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Politics, Power and resistance Week 12: Action for Change I - Social Movements
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Politics, Power and resistance Week 12: Action for Change I - Social Movements


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The focus of our discussion of social movements will be on movements since the late 1960s when some authors spoke about the beginning of a new type of collective action in civil society known as new …

The focus of our discussion of social movements will be on movements since the late 1960s when some authors spoke about the beginning of a new type of collective action in civil society known as new social movements (NSMs). Unlike old formations, such as trade unions or political parties, NSMs were often based on a holistic approach that stresses identifying with the cause of the movement and living within it. Think of the environmental movement, or the gay or women’s rights movements, in which activists espouse a lifestyle rather than just a political attitude. Theorists have proposed therefore that identity is a crucial aspect of NSMs.

Since the heyday of the NSMs in the 1970s and 1980s what has happened? Many of the movements have become more and more professional in their approach, so that theorists such as Keck and Sikkink have spoken about Transnational Social Movement Organisations. These are organisations that may have begun as relatively local social movements, but have grown and expanded across borders. Many of them, such as Amnesty International employ hundreds of staff, membership is indirect rather than direct, and they are more and more involved in lobbying. Some of these organisations are those we think of as NGOs today. In contrast, many of the original NSMs have disappeared over time because changes in the way politics and collective action is conceived has changed and made them redundant.

However, new forms of social movements (new NSMs?) are growing up in their place. In particular, the Global Justice Movement, sometimes called the movement of movements has been important since the late 1990s. Events such as the World Social Forum and the various protests against a host of institutions such as the WTO or the G8 have become commonplace. Theorists argue that there is a direct connection between the local and the global, with the slogan ‘Think globally, act locally’ becoming evermore important.

