What Hampers Contention in Practice-Based Movements? a Comparative Study Resistance and Alternatives in Two British Cities

Friday, 20 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Joost DE MOOR, Keele University, United Kingdom
Philip CATNEY, Keele University, United Kingdom
Brian DOHERTY, Keele University, United Kingdom
Various scholars describe the proliferation of practice-based movements, including those working around community energy and local food. Some have celebrated this trend in the context of decreasing electoral and institutional political participation: rather than political disengagement, we witness a shift of political participation to the arena of everyday life. Others point out that practice-based movements and participation makes for a poor replacement because they tend to be ‘apolitical’ and fail to challenge the status quo. However, both these interpretations seem to overlook that participants in practice-based movements often have a radical background in contentious politics that are clearly reflected in the ‘political’ motivations that still drive these collectives. Practice-based activism is here often seen as the alternative ‘yes’ that accompanies, rather than replaces, the ‘no’ expressed through contentious politics.

Nonetheless, our previous research has questioned how compatible contentious and practice-based repertoires really are. Activists often have clear motivations for challenging the status-quo, yet in practice, it can be difficult to turn those motivations into contentious actions whilst simultaneously promoting the diffusion of grassroots innovations. The latter namely relies on cooperation, which can be compromised by contentious relations. This finding stresses the importance of a division of labor in social movements. If movements effectively want to promote both alternatives and resistance, it appears that there is a need for distinct organizations to push for each of them.

However, such a division of labor seems more common in some cities than others. We therefore present an in-depth comparative analysis of environmental activism in two British cities – Manchester and Bristol – which explores several contextual explanations for such variations. We thus aim to answer the question: Why are some urban contexts more conducive to a coordinated division of labor between resistance- and alternatives-oriented environmental movement organizations than others?