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The Centre on Social Movement Studies

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Geoffrey Pleyers – “Conceptualizing Social Movements”

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Is “#MeToo” a social movement? Is Nuit Debout a social movement or just an event? Are trade unions still social movements? Local food network who dedicate most of their time and energy to local food distribution to their members. Does it mean that they are not a social movement but a self-help network?

“Is it a social movement?” PhD students have raised the question about their research object in each seminar and course on social movements I have taught. Over the year, I have seen many of them struggling for months with this question and its underlying normative stances. I had myself been trapped by this question and the inevitable analytical dead ends it entails.

  1. First, such a question cannot have a simple answer, as concrete social actors are never as simple as a concept. Dealing with the question require us to discuss the use of concept and in particular the relation between concrete actors and the concept of social movement.
  1. Second, the question puts social scientists on a pedestal. S/he delivers a judgement on an actor, strengthening or challenging social legitimacy by asserting it is or it is not a social movement. Is it the role of social scientists to attribute good or bad points to social actors based on their correspondence to the criteria they consider in their definition of a social movement? This stance has led to long but little insightful debates on ongoing struggles (e.g. Touraine et al., 1996). The question “Is it a social movement?” inevitably leads to discuss (and challenge) the stance of the researcher towards its object that it entails. Beyond a particular definition, I would like to defend an analytical approach, a way of dealing with social reality that allow us a better understanding of social actors and their contribution to social change.
  1. Third, every leading sociologists of the field comes up with her own definition of the concept. Before asking “Is it a social movement?”, we need to provide an answer to the question “What is a social movement?”.

The problems raised by these three set of epistemological and analytical dead ends and the strong normative assertion that have been associated to the concept by some scholars have led most of scholars of the field to abandon the concept of social movements, replacing it by “collective actions”, “protests”, “contentious politics”, “resistance” among other alternatives.

In this adverse context, I would like to make a plea for the concept of social movement. It is certainly not a good timing to defend the concept, as it is currently under harsh criticisms by all sides of the research field, from resource mobilization theories to resistance studies and the epistemologies of the South. A talk at COSMOS, the main center of social movement studies in Europe, is however the best occasion to start the discussion and make the point that to remain insightful in social sciences and society, the concept of “social movement” requires an update, based on elements that are already present in the literature as in the way researcher and actors use the concept and experience social movements in the 21st century.

In my presentation, I will argue that considering the concept of social movement as a specific meaning of action allows us to get rid of these analytical dead ends and opens an insightful and comprehensive approach of contemporaneous social movements that need to be understood beyond the classic dichotomies between individual or collective, public or private, political or cultural. I will illustrate this definition and the analytical approach it entails by applying it to two cases: local food movements and indigenous movements.

News

10/01/2022

SNS announces 14 fully-funded PhD positions

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The Faculty of Political and Social Sciences at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Florence, Italy is pleased to announce 14 PhD fellowships beginning on November 1, 2022.

16/07/2021

Prof. della Porta to lead VolkswagenStiftung-funded ECSEuro project

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Reflecting the European challenge of transnational cooperation and multiple crises, this project asks how local political initiatives across Europe enact citizenship and solidarity and contribute to the vision of a more democratic Europe from below.

09/07/2021

SNS announces 7 fully-funded PhD positions

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The Faculty of Political and Social Sciences at the Scuola Normale Superiore announces 7 fully-funded PhD positions. Deadline for applications: 21 August 2021.

28/09/2020

Four post-doctoral research positions on the pandemic

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The Scuola Normale Superiore announces four post-doctoral positions to be activated as part of the research project “After the coronavirus pandemic: The effects of the health emergency on society and knowledge.” 

26/02/2020

CFP Athens conference "Capitalism, Democracy, Contention: A Decade of Crisis" 13-15 May 2020

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Aspiring to shed light on the Greek experience in the era of crisis in a comparative, inter-disciplinary perspective, the Laboratory on Contentious Politics (Department of Political Science and History, Panteion University, Athens), the Centre on Social Movement Studies (Scuola Normale Superiore, Florence) and the Hellenic Political Science Association are organizing an international conference to be held at Panteion University, on 13, 14 and 15 May 2020.

