Chair: Aylwyn Walsh
Zoom host: Joshua Bunting
Habermas, Foucault, and Neoliberal Activism in Higher Education
Abstract: The colonization of higher education (Habermas, 1987) is felt most acutely through the ongoing, and intensifying marketization and commodification of universities (Jutten, 2013) emblematic of neoliberalism. Permeating the very core of the academy, neoliberal discourses have penetrated the everyday lives of academics, support and administrative staff (see Geppert and Hollinshead, 2017), but perhaps most intensely, students. Existing research examining the effects of these changes, however, has largely failed to consider the significance of neoliberal discourses on the everyday lives of students outside their interactions with the institution. Moreover, research on student activism is yet to recognise that these particular neoliberal discourses, and consequently the cultural resources available to student-activists (Poletta, 2004), have also impacted the ways students do activism.
HE’s colonization (Habermas, 1987, Jutten, 2013) has dramatically changed the prevailing culture in English institutions, and consequently, certain strategies of resistance have been made increasingly difficult, while other avenues of resistance have opened up (Binder and Wood, 2013). For a newly formed group of anti-sexual harassment campaigners at a London university, this change in university culture has created new harvestable cultural and social resources for collective action (Jasper, 1997; Poletta, 2004) in the form of neoliberal discourse.
In dialogue with Foucault’s (1977; 1978) theorising on power and discourse, and Habermas’s (1984; 1987) colonization thesis, this paper discusses findings from a mixed-methods ethnographic project that explored student protest in a London university. Following the case of an anti-sexual harassment group, this paper argues some students have co-opted the neoliberal discourses of consumerism, ‘branding’, and information dissemination in order to, in their words, ‘end sexual harassment on university campuses’. In engaging with these discourses, students are attempting to affect the student body itself, rather than challenge sexual harassment at the level of the institution. Their strategies exemplify how students engage with both instrumental and communicative forms of interaction in order to affect change within the university social body.
Keywords: Higher educaiton; aesthetics; sexual harassment; neoliberalism
The 2010-14 Student Movement and The Making of Political Consciousness
Abstract: EP Thompson famously opened The Making of the English Working Class with the statement that “The working class did not rise like the sun at an appointed time. It was present at its own making.” (1963/2013, p.8). Thompson describes this making as a process, a relationship between historical agents and society in motion around them (Meiksins Wood, 2015). This article aims to apply a similar analysis on a smaller scale, describing how people active in the UK free education movement developed a political consciousness.
Using 28 oral history interviews with activists from the movement, I will describe three different processes, confirmation, realisation and radicalisation, that participants in the UK free education movement went through during their political lives. Participants described different processes at different points in their histories, and I use Thompson’s concept of experience to describe how these individuals interacted with events, political structures and other activists.
This experiential approach allows for an account of social movement actors imbued with agency and efficacy in their actions, while respecting the limitations imposed on them by a society in process (Meiksins Wood, 2015). Participants describe complex processes relying on contingency, relational interactions with groups and structures, and periods of reflection in which they reassess their political outlook. By looking at these processes over time, the world of social movements is revealed as a rich ecology of political cultures, sometimes in moments of direct contestation, other times in periods of abeyance (Taylor, 1989). The findings of this study show that these periods of abeyance are crucial, and that we should consider movements as existing over longer periods of time than individual campaigns or protests. I also propose that by exploring life histories in this detailed way can allow us to see vectors moving through activist cultures over time (Gillan, 2020).
Keywords: Student movement, consciousness, movement culture, oral history, experience
The Feminisation of the Chilean Student Movement
Abstract: The Chilean student movement has always raised social demands for access and the right to education. From the resistance to and confrontation with the military dictatorship brought on by the "University Reform of 1968" through the Confederation of Students of Chile, it reached its maximum expression with the cycle of protests beginning in 2011 demanding FREE QUALITY PUBLIC EDUCATION.
However, in May 2018, women within the student organizations denounced the fact that beyond the historical and visible gains in education through reforms and new laws, gender and feminism demands had not been addressed by educational establishments or by the leadership of the student movement: Sexual harassment, macho treatment and abuse by teachers and other students.
The hypotheses of the investigation are:
- Women demands within the student movement generate hostilities, tensions, and divisions within it.
