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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

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.

22/07/2019

Protest for a future: international report on #FridaysForFuture and the climate strike

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Composition, mobilization and motives of the participants in Fridays For Future climate protests on 15 March 2019, in 13 European cities. A multi-country collaboration report, with contributions from COSMOS researchers Lorenzo Zamponi, Donatella della Porta, Martín Portos, Niccolò Bertuzzi and Daniela Chironi.

21/06/2019

Call for papers: "The Nation and the Radical Left - Practices and Discourses of National Identity in Left-Wing Politics"

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The call for papers is now open for a conference on national identities and left-wing politics.

18/06/2019

Call for papers: “Class without consciousness” – The Politics of Fragmented Class Identities

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The call for papers is now open for a two-day conference on class and identities at the Scuola Normale Superiore on 14-15 November 2019

Publications

Journal Article - 2021

Populism between voting and non-electoral participation

Andrea Pirro & Martín Portos
The article focuses on a neglected aspect of populist mobilisation, i.e. non-electoral participation (NEP), and elaborates on the extent to which populist party voters engage politically outside the polling station. While challenging common understandings of populism as inherently distrustful and apathetic, and protest as an exclusive practice of the left, the study critically places NEP at the heart of populism in general, and populist right politics in particular.

Monograph - 2021

Migrant Protest. Interactive Dynamics in Precarious Mobilizations

Elias Steinhilper
This book explores the interactions and spaces shaping the emergence, trajectory, and fragmentation of migrant protest in unfavorable contexts of marginalization.

Special Issue - 2020

The Cultural Side of Populism: Politics, Emotions, Music and Subcultures in Populist Times

Manuela Caiani & Enrico Padoan
This special issue aims to combine an analytical perspective with an empirical focus on current populism(s) in Europe and their cultural aspects.

Journal Article - 2020

On corruption and state capture: The struggle of anti-corruption activism in Hungary

Andrea Pirro & Donatella della Porta
The article draws on social movement theory to understand collective action against corruption in Hungary. While offering a perspective on anti-corruption activism, the article demonstrates its limits against a set of unfavourable factors.

Monograph - 2020

Discursive Turns and Critical Junctures: Debating Citizenship after the Charlie Hebdo Attacks

Donatella della Porta, Pietro Castelli Gattinara, Konstantinos Eleftheriadis & Andrea Felicetti
The book offers an in-depth analysis of the unfolding of the public debate in terms of content of claims making, framing, and justifications as well as the quality (deliberativeness) of the discourses by a variety of actors in the public sphere.

Journal Article - 2020

Rethinking the digital democratic affordance and its impact on political representation: Toward a new framework

Marco Deseriis
This article advances a new theory of the digital democratic affordance, a concept first introduced by Lincoln Dahlberg to devise a taxonomy of the democratic capacities of digital media applications.

Monograph - 2020

Anti-Neoliberal Populisms in Comparative Perspective. A Latinamericanisation of Southern Europe?

Enrico Padoan
In this book, Enrico Padoan proposes an original middle-range theory to explain the emergence and the internal organisation of anti-neoliberal populist parties in Latin America and Southern Europe, and the relationships between these parties and the organised working class.

Journal Article - 2019

Alliance building and eventful protests: comparing Spanish and Portuguese trajectories under the Great Recession

Martín Portos & Tiago Carvalho
Social movement research has shed light on the relationship between processes of alliance building and multiple factors related to political opportunities, framing, identities, networks and resource mobilization. However, less is known about the impact of eventful protests on coalition building dynamics.

Monograph - 2019

Social Mobilization beyond Ethnicity. Civic Activism and Grassroots Movements in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Chiara Milan
This book offers an in-depth investigation of the emergence and spread of social mobilizations that transcend ethnicity in societies violently divided along ethno-national lines. Using Bosnia Herzegovina as a case study, the book explores episodes of mobilization which have superseded ethno-nationalist cleavages.