This book is an urgent and compelling account of the Occupy movements: from the M15 movement in Spain, to the wave of Occupations flooding across cities in American, Europe and Australia, to the harsh reality of evictions as corporations and governments attempted to reassert exclusive control over public space. Across a vast range of international examples over twenty authors analyse, explain and helps us understand the movement. These movements were a novel and noisy intervention into the recent capitalist crisis in developed economies, developing an exceptionally broad identity through a call to arms addressed to ‘the 99%’, and emphasizing the importance of public space in the creation and maintenance of opposition. The novelties of these movements, along with their radical positioning and the urgency of their claims all demand analysis. This book investigates the crucial questions of how and why this form of action spread so rapidly and so widely, how the inclusive discourse of ‘the 99%’ matched up to the reality of the practice. It is vital to understand not just the choice of tactics and the vitality of protest camps in public spaces, but also how the myriad of challenges and problems were negotiated.
From the editors’ introduction (with Jenny Pickerill):
“This article explores a number of key questions that serve to introduce this special issue on the ethics of research on activism. We first set out the limitations of the bureaucratic response to ethical complexities in our field. We then examine two approaches often used to justify research that demands time consuming and potentially risky participation in research by activists. We label these approaches the ethic of immediate reciprocity and the ethic of general reciprocity and question their impacts. Continue reading Special Issue: The Ethics of Research on Activism→
Just spent the morning listening to a couple of folks who were labour activists in the 40s and 50s. Now wondering how we organise politically under the sociological conditions of late modernity. If the class structure isn’t there to support the traditional labour movement (in the same way), what can we build instead?
An important and tricky question, no doubt; in the following I may only succeeded in rewording it…
The European Court of Human Rights today issued its judgement on the case that Penny Quinton and I have been taking against the government over section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. They have agreed that this piece of legislation offends against Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and does not contain sufficient safeguards Continue reading We fought the law… and won!→
Paper presented to the European Sociological Association General Conference, Lisbon, September 2009.
The academic publisher Reed Elsevier also organised the world’s largest defence exhibitions. The exhibitions themselves have regularly met vibrant street protests, and from 2005 campaigners targeted the corporate organisers. A coordinated network of anti-arms trade activists, academics, medical professionals and institutional shareholders formed a multifaceted campaign that sought to persuade the corporation to change its behaviour on its own terms. After initial intransigence Continue reading Moral Business: Changing Corporate Behaviour by ‘Speaking Their Language’→
Paper for presentation at the Alternative Futures and Popular Protest Conference, 15-17th April 2009, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Direct action (DA) is often considered to be a tactical approach to protest, utilised in the service of a wide range of causes. More recently, the notion that DA forms the basis of a radical social movement of itself has gained some currency (e.g. Doherty, Plows and Wall 2003). This paper argues that we should rather understand DA as an orientational frame: a structure of normative beliefs that can form a guide to understanding and action in a variety of contexts (Gillan 2008).
Examining documentary sources on the British DA tradition and ethnographic data from recent instances of DA protest against globalisation and war, I identify the core beliefs that hold the DA frame together. Three elements in particular are identified. First, DA is based on a fundamental belief in individual freedom that motivates an evaluation of the individual moral culpability of both protest participants and their opponents. Second, DA groups have an attitude to decentralised, non-representative decision making that offers a particular understanding of democracy. Third, DA involves the re-imagining of political space as grassroots collective constructs free from systems of domination, that are consciously sought or created by DA groups.
Exploration of these key ideational elements will offer two benefits. First, we will see how the interaction and translation of ideas within particular contexts shapes the possibilities and constraints that movement participants encounter. Second, this analysis opens up possibilities for comparison with (and critique from) more obviously ideological structures of belief.
The first academic account of the 21st century anti-war and peace movement. Empirically rich and conceptually innovative, Anti-War Activism pays especially close attention to the changed information environment of protest, the complex alliances of activists, the diversity of participants, as well as campaigners’ use of new (and old) media.
“Very impressive … a clearly presented and well thought out study… All social movement scholars will find something of relevance and interest to them in this book.” Nick Crossley, Social Movement Studies.
“There are many of us who want to ensure that the British people never again allow a British Prime Minister to get away with what Tony Blair got away with. This book shows what some of us did wrong.” John Sloboda, Times Higher Education.
“The authors … skilfully combine different methods in their research … written using easily understood language and supplied with attention-grabbing factual material.” Volodymyr Lysenko, Information, Communication & Society.
Full information, including ebook and free preview chapter are available at the Palgrave MacMillan website.
Cite: Gillan, Kevin, Jenny Pickerill, and Frank Webster. 2008. Anti-War Activism: New Media and Protest in the Information Age. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
This chapter does some more theoretical work. This is important, academically speaking, because my work takes a position mid-way between distinct approaches from US and European scholarship on social movements. Within the European strand of work, one of the most important things going on from the mid-1960s was the development of a politics of protest that seemed more concerned with new identities than with the more obviously materialist politics of labour movements. But, recent protests against the economic effects of globalisation pose a problem for that way of thinking – aren’t the recent struggles really about the distribution of goods and money?