- The pressure of women participants in the Chilean student movement produces a change of direction and with it a reinvention of the social movement, which is redefined from that moment on.
The research questions arise: How is the Chilean student movement reconfigured and feminized after the irruption of women within it?
By way of preliminary conclusions, we can point out that the feminist movement is the promoter and catalyst of a phenomenon of deconstruction of Chilean society, which ranges from the domestic to the cultural and the political. Social movements have feminised themselves and are feminist from their internal definition of who they are and where they want to go. On the other hand, the feminist student movement is considered the window of opportunity for women and feminism to establish and define transcendental political processes such as the current constituent process, which is a pioneer in terms of parity.
Keywords: Social movements, feminism, feminization, student movement
Story(re)telling by the Oppressed: The power of storytelling in high school student movements against the dictated school rules amid far-right neoliberal Thailand
Abstract: This paper focuses on the power of storytelling in a high-school student movement which is often undermined in social movements studies in Thailand. In 2020, thousands of young protesters gathered on the streets for several occasions against the far-right neoliberal and dictatorial state. The movement has crucially shifted the political landscape in Thailand stirring the need for a democratic reform among the Thai younger generation. Although the main goal of the movement is to overthrow the regime, this paper aims to focus on a sub movement organised by high school students who called to liberate from oppressed power in their closest sector, a school.
This article explores the power of storytelling performed by students for retelling, reframing and most importantly reclaiming the power and freedom in a school. The lens of performance studies highlighting the significance of storytelling and narratives are employed to reveal how the movement has emotionally united participants and culturally brought the sense of the collective act. Three specific cases are drawn on for a discussion -- a rewritten moral song, the resistance shown during the school's morning ceremony, and the redefinition of school uniforms. These three cases were staged to confront the dictating rules manifesting a body-subject as a battlefield and retelling the story of the Oppressed.
This paper suggests that the role of storytelling engaging with time, space, narratives, emotions, characters, and audiences played an important role in rehearsing and cultivating a social change from the microstructure. This paper ultimately argues that the power of storytelling with its openness and room for imagination has illuminated how the politics of a story, language, body, and emotion can empower a collective action to support the larger goal of structural change for democratic reform in the country.
Keywords: students, movements, storytelling, narratives, imaginaries
Chair: Eeva Houtbeckers
Zoom host: Steven Speed
Relational creation of alternativeness in collaborative housing groups in Vienna
Abstract: In Vienna, like in other cities around the globe, a new wave of self-initiated groups who realise collaborative housing (so-called Baugruppen) has recently emerged (Lang & Stoeger, 2018; Mullins & Moore, 2018; Tummers, 2015, 2016). Most of them describe themselves as creating and experimenting with alternative ways of housing and living: They want to create different or alternative spaces, and they want to create space differently – they strive for self-management, collective ownership, different kinds of architectures and different distributions of space between private and collective use, housing, working and public space, etc.
In this paper, we analyse how ‘alternativeness’ as a self-identifier is related to quite different constellations of relations and demarcations both within the groups and to other actors, such as professionals, administration or civil society. Using Thévenot’s grammars of commonality (Thévenot, 2014) and ‘diverse economies’ approaches (Gibson-Graham, 1996; Gritzas & Kavoulakos, 2016) as sensitizing concepts, we empirically analyse collaborative housing projects in Vienna and elaborate three different ways of ‘doing alternativeness’. We employ a relational understanding of alternativeness that considers different orientations vis-a-vis the mainstream, regarding a group’s sense-making of and relations to internal and external actors as constitutive for its specific transformative potential as well as in- and exclusions.
The empirical data which was produced through a multi-sited ethnography (Hine, 2007) between 2018 and 2020 consists of documents, media articles, interviews and ethnographic observation of public and internal events of Baugruppen in Vienna. For data analysis, we apply qualitative mapping approaches based on situational analysis (Clarke, 2005) and controversy mapping (Marres, 2007, 2015; Venturini, 2010; Whatmore, 2009; Yaneva, 2012) for specifically paying attention to relations between actors and issues.
