“Mobilization without Protest”. What Popular Dissent in Senegal Tells about the Blind Spots of Social Movement Theories.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Emmanuelle BOUILLY, Université Laval, CIRAM, RéQEf, Canada
My communication bears on a Senegalese popular mobilization about “illegal emigration”. In 2006, more than 30000 young sub-Saharans tried to reach Spain by boat-peoples. Number of them died during their exile. In the suburbs of Dakar, 350 mothers mobilized against their sons' emigration. Not only they voice their grievances about this scourge, but they publicly express concerns and make claims on broader issues such as female conditions of life, the economic crisis, or the failure of the State. They were joined by Senegalese expelled from the EU, foreign and national NGOs. This African case study enables to bring out and grasp the implicits and unthoughts of social movement studies, mostly built from Western cases. Social movements are classically defined as a social process through which actors engaged in a conflictual collective action with clearly identified adversaries, mainly States or institutions, to promote or oppose social change. Popular dissent in Senegal challenge this definition. I will show that (1) the State, or institutions, are not always the target. A mobilization can be its one purpose, it does not require the presence of opponents classically defined in political terms (here, collective action was a place of sociality and solidarity for mother’s migrants, a way of personal empowerment for Senegalese expelled, a form of self-help and service delivery); (2) when the State, or institutions, are targeted, social actors can chose forms of actions which are not disruptive, “confrontational”, or unconventional. Actors can voice their concerns, blame authorities, and claim for rights without protesting (for example, through patronage politics, or lobbying, the organization of public rallies or performances instead of marches). Thus, African cases invite scholars to scrutinize theoretical blind spots of social movement theories, and reconsider the analytical frontiers between mobilization, contention, and social movements, between unrest, contest, and protest.