Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift, Arts of the Political: New Openings for the Left (Duke University Press, 2013)
Arts of the Political: New Openings for the Left, by Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift, isn’t exactly beach reading, but to those interested in a novel effort to link a wide range of political theory to practical politics, it is an interesting and (surprisingly—given the theoretical range it covers) engaging read. With apologies to Claude Levi-Strauss, this is the sort of book that is “good to think with,” especially for readers willing to use its engagement with political thought as a jumping off point for further reading or as a way to understand their own activism in a new way. That said, while this is a book about social movements, those looking for a direct engagement with what I would consider to be the main currents in social movement theory (both contemporary and historical) will be disappointed.
Amin and Thrift, at least in the United States, are probably best known to those working in what could loosely be considered “critical” urban geography. Continue reading
As I read across the diverse pieces in this essay dialogue, one thing struck me: where are the bodies? I’ve framed this response as bringing the body “back” in. I’ve included “back” because I like it as a rhetorical device–especially when it allows for alliteration. But I”m bracketing “back” because, unlike other things that we are bringing back in–like emotions and grievances–I’m not sure we had the body in the mix to begin with.
Focusing on the relationship between the body and emotion allows us to get at that long-neglected aspect of social movement dynamics–the protest. Whatever happened to protests? Continue reading
Scholars have been struggling for some time now to find or create the most effective language to talk about the causal importance of emotions in general and their role in politics and social movements in particular. Our rhetoric generally reflects a familiar and largely unconscious way of thinking about emotions, one which I will call the reification-and-attribution approach. Continue reading
I followed a post-workout routine yesterday. I sat in an atrium café in a local downtown mall to eat a sandwich and look over notes from the morning’s writing. The café is on the ground floor beneath an open second tier walkway, where shoppers promenade by store windows. A group of young boys ran along the walkway shouting down at those, like myself, sitting below. Then two gobs of spittle cascaded down, aimed at me but hitting the cushion of the chair I was seated in. The boys ran off laughing gleefully. While I said nothing I was furious. I put down my pen and reflected on what just happened, why I was angry, but did nothing to show it. Most pointedly, I reflected about who those boys where and what might explain their behavior, I am after all a sociologist! Continue reading
I recently completed a manuscript about the role of what I call “feeling-thinking processes” in protest. These are the many tiny ways that we register the world around us through our bodies, ranging from sensory input to the dozens of neurotransmitters we constantly produce (dopamine, adrenaline, etc.), to muscle contractions (including facial expressions), on up through the verbal labels (emotions proper) that we sometimes apply to bundles of these feeling-thinking processes. Emotions such as love, trust, or happiness are conscious acknowledgement of many unconscious feeling-thinking processes. Continue reading
Is studying emotions in social movements a distinct agenda from studying movements’ interactions with institutions or the state? Are some movements oriented toward emotional change and others toward policy change? Are movements such as the one against child sexual abuse, which I have studied, fundamentally different from those that stick to topics where emotions are less apparent, or those that focus narrowly on policy demands? My own work, and that of others, suggests not.[i] Continue reading
Emotions can get us into the streets, but can they keep us silent, too? Social movement scholars have paid attention to emotions in recent years, but we still focus primarily on how emotions shape social action rather than how they may prevent it. In the case of public response to global warming, I find the latter to be particularly interesting. Global climate change is not only the single most significant environmental issue of our time, widespread and potentially catastrophic social impacts are predicted from sea level rise and changing patterns of precipitation and disease. As events from Hurricane Katrina and Super-storm Sandy to pine bark beetle infestations in Colorado and melting permafrost in Alaska reveal, changing climactic conditions will increasingly jeopardizes state economic resources, exacerbate social inequality, alter community structures, and generate new patterns of economic and social conflict. For nearly three decades, natural and physical scientists have provided increasingly clear and dire assessments of the alteration in the biophysical world. Yet despite these urgent warnings, human social and political response to ecological degradation remains wholly inadequate. Continue reading
“Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism more often?” I asked this question to the leader of one of the largest Islamic organizations in the United States. “I condemn terrorism one hundred times a day,” he told me, “… I condemn terrorism in my sleep.” A few weeks later, I turned on Fox News to watch coverage of the unfolding controversy about the construction of an Islamic Center near Ground Zero. Pamela Geller—the telegenic leader of the Stop the Islamization of America Movement— is fuming. The proposal, she says, is part of a worldwide conspiracy to launch a violent Islamic empire under the guise of political correctness. Continue reading
To account for the emergence of social movements one rarely starts with these movements themselves but instead with their context and/or creators – treated as explanations for mobilization. In terms of context, for example, differing economic and/or political resources, favorable political opportunity structures, developing protest cycles or networking have served to explain movement mobilization. In terms of creators, successful movement organizing or mobilizing have been explained by, for example, the “right” decisions of the “movement entrepreneurs” to invest limited movement resources, the capacity of “movement intellectuals” to produce and disseminate new knowledge, the ability of the leaders to “frame” reality to fit that of the potential movement members while emphasizing the urgency and the efficacy of collective action, etc.
From the emotions perspective the context is constituted by the relations of domination and their emotional underpinnings. Let me illustrate. Continue reading
In the first half of the 20th Century, pluralism and related group theories were a major force—if not a dominant force—in political science. Politics was viewed as a clash between pressure groups that would arise naturally in pursuit of shared interests. However, everything changed after Mancur Olson (1965) pointed out the inherent flaw in this logic. From a purely rational standpoint, individuals may share the desire to attain a public good—be it clean air, food safety regulation, or even democracy itself—yet, because public goods are non-divisible, each individual has an incentive to free-ride. According to Olson, this was why, as Schattschneider (1960) had already pointed out, large public interests seemed to lose out to narrower “special” interests. Continue reading