This article seeks to explore the work of activist researchers located in social movements, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and people’s organisations with close relations to contemporary progressive grassroots struggles in a number of countries, mainly in the global South. Drawing from extensive interviews with these researchers on their processes and practice of research and knowledge production, located outside of academic institutions and partnerships, it documents their understandings about the theoretical frameworks and methodologies they employ. This article thus foregrounds articulations of actual research practices from the perspectives of activist researchers themselves. In doing so, it suggests that social movement scholars can learn more about the intellectual work within movements, including the relations between theoretical and methodological approaches and action, from a deeper engagement with the work of activist researchers outside of academia.
What Activist Researchers Say about Theory and Methodology
Heather Came, Joey MacDonald and Maria Humphries
Aotearoa (also known as New Zealand) is a jurisdiction that must respond to the inequitable elements of the multifaceted oppressions of its colonizing past and present if it is to live up to its claim to being an honorable nation. Early intensification of colonizing practices embedded European values over those of the indigenous people with lasting devastating effects. In search of a national integrity, activist traditions of exposure, resistance, dissent and non-violent direct action to injustices are longstanding in this land. Activist scholarship however, is a more recent phenomenon. We explore the potential of activist scholarship to contribute more directly to transformations that will embed justice in the diverse sociopolitical economic context of New Zealand. We outline what we understand by activist scholarship and how we believe it can strengthen both sociopolitical activism and academic scholarship in synergistic ways. We propose seven principles of activist scholarship, generated through on-going dialogue with our activist scholar peers. We offer them as a starting point for discussion and critique until a collective statement emerges. We showcase Ngāpuhi Speaks as an example of such potential synergies.
Theoretical and Practical Insights from the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign
Brooke Hansen and Jack Rossen
As participants in the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign, we explore our experiences as allies and activist anthropologists in a collaborative venture that involved participants from Native nations, academia and local communities. The campaign included local, regional and international events aimed at re-enlivening a 400-year-old treaty espousing mutual respect and balance between Europeans and the Haudenosaunee. The highlight of the symbolic renewing of the treaty culminated in a journey down the Hudson River with Native and non-Native paddlers embodying an ally relationship as they paddled side by side and were followed by ground crews, the media and thousands of onlookers. The campaign, challenged by some anthropologists as being based on a ‘fake’ treaty, demonstrated the successful and dynamic components of a multicultural movement. It inspired us to refl ect on the current state of activist anthropology and see the intersections with decolonisation theories, indigenous anthropology and pedagogies of engagement.
On the Form and Temporality of Protests among Left Radical Activists in Europe
During the past 10 years, protests timed to coincide with international summits have become a recurrent phenomenon in Europe. The present article describes the protests of left radical activists during NATO's sixtieth anniversary summit in Strasbourg in 2009, paying attention to the particular relationship between form, body, and time. The article establishes a dialogue between the performative theory of Victor Turner, Viveiros de Castro's theorization of Amerindian perspectivism, and newer theories of time and the body. It is argued that during confrontations between activists and the police, a moment of bodily synchronicity emerges among activists. A skillful performance makes a temporal bodily perspective appear that overcomes the antinomies between immanence and transcendence, between the present and the future, that characterize much thought on social change.
Anthropological knowledge production in question
This article draws out some of the implications of the fact that what anthropologists claim to know, or want to say, is unavoidably and in complicated ways bound by the ethics of involvement, detachment, and institutional location. I will first consider the increasingly common practice of circulating the output of anthropological research within the social context of its fieldwork, among the various research participants and interlocutors. Second, I will try to account for the sometimes negative reception of ethnographic accounts, especially where the research has focused on organizations (e.g., NGOs), activists, or others professionally concerned with public representations of their work. Third, I will reconsider the notion of “speaking truth to power” by pointing to the unacknowledged power of ethnographic description. Finally, I will suggest that ethical concerns are generated as much by the theoretical framing of research as by fieldwork practice, and that these are matters of choice rather than inherent in the ethnographic method.