With this question in mind this chapter explores the recent history of protest. I describe some of the links between the anti-/alter-globalisation struggles, the attempts to create positive alternatives in the social forums, and the incredible eruption of protest around the war on terror. In this way I introduce the specific subject of study for the remainder of the thesis. That is, as well as trying to understand the way ideas are used and structured within social movements I’m trying to understand the specific story of recent protest against globalisation and war. By looking at the different versions of the history of recent protest found within the movements themselves, I also give an introduction to some of the differences between the three sets of ideas (the three ‘orientational frames’) described later.
The power of socialism as an ideology, and its more specific trotskyist flavour, has ensured the continuing existence of active Trotskyist groups throughout post-war British history. But the leading British Trotskyist organisation, the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), typically polarises opinion. As a result, movement analyses of contemporary protest tend to focus soley on the SWP, or else entirely ignore or argue against the SWP and its kindred spirits. Yet a more objective view must include the various revoluntionary socialist organisations alongside the diversity of other key players within recent protest.
The revolutionary socialist frame identifies a set of ideas whose interconnection flows partly from the history of communist and Trotskyist activism in the UK. This chapter offers a brief discussion of that history, singling out those periods that seem to have had a lasting effect on the beliefs and behaviour of Trotskyists today. For instance, Trotskyists have had to broaden their understanding of the social base of revolution. This results from both the need for Trotskyist organisations to come to terms the strength of the students’ movements, womens’ movements, movements of sexual identity and so on, and the simultaneous economic restructuring that shrunk the industrial working class base. While Trotskyist discussion often continues a focus on the power of the working class, Trotskyists can now be found agitating and recruiting in universities as much as in the industrial workplaces.
Nevertheless, at the core of the revolutionary socialist frame lie a range of ideas that will likely be espoused wherever a society can be described as capitalist. These include:
a class-based analysis of exploitation;
the value on equality of political power, justified through human nature;
the need for a sudden (and perhaps violent) moment of change;
the need for a vanguard organisation at the centre of a mass revolutionary movement; and
a belief in the scientific truth of Marxism.
Beyond that core of beliefs spin-off a range of less central and/or more practical ideas about society and how to change it. This chapter explains these, and importantly their interconnections, in some detail. Despite the focus on Trotskyism in this introduction, I also argue that these ideas are more broadly influential. Many people who are not members of such organisations utilise many of the core arguments in their political discussions. Indeed, some ideas, such as the value on power equality, seem ubiqitous throughout contemporary movements. Certainly, this idea is widely espoused. But, equality is coloured with different hues depending on the context of surrounding beliefs.
The direct action frame draws much of its character from it connection with a particular approach to creating social change, rather than any more theoretical ideology. Nonetheless beliefs concerning the tactics for action demonstrate a particular value set that shares much in common with anarchism.
The chapter examines the development of direct action in the UK by briefly examining periods of protest for nuclear disarmament in the late 1950s, for environmental protection in the 1970s and against road building during the 1990s. It becomes possible to see a growing militancy over those years, as well as the development of increasingly sophisticated action practices and a deepening of the political and philosophical messages of direct action.
By offering greater detail about contemporary direct action it becomes possible to specify that political content. Briefly, these ideas include:
a high value on individual freedom with, as a flip side, a high stress on responsibility for one’s actions;
a distrust of authority, seen as self-serving;
a stress on taking forms of action that do not depend on mediation by a third party to be effective;
a value on the creation of open political spaces for learning, empowerment, and governed by the respect for others’ liberty;
a developing critique of capitalism that sees the current structures of political economy as responsible for a great variety of social, political and environmental ills; and
an understanding of democracy as requiring in-depth, free and unmediated participation by all effected by the relevant decisions.
A significant section of the constituency of contemporary contention is connected with neither the traditional organisations of the far left, nor with small groups intent on carrying out direct action for immediate change. The radical liberal frame is one apparently utilised by many in the movements who are more likely to be supportive of a range of well-known non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Greenpeace, Oxfam or War on Want. While these organisations’ primary operations are not directed at mobilizing a membership to take part in street demonstrations, they nevertheless often provide an urgent desire for social change.
Increasingly, over the past few decades, such NGOs have developed a set of intellectual tools that provides an understanding of western governments as culpable for social and environmental injustice, and the potential efficacy of massed populations in changing their governments’ behaviour. On this basis, the radical liberal frame emerges from a wide range of particular issue-focused critiques rather than either a body of theory or a particular approach to social change.
The radical liberal frame expresses the way that certain core beliefs appear to come together to justify an increasingly radical approach to holding governments to account, while seeking to achieve concrete gains in the immediate future. Some core ingredients of the frame include:
A strong moral position centred on a (broadly egalitarian) understanding of justice.
Critique of those in power focused on the abuse of that power.
A positive evaluation of empirically grounded understanding and subsequent critique of any belief system that appears to be dogmatic.
A belief in the potential of social change activities that work with, rather than against, current institutions of power.
A strong belief democracy, justified on the basis of sharing relevant knowledge.