An archive for doing well and doing better

BY Chandra Russo

Mobilization has been integral to my scholarly trajectory. It provided my first engagement with the peer review process and has helped me to chart the development of social movement studies over the past 25 years. What I find most valuable about Mobilization are the many rich moments in the journal’s life in which different thinkers have taken stock and invited us to do the same, helping to identify what our field does well and how we can do better. Mobilization’s status as a pre-eminent archive of social movement scholarship is even more admirable for being an independent endeavor. (Apologies, Hank, that it took two years to get my own institution’s library to finally subscribe!!) 

I submitted my first academic article to Mobilization, a study that sought to make the body and embodiment more central to our understandings of activism. I knew from my own years of community organizing that embodied sacrifice and the viscerality of protest had impacted me and those I knew and suspected this phenomena might be patterned. Perhaps I had a good idea, but my work needed some development. Then-editor Rory McVeigh and my anonymous reviewers, along with mentor Verta Taylor, generously offered me the tools to strengthen the study and it was published at Mobilization in 2014. 

While the pressure to publish early in our careers is quite real, Mobilization has come to be much more valuable to me than the first journal that published my work. I can point to any number of individual studies that paved the way for me to do my own research. Two obvious examples: 1) Sharon Nepstad and Christian Smith (1999)’s article on high risk activism in the Central American solidarity movement refines understandings of biographical availability and high-risk activism in ways that made it possible for me to study people who have participated in high-risk activism throughout the life course. 2) Debra King’s (2004) life-history interviews with Australian activists  opened the conceptual space for me to suggest that emotions and embodiment are central to how activists and social movement organizations produce knowledge. 

There are some other studies which, while less obviously connected to my own research, are clearly treasures. Take M. Bahati Kuumba and Femi Ajanaku (1998) work on dreadlocks as “symbolic accompaniment to oppositional identities”(227) published in one of the earliest volumes of Mobilization well before social movement studies had widely accepted cultural studies approaches. This article examines how bodily practices help forge oppositional identities and consciousness, insights akin to what I find in my own work. Today, I am excited to see Tara R. Fiorito ‘s (2019) study of Dreamers foregrounding activist subjectivity, with all of its affective, embodied and emotional resonance, in addition to the much more well-established concept of collective identity. I work a good deal with the concept of subjectivity in my recent book, but never explicitly address why social movement scholars should take it up.

What I value most about Mobilization, however, has been the space it affords intrepid scholars willing to identify what our approaches presume, misunderstand or ignore in an effort to get us to do better. Twenty years ago, Jeff Goodwin, James Jasper, and Francesca Polletta (2000) made crucial observations about the field’s failure to adequately theorize the role of emotions and paved the way for renewed commitment to studying emotions as political phenomena. (Lest we presume such an intervention were merely academic, we might consider the past five years in American electoral politics).

Another more recent and urgent intervention is Aldon Morris’(2019) essay in reception of his 2018 John D McCarthy Lifetime Achievement Award. His discussion of the whiteness of social movement studies holds profound ethical, political and intellectual implications. Just as US sociology failed to predict the major upheavals of the twentieth century because of its racist “meta assumptions” so too will white, elitism continue to threaten the field’s analytic purchase. As I read it, Morris (2019) argues for a Du Boisian social movement studies willing to put itself to school with the people most impacted by structures of racial capitalism, Western empire, colonialism and, today, climate crisis. At Mobilization’s 25th anniversary, and with Morris’s call in mind, I am both grateful for all that the journal has helped to create while prompted to look towards the future.

In the invitation to write this essay, I was asked to engage with current events, a head-spinning proposition to say the least. Yet with such an invitation in mind, I think the stakes of social movement study might be profound. Without rehearsing the evidence, our current social, political and ecological condition appears to be untenable for the vast majority of the world’s beings, both human and non-human. There has always been a significant thread in social movement scholarship eager to make sense out of the crises of our time. I know I stand on the shoulders of giants in suggesting that our field might have much to gain through closer collaboration with grassroots movements for racial, gender and economic justice. These activists, after all, were largely unsurprised by a resurgent white nationalism that many failed to predict would push towards recent electoral outcomes in the US and elsewhere. 

I’ll end with the words of Verta Taylor published in Mobilization over a decade ago, also in reception of her 2008 McCarthy Award, as she implores us to “use our research to help change the way the public thinks about social protest and radical political thought (whether from the left or the right) by demonstrating its profound significance in a democratic society and increasingly in a globalized world”(126). 

I acknowledge that Mobilization is an academic journal published for a primarily academic audience. I clearly cast myself within the traditions of activist-scholarship and public sociology, orientations that are not shared by all who publish in Mobilization’s pages. But regardless of the varied motivations that bring people to the field and to this journal, thank you Mobilization for helping to forge and foster a place for so many of us to do this work.

 

References

Fiorito, Tara R. (2019) BEYOND THE DREAMERS: COLLECTIVE IDENTITY AND SUBJECTIVITY IN THE UNDOCUMENTED YOUTH MOVEMENT. Mobilization: An International Quarterly: September 2019, Vol. 24, No. 3, pp. 345-363.

Goodwin, Jeff,  James Jasper, and Francesca Polletta (2000) The Return of The Repressed: The Fall and Rise of Emotions in Social Movement Theory. Mobilization: An International Quarterly: March 2000, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 65-83.

King, Debra (2004) Operationalizing Melucci: Metamorphosis and Passion in the Negotiation of Activists’ Multiple Identities. Mobilization: An International Quarterly: February 2004, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 73-92.

Kuumba, M. and Femi Ajanaku (1998) Dreadlocks: The Hair Aesthetics of Cultural Resistance and Collective Identity Formation. Mobilization: An International Quarterly: October 1998, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 227-243.

Morris, Aldon (2019) SOCIAL MOVEMENT THEORY: LESSONS FROM THE SOCIOLOGY OF W. E. B. DU BOIS. Mobilization: An International Quarterly: June 2019, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 125-136.

Nepstad, Sharon and Christian Smith (1999) Rethinking Recruitment to High-Risk/Cost Activism: The Case of Nicaragua Exchange. Mobilization: An International Quarterly: April 1999, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 25-40.

Russo, Chandra (2014) Allies Forging Collective Identity: Embodiment and Emotions on the Migrant Trail. Mobilization: An International Quarterly: February 2014, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 67-82.

Taylor, Verta (2010) John D. Mccarthy Lifetime Achievement Award. Mobilization: An International Quarterly: June 2010, Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 113-134.

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