Work Plan for 2014-15
Activism; leadership; institutionalization; change
Becky Hillyer, Paul Kingston, Bettina Lieres, Ranjita Mohanti, Jackson Mugume, Laurence Piper, Roberta Rice, Joana Wheeler, Laura Waibish
Broadly speaking, there is a pessimistic vision of the future of social movements and civil society activism, stating that social movements are deemed/ doomed to disappear. To be ‘successful’ they need to enter into the policy making arena and leave the pure contentious politics as sole mode of engagement; when they do this they lose their ability to be radical and need to compromise to ‘reform’ (expect in revolutionary cases! Even though, movement from liberation to government leads to compromises). (References – Max Weber, Robert Michels, see Barker’s chapter ‘Robert Michels and the cruel game’ for some debate.)
This group would like to study further the way activists (in CSOs, social movements or other) relate to institutions and sometimes occupy new institutional spaces (state / government, parties, other organisations) and how it changes their behavior, the way they frame their claims (or the nature of these claims), their political worldview, their ability to affect change. We hypothesize that there isn’t a simple relationship between institutionalization and activism – as assumed for instance by literature on the social movement organizations (the ‘cruel game’ / the ‘iron cage’ debate): there is a variety of changes that do not always fall under ‘co-option/sedation’ or ‘victory’. We want to try and defend hope and affirm the good stories, but also analyse more deeply the differences that various forms of institutionalization makes.
It relates to the former mediation group as understanding of activism as ‘in between’ civil society and institutions such as state, parties, private donors. This reflection on mediation led to critically analyse what this ‘in-between’ space means for activists – the straddling between these political spaces and what it does to both mediators, claims, legitimacy, efficiency. ‘Mediation was about ‘being between’; now this is about being across’ (Laurence) This reflection can possibly be taken into two directions – debate on the nature and modalities of ‘institutionalisation’; debate on activists ‘political subjectivities’. For now group members have expressed more interest for the first approach.
Three common possible sub themes/ research questions emerged from discussion between the members who were present in the team (Laurence, Claire, Roberta, Jackson – then Joanna and Becky).
1) Activism, Institutionalization and Hope
- How does institutionalization affect activism? / How can activists change institutions?
- How do activists respond to/ adapt to institutionalized context
- How do activists adapt to formal political space
2) The politics of claim making – Claims and Campaigns
- How claims are framed in various institutional/political/ local contexts.
- Instrumental framing of claims in a variety of public spaces / political audiences
- Categories / regimes of justice-injustice used to make claims
3) Representation as legitimacy rather than authorization
- Political theory does not conceptualize representation in ways that make sense in civil society contexts. How can we re-conceptualise representation and claims-to-representation in civil society contexts?
For 2014-15, we will focus on theme 1: Activists Institutions and Hope
- End of May, 2014 – Each member will send a one-page abstract (for a paper to be drafted for the next workshop) plus one story
- Story = story of hope (about 1000 words but can be more) – an activist who achieved an activist outcome through engaging with institutions / lessons from these engagements.
- Other possible methods & activities
- Stories / portraits – possibly self narratives, videos, posters, etc.
- Life histories? (reflection on political subjectivities); how one becomes an activist (Laurence and Joanna)
- Comparative work (thinking structures, replicability, contexts)