Rethinking Social Movement from the Inside Out

June 2020

Social movement scholars and activists have become obsessed by right-wing populist movements sweeping the globe. Yet at the same time, progressive local movements are emerging on the ground. Often, however, social movement activists are not mapping the dynamics that boost these movements’ force. Nor do they explore these movements’ internal tensions and global connections with adequate subtlety. This seminar will convene distinguished social movement activists and scholars to probe these issues.  Using various starting points such as neo-Gramscian theories, we will compare emerging progressive movement, seeking insights that can do them justice. As we do so, we will ask a big question: how can these movement most effectively disrupt and even transform global power systems? We will ask this question in light of four key themes. How does each movement manifest race-gender transgression? How do its day-to-day practices prefigure—or subvert—its emancipatory aspirations? How does it intersect with different scales of time? How might its power be enhanced by emergent technologies? The seminar thus seeks to inform progressive movement insight in pragmatical ways. At the same time, through this inside-out engagement, we will push back against the top-down abstraction that has bogged down progressive movement theory so far. Through an iterative, comparative, experientially-grounded and multidisciplinary exploration, we seek theory which is partial and plural in its claims and aspirations. To start the conversation each participant will share an exhibit she curates manifestations of her movement's practice. This might include photos, audio/video clips, graphics, archival finds, oral histories, scholarly or personal texts and more. To that exhibit she will pose our big question and key themes. To build toward the seminar, we hope to host several local scholar and activist gatherings in coming months.