Keywords: alternativeness, collaborative housing, sense-making, commonality
Housing Activism Facing the Structures of Democratization and Capitalism in Spain: A Socio-Historical and Socio-Spatial Approach
Abstract: The transitional period to a recovered democratic regime in Spain during the late 1970s was substantially shaped by large working-class mobilizations in the domains of socioeconomic production and reproduction. The so-called ‘citizen movement’ championed urban struggles in combination with housing and local political affairs. Despite their decline in the early 1980s, they left a significant mark in the process of democratization. The 1986 integration of Spain in supranational European institutions entailed new stages of capitalist development and social protest. Real estate speculation became the main driver of urban change and shaped the conditions for the emergence and growth of a radical squatting movement. Squatters established self-managed social centers to aggregate various social movements and challenged the 1990s and 2000s cycle of capitalist accumulation. As a response to the 2008 global financial crisis, housing groups associated with neighborhood assemblies, the PAH (Platform for People Affected by Mortgages) and new tenants’ unions took the lead in urban grassroots struggles. This paper provides a general account of the features of these mobilizations and the political economy context with which they interacted. I argue that these expressions of housing activism were not only closely related to other social movements, but, above all, were dependent on specific structural conditions of the Spanish political, economic and housing systems. My analysis also contributes to the interpretations of the changing sociological components of housing struggles in relation to the societal context at large.
The 2020-2021 Farmers’ Struggle in India: A Post-Marxist Detonation?
Abstract: The ongoing farmers’ protests in India against the implementation of a set of neo-liberal farm laws have become one of the longest and most vibrant anti-capitalist movements in recent Indian history. The movement, which has been going on for more than six months as of March 2021, is led by a heterogenous corpus of organisations, ranging from mass organisations under various left-wing political formations to different caste and creed-based organisations. Some of these organisations have also been active perpetrators of gender and caste violence in recent times in addition to being supporters of the ruling government until a few months ago. This diversity in participation, which has been instrumental in taking the movement forward, thus has also raised some pertinent questions about the methodological implementation of Marxist theory in situations where a heterodox set of ideas align for a particular demand-based movement with a variety of ‘subject positions’ (Laclau and Mouffe, 2014: 27, emphasis original), especially in a context as diverse as India.
The involvement of the left has failed to generate an overtly leftist consciousness within the movement. The inability of the political formations to ‘control and lead’ the spontaneous activities of the protesting people has resulted in the movement lacking a political legitimacy and finding itself in a quandary in spite of capturing ‘a popular collective will’ (Mouffe, 2018: 21) both among the Indian nationals and the diaspora. This paper analyses the movement through the Post-Marxist and Left-Populism frameworks developed by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe and examines whether they can provide an alternative understanding of the farmers’ movement, which can further the integration of the protesting subjects within a progressive agenda that goes beyond the contours of this particular movement.
Keywords: Farmers’ Protests, India, Marxism, Post-Marxism, Left-Populism
The Politics of Housing During the Pandemic: Struggles to ‘Stay at Home’ in Brazil and Portugal
Abstract: In this article, I examine how social movements for the right to housing have responded to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. Particularly, it sheds light on the protagonism of activists and housing groups as producers of political innovation, knowledge, resistance and transformative possibilities. To this end, I compare two cities, Fortaleza (Brazil) and Lisbon (Portugal). The research provides a fresh approach to changes in social movements and to their concrete contributions to pandemic responses. In this way, this contribution attempts to overcome the current North/South dichotomy or centre/periphery divide in housing and social movements studies that have limited cross-continental approaches. The study shows that groups focused on the right to housing were particularly active in three main models of action: anti-evictions campaigns, new ways of organisation protest, and the creation and expansion of solidarity networks and, in addition to new alternative futures.
Chair: Norma Romm
Zoom host: Matthijs Gardenier
Love is Over, This is Going to be Turkey': Cathartic Resonance Between the June 2013 Protests in Turkey and Brazil
Abstract: Studies on the diffusion of protests and social movements stress the necessity of geographical, historical, organizational or cultural proximity as facilitating factors for the spread of ideas, frames, identities and repertoires of collective action. Yet in the last two decades, the explosion of various protests across the globe and their mobilizing impact on each other challenged this established view. The interactions between the June 2013 protests in Turkey and Brazil were no exceptions: despite the absence of proximity factors, protests in Turkey were referred to as a source of inspiration by a considerable number of Brazilian protesters. Designed as a case study that investigates the least-likely case of these cross-national protest interactions, this study explores why and how protests inspire other protests in distant and diverse places. To address these questions, I employed Grounded Theory by analyzing twenty-four in-depth interviews with protesters who participated in the June 2013 protests in Brazil. Drawing on the three-stage sentence-by-sentence coding procedure and constant comparison method, I introduced the mechanism of ‘cathartic resonance’ as an explanatory framework for the cross-national spread of protests even in the absence of proximity factors. Cathartic resonance refers to the stimulation of collective agency due to moral shocks that are triggered by the tragedy of a sympathetically identified foreign protester group. In its findings, this study reveals the role of cognitive and emotional processes in the spread of protests, which have been largely neglected in social movement studies. It also aims to further refine the linear and causal theorization of protest diffusion from a more agentic, processual and cultural perspective. Lastly, it applies a relatively innovative method (i.e., Grounded Theory) to this research by demonstrating its potential in social movement research.
