Theorising ‘Movement Waves' and the Making of Collective Subjects

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Colin BARKER, Manchester Metropolitan University, United Kingdom
John KRINSKY, City College New York, USA
The metaphors with which we try to make sense of social phenomena are liable to occlude significant features. When we discuss what we have learned to call either ‘cycles of protest’ or ‘movement waves’, we risk thinking of them in naturalistic or mechanical terms, making their exploration and explanation more difficult. ‘Movement waves’ appear to offer heightened opportunities for social transformation ‘from below’. However, they vary in scale, in longevity, and in their capacity to mobilise different social sectors. At one extreme, they seem little more than brief ‘ripples’ on the surface of capitalist society, mobilising transient minorities. At the other, they verge on and may indeed presage social revolutions. How might we account for the range and variety of possibilities they reveal?

Rather than following similar trajectories, as some accounts suggest, their developmental paths seem to be marked by inner conflicts, dramatic encounters, moments of strategic divergence, turning points and other features that seem to demand ‘narrative’ rather than purely ‘mechanical’ or ‘structural’ accounts. Every ‘wave’ of protest involves its own dynamics of diffusion, which in turn, involve interpretation, argument, etc., that suggests adaptation and reworking, as well as joining claims to others in new contexts and across contexts.  Importantly, in order for a movement ‘wave’ to be a movement wave, of any size or scale, it must also be an expansive project of collective subject-making; there must be some centripetal force drawing together the collective subject.  Drawing from dialogical approaches to social movements and from theories of distributed cognition, this paper proposes a new approach to understanding why protest seems to spread and scale up at some times rather than others, and remain constrained and localized at others.