Tag Archives: social movement theory

Temporality in social movement theory

Gillan, K. (2018). Temporality in social movement theory: vectors and events in the neoliberal timescape. Social Movement Studies, (latest articles).
This article is available open access from: https://doi.org/10.1080/14742837.2018.1548965
Abstract: Existing theories of social movements have a weak conception of temporality, which is generally tied to truncated protest waves or else to micro-scale sequences of interaction. Neither approach enables an understanding of continuity and change in the content and form of social movements over longer periods. This article develops a new conceptual terminology intended to bring temporal sensitivity to our understanding of the interplay between movements and their socio-political environments. Vectors highlight evolving patterns of interaction that carry ideas and action orientations into a range of social settings over a period of decades. Examining the interplay of different vectors, and accounting also for the unfolding character of historic events, enables the apprehension of an overarching timescape within which movements move. This theoretical approach is illustrated with an examination of three significant periods of transnational contention associated with the Alter-Globalization, Anti-War, and Occupy movements. Analysis of vectors that shape discourses of conflict, organizational preferences, and practices of individual autonomy explain dynamics of continuity and change across different movements, each of which is shaped by a dynamic neoliberal timescape.

Navigating the Technology-Media-Movements Complex

Flesher Fominaya, Cristina and Kevin Gillan. 2017. ‘Navigating the Technology-Media-Movements Complex’. Social Movement Studies 16(4):383–402.
Abstract: In this article we develop the notion of the technology-media-movements complex (TMMC) as a field-definition statement for ongoing inquiry into the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in social and political movements. We consider the definitions and boundaries of the TMMC, arguing particularly for a historically rooted conception of technological development that allows better integration of the different intellectual traditions that are currently focused on the same set of empirical phenomena. We then delineate two recurrent debates in the literature highlighting their contributions to emerging knowledge. The first debate concerns the divide between scholars who privilege media technologies, and see them as driving forces of movement dynamics, and those who privilege media practices over affordances. The second debate broadly opposes theorists who believe in the emancipatory potential of ICTs and those who highlight the ways they are used to repress social movements and grassroots mobilization. By mapping positions in these debates to the TMMC we identify and provide direction to three broad research areas which demand further consideration: (i) questions of power and agency in social movements; (ii) the relationships between, on the one hand, social movements and technology and media as politics (i.e. cyberpolitics and technopolitics), and on the other, the quotidian and ubiquitous use of digital tools in a digital age; and (iii) the significance of digital divides that cut across and beyond social movements, particularly in the way such divisions may overlay existing power relations in movements. In conclusion, we delineate six challenges for profitable further research on the TMMC.
An open access version will be available once copyright allows, via University of Manchester.

2010+: The rejuvenation of new social movement theory?

Review essay:

  • della Porta, Donatella. 2015. Social Movements in Times of Austerity: Bringing Capitalism Back into Protest Analysis. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Castells, Manuel. 2015. Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age. Second Edition. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

The first half of this decade has seen a tremendous wave of protest. The universally recognised spark of the Arab Spring was the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in December 2010. Since then we’ve seen the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, protests turn to civil wars in Syria and Libya, the uprisings of the indignadas of Spain and the Occupiers of Wall Street (and passim), the Umbrella Movement of Hong Kong, a range of new movements in Brazil, Chile and Mexico, and much else besides. If we understand this ‘movement of the streets and the squares’ as a coherent global wave of protest, what exactly does it signify? The two books under review offer interpretations of the most recent wave of protest that may help answer this most central question.

Open access version available at University of Manchester.

Original, definitive version: Gillan, Kevin. 2017. ‘2010+: The Rejuvenation of New Social Movement Theory?Organization 24(2):271–74.

Occupy! A global movement

Cover: Occupy! A Global MovementThis 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.

This book was first published as a special issue of Social Movement Studies. Full details and ebook purchase available via Routledge.

Cite: Pickerill, Jenny, John Krinsky, Graeme Hayes, Kevin Gillan, and Brian Doherty, eds. 2015. Occupy! A Global Movement. London: Routledge.

Towards an Ethic of Public Sociology

(NB Re-post. First published at Discover Society.)

Among scholars of social movements there is presently a lively debate about the ethics of social research. While the topic of research ethics is rarely one that excites non-specialists (except when Facebook are involved in emotional manipulation experiments) the debate has some important ramifications. Continue reading Towards an Ethic of Public Sociology

Special Issue: The Ethics of Research on Activism

Published in 2012 as Social Movement Studies 11(2). Editors: Kevin Gillan & Jenny Pickerill.

