective action and organizing for social change, and that is true in geography too (Keith & Pile 1997, Routledge & Cumbers 2009. McCarthy 2011, Chatterton et al 2013). What counts as a social movement, how to categorize them, and even what they should be called, have been contested, both by academics and by activists - sometimes for theoretical or methodological reasons, sometimes for political or ethical ones. Issues have included: How many groups does it take to count as a movement? Do they have to be connected and/or coordinated? Do they have to be effective at creating social change to count? Can groups have paid staff? Can they be involved in electoral campaigns? Can they take up arms? Engage in property destruction? What if groups have no office, or no formal structure? ...


... These are not “new social movements”, a term that is now fairly old, and broadly refers to movements shifting in the 60s to be more cross-class, issue specific, and tied to identity (though, for example, women’s and gay rights organizing happened before then, but the argument is that these changed and flourished at that time). There are plenty of critiques of the term, for example, environmentalism is not really about identity per se, but the term continues to be widely used academically. Entertainingly the recent shift has been referred to as the ‘new new’ movements (Feixa, Pereira, and Juris 2009), but that term has not caught on....
 
... New ICT (information and communication technology) tools are yet again changing the look and feel of organizing and what it means to ‘do’ politics. As burgeoning smart phone use makes the internet available to many more people in the global South these dynamics are growing fast. But widespread autonomous horizontal organizing in many ways similar to this recent wave in the global North also has a longer history in Latin America on the other side of the digital divide, notably in the El Alto uprising in Bolivia in 2005 and the ‘Que se vayan todos’ (throw them all out) uprising in Argentina in 2001. But these were not entirely without ICTs of a sort, for pirate and community radio stations have played an important role in organizing throughout Latin America. ...


... Whether they use the term movement, network, NGO, contentious, collective, or connective action, what geographers have brought to understanding the work of movements is a focus on space. Social movement studies had until recently tended to write about movements as if they happened ‘on the head of a pin’ (Nicholls 2007). Geographers have asked, how do movements use space, how does space shape movements, and how do movements shape space? We have used different spatial concepts to get at this: place, networks, and scale in particular, though also sometimes territory, city, and region. Nicholls, Miller, and Beaumont (2013) argue that in the 1930s to 1950s it tended to be region, 1960-1970s: space, 1980s: place, 1990s-2000s: scale, and now networks and mobility, and they offer a helpful review of how each has been taken up for movement studies....


... Through their work on, with, and across social movements, geographers have also contributed to broader debates about the spatialities of solidarity. Much of political geography is about the relationship between here and there, us and them. Some of what political geographers have offered, as I will review here, is a perspective on what can shift and bring those categories together, and how movements build connections across distance and difference. This has ranged from analyses of commonalities, to how difference is reworked, to the emotional work involved...

If that makes you want to read more, the full chapter is here.

(All art by Rini Templeton, copyleft and available at riniart.org)
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