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  • 1. Week 12: Action for Change I Social Movements A/Prof Alana Lentin Politics, Power & Resistance
  • 2. Overview Social Movements & Power Theories of Social Movements Social Movements and Identity Global Justice For a world without borders
  • 3. Social Movements & Power What is power? How can the powerless ever win? Interdependent Power The pay-off ‘Why are people without what we usually call power resources able to win anything, ever?’ Frances Fox Piven (2008: 4) Frances Fox Piven: US professor of sociology and political activist. has written extensively on the struggle for the rights of the poor and social movements. !Fox Piven talks about why people protest? Why do people get together to try to bring about change in their conditions? And how do they do it? !1. What is power !In order to understand the question - can social movements and protest have an effect on political power, it is necessary to understand what power is (re-cap). !The basic explanation of how power operates is called the zero-sum assumption (based on Weber) - power is the ability of one person/group having an affect on the actions of another person/group even when they show resistance. !But that does not explain anything in itself. The more interesting qu. we have been exploring throughout the unit is, who has power and why? !So, when it comes to social movements, we want to understand what are the circumstances in which those without power can have an effect on those with power. We will be looking at how different theorists have approached this question (next slides). !2. Fox Piven: protest movements have played a large part in history. We have seen this in previous weeks when we looked at the effects of the labour movement on extending workers’ rights, the effect of the feminist movement on citizenship, etc. !However, the role of protest is often played down in official history. History is usually written by those in power, and members of social movements are usually not in power. !Piven gives various examples of important protest movements in the US. The most recent and well-known example is the Civil Rights movement. ![play video silently] !The civil rights movement successfully ended segregation between blacks and whites in the American South where lynchings and beatings of black people as well as extreme poverty, lack of education and basic healthcare was routine. !The civil rights movement was notoriously non-violent, but as Fox Piven points out, it used violence in other ways. Civil rights protesters sat down on the ground and covered their hands
  • 4. Theories of Social Movements I - Liberal, Individual, Rational Resource Mobilization theory Cycles of protest and political opportunity structure Various theorists have tried to make sense of what drives individuals and groups to take action for change. !These theories and theorists come from different political perspectives. Some want to understand how to better control protest while others are committed to social change themselves. !Let’s look at three influential theories of social movements. !1. Resource mobilisation theory: !Pioneered by Mancur Olson (1968) !RMT is seen as a liberal theory because it is based on the premise that social phenomena are the result of individual choices and actions. !Olson: 2 premises: a) social choices are based on individual preferences b) individuals act rationally to maximise their interests and minimise their costs. !RMT is based on rational choice theory. Rational choice believes that no one does anything that is against their own interests, so RMT seeks to find out why an individual takes part in an action that seems to go against her own interest. e.g. why would you take part in a violent protest if it could lead to your arrest? !So, the question for RMT is how are resources mobilised in a way to make participation in social movements a rational thing to do for the individual participants? !In other words, how can I do as much as possible to ensure that the action will be in my own interest? !For example, in the case of the lunch counter protests during the US civil rights movement, the first three men who carried out the protest were arguably going against rationality - they stood a strong risk of getting beaten up. However, once the protests expanded to include many more people, there was less risk that they could all get hurt, so individual action becomes rational. !If we then conclude that the action contributed to the end of segregation in the US South and a better life for black people, we can argue that enough resources were mobilised to make the action worthwhile for the individual participant.
  • 5. From SDS to the Weathermen Underground [show clip from the Weather Underground film and explain]
  • 6. Theories of Social Movements I - Liberal, Individual, Rational Resource Mobilization theory Cycles of protest and political opportunity structure But, the cycles of protest theory doesn’t really explain why rational individuals take part in protest. if the most effective period is at the peak of the cycle of protest, the theory doesn’t explain why people start the movement off. The SDS started small and took years to grow into the mass movement it becomes. !It seems that we need something more than rational interest to explain why people become involved in social movements.
  • 7. Social Movement Theories II - Conflictual, Structural, Cultural Structure (Offe) Identity (Melucci) Action (Touraine) A different approach to the explanation of why people participate in social movements rejects the liberal, individualist and rationalist explanations of the RMT scholars. !New social movement theory is based in Marxism (although it is not explicitly Marxist). The starting point is that society is based on conflict and that conflict is always collective. People associate in groups - they are not purely individualist. In other words, they are not just out to gain something for themselves; they want to change society, for everyone. !The NSM theorists didn’t think that social movements try to influence the political process as it stands, but to push it to its limits in order to transform power relations and the way societies are run. !For example, to return to the example of the civil rights and students’ movements in the US, their aim was to bring about change. In the case of the students’ movement in particular, these were mainly privileged, white youth who had no individual rationale for action. In fact they put themselves at great risk, yet they felt so strongly about injustice at home and abroad that they too action. Why? !1. Structure: New social movement theorists emerge in the late 70s/80s to explain the growth in anti-institutional movements in western countries from the 1960s on. !Examples of NSMs include the women’s, gay rights movements, environmental movements, civil rights/antiracist etc. As we shall discuss these are often identity based movements. !All of these movements were concerned with the structural conditions of society in general. !For example, a neighbourhood group concerned with the building of a noisy pub/lack of cycling lanes (etc.) might form to lobby the council, but the group will disband once the action is over (with either success or failure). !In contrast, a new social movement is based on an issue so fundamental to the participants that every local issue folds into a more general politics that is ongoing. !Claus Offe (German theorist of social movements): !Offe took a structural approach to his analysis of the NSM phenomenon. He was most interested in the growth of the environmental movement in Germany in the 1970s. !The structure within which these movements were growing was a ‘post-industrial’ one. Industry was declining, less people worked in traditional jobs (going towards the ‘knowledge economy