Political cultures that divide
This article presents a comparative investigation of anti-GMO activism in two regions in France. It shows how activists’ participation in acts of ‘civil disobedience’ was not necessarily motivated by the same reasons or directed toward the same goals. During my ethnographic fieldwork at two trials against activists who destroyed GMO test plots in France I found that although protagonists were in agreement on rejecting GMOs, their deeper motives differed significantly. I draw five socio-biographical portraits of anti-GMO activists and highlight their divergent opinions on their role in the court case, which illustrate how in their utilization of the court activists relate differently to the legal system and society at large. The anti-globalization organization Attac and the farmers’ trade union Con- fédération Paysanne clearly had different relations to politics but I also analyze why in Ariège these differences could be harmonized whereas in Droˆme differences between activists lead to serious divisions. I do so by considering how different local activist cultures are shaped within a competitive organizational arena.
This paper examines the emergence in Sri Lanka of transcultural thinking about environmental issues as well as the activism it engenders by examining the role of the Anglophone Sri Lankan elite as the chief protagonists historically of environmentalism in the country. It also examines one of Sri Lanka's leading NGOs, Environmental Foundation Ltd. (EFL) as an example of the activism of this class. EFL's perspective on environmental issues has its origins in the transformations wrought by colonialism in the country's class structure and in the introduction of European ideas of nature to the country's newly emergent middle-class. Modelled on the Natural Resources Defense Council of the United States, EFL was a new kind of environmental organization in Sri Lanka and a response to globalization and Sri Lanka's increasing integration into the global economy. Unlike the handful of environmental NGOS that existed in the late seventies, which were essentially pressure groups, EFL was conceived, on the model of NRDC, as a public interest law firm, and drew on international models to frame its arguments about the application of the law in the cause of environmental protection. This paper examines how these various factors—the social class of the activists and the processes of institution building—shaped a cosmopolitan environmental discourse in Sri Lanka whose roots lie in urban Sri Lankan middle class culture as it emerged and was transformed during colonial rule and in the various discourses of globalization that have been drawn on by Sri Lankan activists to craft their own arguments.
A Response to Laila Soliman's No Time for Art
This article explores what it means to produce art in times of crisis, contending that activist art has no time for institutional frameworks in ways that present the artwork as unfinished or part of a process as opposed to unprocessed. In particular, it engages with the challenges raised by Laila Soliman’s performance project No Time for Art regarding the question of how to honor those who have lost their lives in the ongoing Egyptian revolution. Accordingly, making use of criticism, poetry, art, and photography, the article experiments both with the need for subjective responsibility in the face of political negligence and with how an accretive creative network of solidarity may be mobilized in keeping with considerations of the sacred entailed by revolutionary martyrdom.
The Conflict Between Ungdomshuset and Faderhuset
Stine Krøijer and Inger Sjørslev
This article is concerned with the idea of societal 'spaciousness' and its relationship to individual and collective autonomy. These issues are analyzed in the context of the eviction of a self-managed social center of left-radical activists in Copenhagen and the protests and public debate that followed. The authors find that societal spaciousness in Denmark is metaphorically associated with a house or a limited physical space. People should limit themselves in public space, as in a house, to 'make room' for all. Because youngsters are not conceived of as fully fledged political subjects who are able to conduct themselves appropriately in public space, they become a group of special concern. The authors argue that space should be conceived as a dimension of social relations, and that sociality relies on a temporal assemblage of people, things, and imaginaries with space.
Sex Trade in the Borderlands of Europe
Tracie L. Wilson
In this article I analyze accounts from police and women’s activist documents from the turn of the twentieth century, which present narratives of sex trafficking in and from Galicia, an eastern borderland region of the Habsburg Empire. Both police and activist accounts underscore the image of innocent women forced into prostitution, although police accounts provide more variety and nuance regarding degrees of coercion and agency demonstrated by women. I examine what such narratives reveal about the role of crossing boundaries—an act central to both sex trafficking and efforts to maintain empire. In this context, I consider how the Habsburg authorities coped with and attempted to manage populations whose mobility appeared especially problematic. Although this research draws extensively from historical archives, my analysis is guided by perspectives from folklore studies and the anthropological concept of liminality.