12/12/2019

Prof. Donatella Della Porta to Be Awarded Honorary PhD

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On Friday 13, 2019, the University of the Peloponnese (PSIR) will award an honorary doctorate to Professor Donatella Della Porta, Dean of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences at the Scuola Normale Superiore.

Publications

Journal Article - 2022

Populists in power and conspiracy theories

Andrea Pirro & Paul Taggart
Looking at three cases of populists in government – Orbán in Hungary, Trump in the United States, and Chávez in Venezuela – we examine the definition of conspiring elites (who), the circumstances under which conspiracy theories are propagated (when), and the ultimate purpose of conspiratorial framing (why).

Monograph - 2022

Resisting the Backlash: Street Protest in Italy

Donatella della Porta, Niccolò Bertuzzi, Daniela Chironi, Chiara Milan, Martín Portos & Lorenzo Zamponi
Drawing interview material, together with extensive data from the authors’ original social movement database, this book examines the development of social movements in resistance to perceived political "regression" and a growing right-wing backlash.

Journal Article - 2022

The mobilization for spatial justice in divided societies. Urban commons, trust reconstruction and socialist memory in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Chiara Milan
The article contributes to the urban studies literature and the study of social movements in divided societies by disclosing the distinctive features and mobilizing potential that the notion of urban commons retains in a war-torn society with a socialist legacy.

Journal Article - 2022

Casting a new light on the democratic spectator

Andrea Felicetti
Scholarship in relation to democratic theory tends to see spectatorship as a state in which citizens are politically uninterested, isolated, and passive. In this article, the author shows that positive spectatorship occurs when citizens show an interest in one or more political problems and, together with others, strive to understand them better.

Journal Article - 2022

Far right: The significance of an umbrella concept

Andrea Pirro
This contribution makes the case for a shift in boundaries between the (populist) radical right and the extreme right, arguing for the systematic use of the term ‘far right’.

Journal Article - 2022

Performing (during) the Coronavirus crisis: The Italian populist radical right between national opposition and subnational government

Andrea Pirro
The first year of COVID-19 confirmed the standing of the populist radical right in Italy. While sitting in opposition at the national level, Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy and Matteo Salvini's League shared common criticism of the Conte II government but experienced diverging trajectories in terms of popularity. These changes can be partly attributed to the different agency of their leaderships. Overall and collectively considered, the Italian populist radical right broke even during the first year of COVID-19, but the crisis exposed the first cracks in Salvini's leadership.

Monograph - 2022

Contentious Politics in Emergency Critical Junctures

Donatella della Porta
Based on existing research on the first phases of the pandemic Covid-19, this Element addresses the ways in with the health emergency had an impact on the repertoire of action, the organizational networks and the collective framing of progressive social movements that adapted to the pandemic conditions and the related crises, but also tried to transform them.

Edited Volume - 2021

Contentious Migrant Solidarity. Shrinking Spaces and Civil Society Contestation

Donatella della Porta & Elias Steinhilper
Building upon social movement and migration studies, this book maps the two sides of ‘contentious solidarity’: a shrinking civic space and its contestation by civil society.

Journal Article - 2021

Learning from Democratic Practices: New Perspectives in Institutional Design

Andrea Felicetti
Drawing from literature on democratic practices in social movements and democratic innovations, the article illustrates three ways to advance institutional design in the wake of the systemic turn.

Journal Article - 2021

Far-right protest mobilisation in Europe: Grievances, opportunities and resources

Pietro Castelli Gattinara, Caterina Froio & Andrea Pirro
In this article, we bridge previous research on the far right and social movements to advance hypotheses on the drivers of far-right protest mobilisation based on grievances, opportunities and resource mobilisation models. We use an original dataset combining novel data on 4,845 far-right protest events in 11 East and West European countries (2008–2018), with existing measures accounting for the (political, economic and cultural) context of mobilisation.