Improvisation: Embodiment, Affect and Imagination

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Kevin MCDONALD, Middlesex University London, United Kingdom
Despite the importance of creativity and rupture within collective action, social movement studies has emerged as one of the areas of sociology most shaped by analytical sociology and its commitment to analyse social life in terms of ‘social mechanisms’, dynamics and processes, and a research strategy that considers social movements fundamentally ‘familiar process’ to be disaggregated into their ‘component mechanisms’, in order to understand ‘what makes them work’. Here the study of social movements becomes reduced to disaggregating the mechanics of protest.

In this paper I argue that rather than focus on disaggregating the familiar, the task of social movement studies today is to reconstruct our capacity to capture the unfamiliar, in particular rupture and creativity. To do this we need a radical break with the social mechanisms paradigm, and new types of method and intervention, capable of engaging with embodiment, affect and imagination, and with practices of human vulnerability and a corresponding ethics. This involves a break with the ‘protest paradigm’ that has come to dominate social movement studies, and calls for a new engagement with relational practices, increasingly involving making and doing, though which need is made visible. This involves a new focus on practices of care and on actors’ struggle to make need and vulnerability take on social and political forms. This demands a new attention to the increasing importance of creative processes in emergent forms of self-organizing, increasingly experienced as spaces of resonance, where actors seek to thread aesthetic practices into action, and in the process produce different capabilities to feel. Such practices are central to attempts to construct new relationships between ethics and politics. This paper puts this theoretical framework to work through exploring the increasing importance of improvisation in contemporary action, and the ethic of attention to the particular that such practices involve.