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

Understanding Meaning in Movements: A Hermeneutic Approach to Frames and Ideologies

Social movements contain structures of beliefs and values that guide critical action and aid activists’ understandings. These are worthy of interrogation, not least because they contain points of articulation with ideational formations found in both mainstream politics and academia. They offer an alternative view of society, economy and polity that is grounded in protagonists’ experience and struggle. However, the ideational content of social movements is often obscured by a focus on particular, immediate goals; by their orientation to certain forms of action; and by the mediated, simplified nature of their communication. Continue reading Understanding Meaning in Movements: A Hermeneutic Approach to Frames and Ideologies

Anti-War Activism: New Media and Protest in the Information Age

Book cover: Anti-War Activism, by Gillan, Pickerill & WebsterThe 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.

Reviews:

  • “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.

Understanding Activists’ Political Theories: A Hermeneutic Methodology for Frame Analysis

Paper presented to 57th Political Studies Association Annual Conference, University of Bath, April 2007.

At the heart of social movements lie structures of beliefs and values that guide critical action and aid activists’ understandings. These are worthy of interrogation, not least because they contain points of articulation with ideational formations found in both mainstream politics and academia. They offer an alternative view of society, economy and polity that is grounded in protagonists’ experience and struggle. However, the ideational content of social movements is often obscured by a focus on particular, immediate goals; by their orientation to certain forms of action; and by the mediated, simplified nature of their communication. Additionally, recent social movements display a tendency to coalitional action, bringing a diverse set of political understandings in concert on highly specific campaigns.

This conceptual paper seeks an approach to identifying the messages within social movements that remains sensitive to their complexity, dynamism and heterogeneity. Through a critique of the concept of ‘interpretative frames’ as developed in social movement studies, I describe the novel concept ‘orientational frame’. In contrast to social movement scholars’ tendency to focus on instrumental claim-making by movement organisations, I emphasise deeply held, relatively stable sets of ideas that allow activists to justify contentious political action. Through an engagement with Michael Freeden’s morphological approach to understanding ideologies I attempt to draw frame analysis away from the positivistic attempt to delineate general processes into a hermeneutic endeavour more suitable to understanding the context dependent, specifically realised ideas of particular social movements.

The full paper may be downloaded here: A Hermeneutic Methodology for Frame Analysis

1. Understanding Social Movements: Towards a Theory of Interpretative Frames

This chapter begins with a quick tour of social movement theory since the 1950s. In particular I look at the ways that academics have tried to understand the role of ideas within social movements.

The main focus here, though, is to look at a body of research that examines the ‘interpretative frames’ that protesters and activists use to understand the world around them. We are all constantly engaged in processes of learning that reinforce or recreate our own set of beliefs and values. The concept of ‘interpretative frames’ is supposed to capture the way that these beliefs and values are structured. We become emotionally attached to certain ways of looking at the world so that new information is often framed within those beliefs we previously held. So, if you already believe that all government is the self-interested exercise of power in order to further enrich the powerful, you’re more likely to interpret, say, the Iraq war in this way.

The main contribution this thesis tries to make to the theoretical debate is to clarify the nature of these interpretative frames. Scholars have tended to see them as quite superficial, as if you could express different political opinions depending on which way the political wind blows. While may be true of the expression of beliefs, I doubt it is true of the holding of those beliefs. More importantly people’s beliefs and values – and especially activists’ beliefs and values – inform their decisions to act in certain ways. As most activists realise, people with particular politics will have a particular take on how to change the world. Academics have tended to separate ideas and action in their analyses, so that is one thing this thesis tries to put right.

Add in a bunch of fairly esoteric conceptual work and this chapter gets to the point of describing the ‘orientational frame’ as that set of beliefs that offers someone a view of the world, of their place in it, and of the ways in which social change might be achieved. So, it becomes possible to describe and analyse relatively stable structures of ideas that exist (in a particular sense) beyond any individual’s expression of them.

The key point to remember throughout is that it is not possible simply to write down a programmatic set of beliefs and pidgeon-hole people according to whether they fit or not. In the rest of the thesis I do identify three sets of ideas that tend to cling together (and also have relationships with socialism, anarchism and liberalism). However, these ideas are stuck together with the weak glue of shared culture, particular understandings of history, and trends in the sorts of experiences activists are likely to encounter. On exposure to these orientational frames (or structures of ideas) activists will interpret them in ways that depend on the individual journey they have taken through their political (and indeed non-political) lives. As such many people will rightly refuse to be pigeon-holed or categorised. Nevertheless, the ‘orientational frames’ can be discussed independently of individual interpretations. This chapter closes by explaining exactly how that can be achieved.

Download C1: Understanding Social Movements