ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

Envisaging new futures | The subjective turn | Social movement politics
Location Science Site/Chemistry CG83
Date and Start Time 04 July, 2016 at 14:00
Sessions 1


  • Alex Flynn (Durham University) email

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Short Abstract

The contestation of meaning has become a key locus of social movement research, pointing to debates as to how futures can be envisaged. But set against the recent 'subjective turn' in this scholarship, how more precisely is such meaning elaborated and peoples' subjectivities expressed?

Long Abstract

From Zuccotti Park to St Paul's Cathedral, from Tahrir Square to the Presidential Palace in Brasilia, dissatisfaction with party politics and a corrosive sense of powerlessness have placed ever greater emphasis on social movements to propose new futures. But how are these futures created and what is the role of the subject within wider processes of collective mobilisation? This panel seeks to foreground how political subjectivity is created and contested, thus calling into question how we envisage the worlds in which we want to live. The contestation of such meaning has become one of the most important areas within social movement research, but if the collective provides a broader context characterised by hybrid agreements, compromises, and mediations, how more precisely is such meaning elaborated and peoples' subjectivities expressed?

Marc Edelman (2002) has argued that new social movement theory, and by extension the approach of scholars who identify a 'subjective turn' in social movement studies (Razsa 2015), has "helped reproduce the fragmentation of the popular classes sought by the state and the market". But does such a focus on the subject necessarily render the collective less robust or meaningful? In addition to this broader provocation, questions that the panel seeks to raise include: how are subjectivity and the elaboration of meaning more precisely connected? What is the role of the person in mediating temporal frames of utopia? What is the potential of an analysis that foregrounds dimensions of ethical self-cultivation within the wider collective?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Subjective property: building a grassroots tenants' movement in Scotland

Author: Benjamin Bridgman (University of St Andrews)  email

Short Abstract

This paper sets the subjective property ideologies and imagined futures of individual activists within an Edinburgh-based tenants' rights campaign group alongside the campaign's collective messages. The aim is to explore the idea that the collective utopia is a consciously strategic construct.

Long Abstract

The proportion of households in the private rented sector in Scotland has doubled during the past decade. Three weeks after the independence referendum, the Scottish Government launched a consultation paper entitled 'A New Tenancy for the Private Sector', setting out initial proposals for the reform of the private rented sector tenancy system, and seeking views from both individuals and organisations. Following further consultation, this eventually led to the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced to Parliament in October 2015.

The focus of this paper is a small group of Edinburgh-based activists who organised over four thousand campaign responses to the consultation, calling rent controls and increased security of tenure. There were collected primarily as postcards from street stalls and as signatories to e-petitions shared via social media. The activist group have subsequently conducted further petitions, lobbied political party conference delegates, taken part in May Day marches, founded branches in other Scottish cities, and are currently aiming to establish a Scotland-wide tenants' union.

Drawing upon fieldwork, this paper sets the subjective property ideologies and imagined futures of individual activists alongside the formal messages promoted by the campaign. Particular attention is paid to the ways that the activists themselves conceptualise these distinctions. By focusing upon the intersections between collective and individual utopias, this paper explores the idea that the collective is a consciously strategic and pragmatic construct produced by subjective persons for the building of a deliberately diverse coalition for immediate policy change that is rooted in utopian ideals.

Ël mé cheur a l'é No TAV: transindividual affects and social movement politics beyond the subjective

Author: Mateusz Laszczkowski (University of Warsaw)  email

Short Abstract

This paper ethnographically focuses on the No TAV movement in Val di Susa, in the Italian Alps. It highlights the formation of subjectivities, collective and meaning through the convergence of visceral affects and appetitions that bring politics beyond the subjective, opening up future possibility.