  • 8. ‘Another World is Possible’ The Global Justice Movement Movement of Movements ‘Alterglobalization’ What has become known as the Global Justice Movement exploded onto the scene in 1999 with the protests against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle which led to violent clashes between the police and protesters. For the first time, protesters from across the world joined local activists to protest against what they saw as unjust multinational companies and their disproportionate influence on governments. ![Show film] !1. Alterglobalisation !The term ‘alterglobalisation’ refers to the criticism of the Global Justice Movement that it is opposed to globalisation. However, the slogan ‘another world is possible’ refers to the idea that the movement thinks that the strong emphasis on globalisation is taking the world in the wrong direction. !GJM activists often point out the paradox that, in a globalised world, the flow of goods and money become easier and easier, while people are more and more heavily policed at the border. As we discussed in Week 3 (Bauman), the rich can move while the poor are stuck in situations of poverty or injustice. !Economic globalisation serves to further divide the world into the rich centre and the poor periphery. The alter globalisation movement calls for the positive elements of globalisation - cross-cultural exhange, greater flows of information and knowledge, greater freedoms and the extension of rights, etc. to be prioritised over the economic which only leads to more injustice. !2. Movement of movements: Unlike traditional movements or even NSMs, the GJM is characterised by begin transnational and diffused. !There is no headquarters or leaders. Rather the GJM is made up of a multiplicity of actors in local organisations that are loosely organised through networks. For this reason it has become known as the ‘movement of movements’. !Movements traditionally have been based on facet-to-face contact, yet the GJM relies on the internet and new media technology to create communication between people in different parts of the globe with common interests. !This might lead to actual face-to-face meetings, such as during the yearly World Social Forum or to online communication or even just to local actors being inspired by work being done by activists in other parts of the world.
  • 9. Asylum Detention: A Diversity of tactics Direct action Boycott and Divestment The scope of the lecture doesn’t allow for a full assessment of Australia’s policy regarding asylum detention. I was to use the campaign against the mandatory detention of asylum seekers as an example of how social movements use a diversity of tactics to achieve a singular aim. !However, it is necessary to make a few background remarks: Australia is the first country in the world to have introduced mandatory detention (1992). Since September, asylum seekers who arrive to Australia by boat have been told they will not be processed or settled in Australia. Protection visas for asylum seekers already in AU have been removed making to much harder to get refugees status. Many people spend months and years in detention with no end in sight as they cannot be returned to their home countries. Australia has been described as a laboratory for the harsh treatment of refugees with many countries across the world following its example (e.g. israel - desert detention centres). It is not illegal to seek asylum or to arrive by boat in order to do so (despite bipartisan rhetoric). The UN has criticised Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and says that detaining asylum seekers in offshore detention centres does not remove Australia’s obligation towards them. !There are many different approaches taken by social movements to campaigning against Australia’s system of mandatory detention. These include legal advocacy, protests, rallies and vigils (e.g. Light the Dark vigil after the death of Reza Berati on Manus), letter writing and petitioning, dig-ins (e.g. Christians who sat in Scott Morrison’s office and were arrested), whistle blowing (G4S guards, migration agents speaking out), direct action (Woomera, Vilawood blockades), visits to asylum seekers in detention (now less possible due to removal offshore), boycott and divestment techniques. !Some of these different methods represent differences of opinion between different groups. But most campaigners agree that a diversity of tactics is necessary. !Let’s focus on three methods in brief:
  • 10. Asylum Detention: Direct Action Direct action/blockade: !Woomera 2002. In Easter 2002, activists went to Woomera in the desert of western Australia to protest against the removal of asylum seekers to remote areas. The activists were part of a global movement which spurred ‘no border camps’ in various locations in Europe for example, where activists camped at or near asylum detention centres to draw attention to the plight of asylum seekers locked within them. !Because the state state policy was to create an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ situation, the aim of the protesters was to ensure that people saw the human face of detention - ordinary people locked away against their will for having committed to no crime. ![show video] !As, Aizura Hankin remarks in their report on the event, this type of action serves to make a situation that may seem unimaginable to ordinary people, real: !‘I don't think you can really understand such a border until you're face to face with it, touching the bars, holding the hand of someone inside and wondering how it's possible that they ended up inside the fence and you didn't. I'm not usually a person who comes out with 'shoulds' but I reckon everyone should go to a border camp. This is a global issue.’ !A similar style of protest occurred recently on several occasion sin Sydney when protesters trued to block the removal of asylum seekers from Vilawood detention centre to W. Australia. While they were unsuccessful in doing so, arguably their action served the purpose of highlighting the plight of asylum seekers and letting them know that people in AU are in solidarity with them.
  • 11. Asylum Detention: Boycott & Divestment Unlike during the time of the Woomera protest, asylum centres have been moved offshore. It is almost impossible to go there. !Campaigners are developing new tactics alongside traditional strategies of protest, rallies, etc. !Boycott and divestment tactics recognise that the asylum system is today a public-private enterprise. The government doesn’t act alone but outsources its operations to private companies and even charities such as the Salvation Army. !Salvos and G4S - Transfield : $2.1 billion contract (+1.1 billion) !explain background to Biennale boycott. !Importance of social media - link to next week. !New emphasis is on the links between Transfield and NAB (largest shareholder in Transfield). !Super funds and divestment. !Boycott and divestment campaign is inspired by BDS against Israel. Campaigners believe that the only way to bring about change is to act o the terms that companies understand - they will not continue to operate in mandatory detention if it is bad for business. !!!!!
  • 12. Questions Why do people get involved in social movements? What would lead you to get involved/ protest? What forms of protest do you think will be most effective on behalf of asylum seekers?