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RC47 Manifesto for International Collective Action Research

Since our origins in Mexico City in 1982, Research Committee 47 has had as its central theme the problem of social movements, social stratification/inequality and the latter’s relationship to changing social structures and processes of societies at large. Our focus was, and continues to be, contemporary societies, their institutions and actors. Research Committee 47 emerged as the result of fervent debates within social movement research and intellectual networks – in Europe and America – for more open interdisciplinary approaches. Hence, in the early 1980’s, as the post industrial thesis was fervently resonating throughout the Social Sciences, Research Committee 47 was created as a social movements/collective action response to a fundamental shift in the structure and perception of new and emerging social forces.

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The prevailing scientific standpoint of Research Committee 47 has been to demonstrate how collective action is related to the innate structures of society. It is important to underscore that one of the distinguishing characteristics of Research Committee 47 has been to study social movements less as objects, in and of themselves, than for what they reveal about changing social relationships and actual social transformations. Our historical perspective can be situated under these following 3 rubrics. Firstly, social movements constitute, from our viewpoint, a nodal entry into both subtle and explicit processes of social re-composition, which today characterize contemporary societies. We therefore maintain a critical distance to social movement approaches that recline solely on sectorial or instrumentalist readings of contemporary collective action. Secondly, our interest has been to demonstrate how specific actions by actors produce the social, in terms of new forms and representations of domination and inequality. And lastly, we have long seen it as our research mission to address broad global/social stratification issues.

But much has occurred, socially, politically, economically and culturally since our appearance as the first organized international network of social movement theorists and researchers within the ISA. These changes require a careful and deliberative re-focusing of our social imaginations as movement theorists, researchers and practitioners. Debates between new and old social movements have exhausted themselves, but at the same time have pried opened doors to help us conceptualize new forms and apparitions of power, politics, domination and exclusion, within equally novel contexts of uncertainty, risk and finally globalization. All this occurs within contexts wherein the institutions that were once adversarial counterpoints for collective action, identities and politics, have entered into severe crisis, conspicuous by the local/global dynamics of social, political and cultural transformation. Never before has social movement research brushed-up so closely to the general problem of sociology, through its effort to define a role for the social in the determination and analysis of contemporary conflicts and tensions.

Social movement research therefore finds itself at a critical watershed, a fortuitous crossroads, composed of the increasingly intense locality of individually lived experiences and the unanchored global characteristics of contemporary power constellations. Such a matrix reveals the increasingly central role of the subject, underscoring how one comes to be an actor, as opposed to a local/global bystander. Much is being asked of social movement theorists. And, we must respond.

This Manifesto is meant to define arenas of research for this Committee, in its current four-year phase. Our general concerns continue to be the overall problem of collective action and social movements. Ours is a decidedly open, international, socio-political and cultural approach, using interdisciplinary methods and tools of analysis. While we maintain our attachment to the aforementioned historic mission of Research Committee 47, we are here forging a ‘next phase research path‘ for International Collective Action Research. These are:

New Modes of Exclusion and Institutionalization

This refers to the empirical exploration of new forms of inequality and global/local asymmetrical relationships that constitute modern societies. Key words that distinguish this field of study are: urban/global interactions and experiences, subjectivity, institutional crisis, social reflexivity, emotions and politics, youth, new global work contexts, the diversity of identities, shifting citizenship claims, risk, refugee movements, migration, violence and anti-modern movements. We see this research module as case-study intensive and comparative in its design and execution. The module is focused on the contemporary actor sited in new social contexts of exclusion and collective action.

Internationalization and Social Movements

Research Committee 47 proposes a research program that looks at diverse categories of social movements and their modes of global/local action. Much has been said about globalization in the past 10 years. We are still, however, in need of a focused critical assessment of globalization. What are the fields of action being indicated when researchers direct their attention to globalization? A key challenge is establishing a base for comparative work within the context of international research. Modern and anti-modern movements, as well as the global North and South are of particular interest in this module. In what manner do these diverse forms of local/global collective action re-define the modern state(s) and international social relations? How do these movements create debate and controversy regarding global security and a globalized civil society? Our research interest in this module is not only those movements seeking: a) social and cultural emancipation, or struggling against exclusion, in the modernist sense, but also those that are: b) characterized by their tentative, transitory, at times violent, dystopic nature and heightened sense of non- negotiability. In the context of ongoing global, institutional, economic and military crises, relationships between the two categories have become significantly more textured, and unmediated.

The Formation of Subjects

Over and above the even most spectacular unfolding of events around collective mobilization, the sociology of social movements has as its task to investigate ways in which social actors constitute themselves as subjects, and in so doing, aspire and attempt to become autonomous masters of their own actions.In this module we set ourselves the task of analyzing the ethical labor through which individuals produce subjective, cultural and social claims – within a context of diverse social problems, grievances and cultural affirmations – as they position themselves against imposed identities and multiple categories of cultural consumption. Research Committee 47 is committed to studying and exploring contemporary channels of crisis and marginality, such as resistance to forms of domination directed at the subjectivity of actors themselves.

Our Focus

The organizational focus of Research Committee 47 is to provide international scholarly venues and exchanges for researchers within these 3 modules. This will be accomplished by building on already existing international networks, the coordination and pursuit of national and international research grants, the organization of regionally diverse colloquia and, of course, creating channels for international publications. Our aim is to develop an inclusive and dynamic network of scholars that will define the next generation of International Collective Action Research.

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