Keywords: protests, social movements, diffusion, emotions, grounded theory, qualitative
Political thinking through emotional encounters with ignorance
Abstract: Based on ethnographic research on Palestinian Solidarity Activism, this paper argues that Weirdness is a political feeling. Taking emotion as a form of ‘wordless knowledge’ (Damasio 2000) the feeling of Weirdness emerges when our expectations fail to describe or accord with the world we encounter. This is not an intense or overwhelming affect, it does not drive us to fight or flight, nor bring us to tears. However, repeated encounters with the ignorance have brought Israeli activists to doubt the validity and logic of hegemonic Zionism. Doubt, Hannah Arendt (1971) believed, was the outcome of Thinking, a human faculty which could condition men against evil-doing. In enabling and augmenting the emergence of doubt, Weirdness is a political emotion which may play a significant role in the impetus for social change.
Keywords: Affect, Social Movements, Israel-Palestine, Phenomenology, Arendt
One Month of “Shame”: Dynamic of Students’ Participation in “Shame” Social Protests in Georgia
Abstract: In June of 2019, anti-government social protests took place in Tbilisi, Georgia. The series of social protests, lasting one month, were instigated by the speech delivery of Sergei Gavrilov, a communist party member of the Russian duma, in the parliament of Georgia. In the context where Russia is occupying 20% of Georgian land, the appearance of a representative of the occupant state in the chair seat of Georgian parliament was perceived as “a slap in the face”. Gavrilov’s speech immediately triggered the social mobilization of opposition parties and ordinary citizens, among which students represented a significant force. Although many of the students shared anti-Russian sentiments and indignation against Georgian government and Russia, in general; the participation in different phases of a one-month protest varied significantly and even in some cases resulted in non-participation.
The aim of the research is to understand students’ motivation behind participation and non-participation behavior in different cycles of “shame” social protests.
A qualitative research approach has been applied. Participant observation and group, in-depth interviews: triads with students from different Universities were conducted. Results revealed, common sentiments as well as subjective attitudes and perceptions that led to individual decisions to join or refrain from participation. The research demonstrated that common grievances are not enough to cause long-lasting, self-sustainable social protest in students.
The research is an important contribution to sociological literature on youth activism and social movement participation.
Keywords: Social protests, activism, movement participation, emotions
The Emotional Antecedent of Violent Protests: The Case of the Pro-democracy Movement in Hong Kong
Abstract: Recent literature has started to move beyond movement-centric analysis and examine changes and continuities between episodes of contention. These studies, however, have overlooked the role of emotions when answering why certain tactics are abandoned and how new tactics arise. My research analyzes three episodes of pro-democracy conflicts in Hong Kong—the Anti-express rail campaign in 2009-2010, the Umbrella Movement in 2014, and the Anti-extradition bill protests in 2019—and explores how protesters’ changing emotional states and evolving ways of emotional management have given rise to a trend of radicalization. In particular, I interrogate the role of anger in political mobilization, the use and management of anger, the conditions shaping the suppression or expression of hostility towards the state, and the shifting tactical preference in Hong Kong’s civil society. I argue that while the more direct and ferocious expression of anger was tied to a shifting view of the organizational and leadership structure of protests, it was underpinned by protesters’ evolving temporal horizon—a changing expectation and vision of the future—that has emerged since the early 2010s. These changes contributed to a growing acceptance of violent tactics in the late 2010s and gave rise to several important features of the Anti-extradition bill protests in 2019.
Keywords: emotions, tactics, political violence, movement continuities, democracy, Hong Kong