The economic crisis of 2007/2008 presented a challenge to the welfare state in the UK, and, more widely, across Europe. It also presented a challenge to many citizens, who were on the receiving end of the austerity agenda, and subsequent tightening of welfare spending. If nothing else, the financial crisis demonstrated the hegemony of economic theories prominent in neoliberal capitalism. As many academics and commentators have identified, however, the current period of instability is indicative of a systemic crisis. In addition to this analysis, the crisis also exposed the intricate and opaque links between western governments and the financial sector. During and after the crisis an eruption of activity in civil society galvanized many that had been directly affected by either the crisis itself—through loss of employment—or by the subsequent austerity measures imposed. This article aims to examine the current crisis affecting the welfare state in the UK, and social policy more broadly, and, begins to suggest how social movements are seeking to challenge the dominant discourses surrounding austerity politics. The article suggests some reasons as to why traditional forms of resistance and organization—such as the mobilizations of the trade union movement—have largely been unsuccessful in challenging such narratives. The article concludes by considering the shift from trade unionism in the UK to post-crisis social movements, and where an anti-austerity movement more broadly might develop further in pursuit of defending the principles of social welfare, and, ultimately, the welfare state.
Political Challenges under Austerity in the UK
In current and future situations of trans-global crises, social dissent and related practices of resistance cut across conventional country boundaries. Expressions of dissent and resistance pursue change through unconventional practices not only to challenge current governance, but to re-invent participation. They seek to impact society by transforming acquired values, subjectivities and knowledge. Despite these transformations of people’s subjectivities, majoritarian theories examining social movements still focus on finding rational patterns that can be instrumentalized in data sets and produce generalizable theoretical outcomes. This paper problematizes how social theory makes sense of collective action practices on the ground. Everyday non-discursive practices prove productivity-led theories' increasing disengagement with their object while challenging the excessive bureaucratization of scientific knowledge (Lyotard, 1997). That is, people experiment collectively with their capacities, and create their own initiatives and identities which do not follow determined patterns but do-while-thinking. The dichotomist approach of majoritarian debates in collective action theory is critically analysed by introducing the work of ‘minor authors’ and ‘radical theorists’. The fundamental purpose of this paper is to open a discussion space between the field of social action theories and activism knowledge, hence encouraging the creation of plateaus that blur academic boundaries and construct new subjectivities beyond “the indignity of speaking for others” (Deleuze in Foucault et al., 1977. p. 209). Drawing on the experience of the 15th of May 2011 in Spain, I analyse how radical theory reflects on current movements and collectives."
Ten Theses toward a Research Agenda for Scholars of Contention Today
George Floyd’s murder by police on 26 May 2020 set off a cycle of struggle that was notable for its size, intensity, and rate of diffusion. Starting in Minneapolis, the uprising quickly spread to dozens of other major cities and brought with it a repertoire that included riots, arson, and looting. In many places, these tactics coexisted with more familiar actions like public assemblies and mass marches; however, the inflection these tactics gave to the cycle of contention is not easily reconciled with the protest repertoire most frequently mobilized during movement campaigns in the United States today. This discrepancy has led to extensive commentary by scholars and movement participants, who have often weighed in by considering the moral and strategic efficacy of the chosen tactics. Such considerations should not be discounted. Nevertheless, I argue that both the dynamics of contention witnessed during the uprising and their ambivalent relationship to the established protest repertoire must first be understood in historical terms. By considering the relationship between violence, social movements, and Black freedom struggles in this way, I argue that scholars can develop a better understanding of current events while anticipating how the dynamics of contention are likely to develop going forward. Being attentive to these dynamics should in turn inform our research agendas, and it is with this aim in mind that I offer the following ten theses.
Srdja Popović and Slobodan Djinovic
In the academic world, scholars sometimes adopt quite complex and varying definitions of social movements. In public discussion and civic debate, a social movement is usually defined as a loosely organized but sustained campaign in support of
The nature of capitalism in its neoliberal form is decreasing higher education’s exclusive domain of knowledge production by exposing students to and exploiting local knowledge production. This has created a paradox. Experiential learning is being supported as ‘academic’ because students learn skills, values and perspectives by engaging in communities of practice. Through community service learning and social justice oriented internships, students learn about emancipatory social movements while simultaneously providing their intellectual capital. Urban Semester Program students participate in the movement for affordable housing, with its origins in post-war Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where many Puerto Ricans settled. Engaged in a struggle against displacement, for self-determination and developing community sustainability by advocating and winning low and moderate income housing, residents are determined to remain in their neighbourhood. Students are engaged in this struggle and connect this exposure to their internships, and the globalising world economy, the role of the state, and corporate power.
Methodological Reflections on Participatory and Ethnographic Research
The concept of participation is currently evoked by constituencies as varied as urban planners, local governments, universities and social movements. This coincides with a revival of participatory research methods in the social and cultural sciences. This article argues that the critical potential of participatory research methods should not be taken for granted in cognitive capitalism, where participation is as much an instrument for governmental regulation from above as it is a practice for democratic self-determination from below. First, the politics of participation from the emancipatory departures of the 1970s to today's revival are being discussed. Second, based on a long-term ethnographic study on the transnational Euromayday movement of the precarious, it is demonstrated how positioning the researcher using reflexive ethnography can support a critical research attitude through a process of reflexive hybridisation. In concluding, reflexive activist scholarship is outlined as a critical research attitude which encourages participatory knowledge production in a way that responds both to the field of activism and the field of academia.
This article will analyse the power relations involved in social movement research, exploring alternative epistemological practices that resist and subvert academic conventions in order to create new modes of knowing. I will critique the production of a knowledge that aims at liberation and emancipation by conducting research 'about' or 'on behalf of' social movements, and I will show how this approach might lead to their very subjection. It will be argued that, in order to avoid the reproduction of power relations they seek to resist, research practices need to go beyond dialectical modes of knowing, departing from assumptions of the subject/object of knowledge, of objective/subjective research and from the hierarchy between theory and praxis. A precedent is found in the research approaches of post-colonial, activist, and queer studies that seek to experiment different modes of knowing, based not on observation and participation, but on learning from the experience of resistance in social movements: in this way resistant practices become an epistemological perspective rather than an object of study, and research can become a tool of resistance.
For or against commoning?
ground and through the multiplying virtual spaces. How do movements around the urban commons differ from more traditional social movements, and in what ways do they address or emerge from the specifics of contemporary neoliberal regimes? Within Europe and
presented by the various political contexts in which they find themselves. The overall aim is, then, to investigate the spatiosocial organization of social movements and particular protest camps and to highlight their actual organizational forms and the ways
Researching Social Movements in Authoritarian Contexts
that have, therefore, a significant impact on the nature of the project itself and the knowledge produced. While mainstream scholarship approaches the study of social movements with theory-led questions or by applying a theoretical model (usually