Long Abstract

This paper ethnographically explores the emergence of subjectivities, collective and meaning in the No TAV movement in Val di Susa, in the Italian Alps. Protesting against the planned construction of a new high-speed railway, and through that against the political economy of infrastructural mega-projects, the political party system and environmental destruction, the No TAV movement is Italy's most enduring, most vigorous and largest contentious mobilisation. It is also an extremely heterogeneous movement, bringing together local residents, catholic church-goers, university professors, environmentalists, pacifists, radical communists, anarchists and members of local authorities—people of all ages and walks of life. This paper looks at the activists' continuous efforts at maintaining a community of objectives without imposing any reductive identity. It is largely owing to this effort that the No TAV movement continues to pose a radical challenge to the state-capitalistic system. I focus on direct action; commensality; assemblies where one never votes, choosing instead a fragile, reiterative process of consensus—and also on violent confrontations with the police. Against recent critiques of social movement politics allegedly weakened by individualisation and the break-up of former class-based alliances (Edelman 2002; cf. Razsa 2015), I argue that it is trough the convergence of visceral affects and appetitions (Massumi 2014, drawing on Whitehead 1978) that militant subjectivities are formed, politics becomes meaningful and one becomes one with the collective. By creating a transindividual force, the movement offers hope for a political transformation beyond the present horizons of possibility, beyond the subjective and into an open future.

A different 'subjective turn': exploring non-radical activism of engaged individuals in (South)Eastern Europe

Author: Piotr Goldstein (The University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

Social activism has been traditionally studied either by scholars of civil society, concerned typically with NGOs and associations, or those focusing on protest movements. This paper looks at non-radical, everyday, activism performed by individuals, often outside any formal, or informal structures.

Long Abstract

The word 'activism' has been traditionally used, on the one hand, in studies concerned with social movements/popular protest, and on the other hand, in those focusing on 'civil society' understood in a myriad of ways. This paper aims to re-connect the two uses/understandings by following personal stories and choices of those engaged, those not-engaged and those 'engaged-differently'. In particular, it looks at forms of activism which are hard to notice because they seek neither financial support nor recognition, which aim at creating counter-spaces and counter-practices in discreet and often slow ways.

The paper scrutinises everyday, discreet, acts of citizenship (as defined by Isin, 2008), endeavours which could be considered infrapolitics (Scott, 1990) or micro-politics (Goldfarb, 2006): an alternative way in contexts in which other forms of activism appear impossible or ineffective and/or activists' choice for a less radical and more long-time approach. The interest lays in determining to what extend these acts form, for the engaged individuals, a stage between (or perhaps beyond) engagement in NGOs and social movements in 'genealogies of activism' (Stubbs, 2012); whether they are performed independently of such engagements, form a link between different activisms or catalyse them. The concept of 'subjective turn' used by Razsa (2015) in relation to individuals who 'yearn for radical change' is applied here to those who aim at offering a different future to themselves or, more often, to others, by engaging in everyday, non-radical, practices, within, outside or in-between NGOs, associations, movements and other forms of collective action.

Chocolate and politics: an ethnographic con-textualisation of the peace community of San José de Apartadó

Author: Gwen Burnyeat (University College London)  email

Short Abstract

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia, declared themselves neutral to the armed conflict; they also produce fair trade cacao. Two narratives combine in their collective identity: the 'radical' and 'organic' narratives, which mutually engender each other in a reciprocal circularity.

Long Abstract

This paper carries out an ethnographic con-textualisation of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, a peasant farmer community in Urabá who declared themselves 'neutral' to the Colombian armed conflict in 1997. Two narratives, understood as cultural practices with historical trajectories, co-exist in their collective identity. These combine with other embodied practices of their daily life, such as their production of cocoa. The radical narrative is the frame according to which the Community interprets politics, constituted via the genealogy of a 'rupture' with the state and the creation of an internal logic. The organic narrative is the way in which the Community perceives their relationship to the environment and to their organisational process, associated with a concept of alternative community. Both narratives mutually engender each other in a reciprocal circularity: chocolate and politics, a binary that represents a continuum, a symbiotic cultural con-text which moulds the daily experience of the individual life of each member of the Community.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.