Activism and Social Movements
Anthropological work on activism and social movements is far from new. Anthropologists have frequently studied the background, development and meaning of political actions, and have also identified deeply with some of the causes in question, assuming in this way the role of the activist-scholar.
Since its beginning in the mid-1980’s, Cultural Anthropology has published many essays that explore social movements and activism. Even in the last 10 years, interest in political activism has grown exponentially, giving space to research into different forms of activism, with a focus that varies from strategies and tactics, to ideology, symbolism and cosmology. (See, for example, the Hot Spot collections, "Occupy, Anthropology, and the 2011 Global Uprisings", "Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Egypt", and "Beyond the Greek Crisis".)
Contributors have researched activism and social movements in various parts of the globe. It is evident, however, that there has been a particular interest in the political life of the global South, and an intention to make visible another facet of the political reality in these countries. Grassroots movements, feminism, environmentalism, student activism and indigenous politics have been explored and portrayed not only within their own frameworks, but also as forces that are involved in the ever-changing political and social landscapes of their regions.
The following theme list presents the work of eleven academics who have contributed to this inclusive way of thinking about activism.
Thomas Pearson (2009) presents a case of activism in Costa Rica against genetically modified organisms. He explores the relationships that form between activists, NGOs and the government regarding issues of control and regulation of GMOs.
Omri Elisha (2008) talks about the inherent moral contradictions in evangelical faith-based activism, and the results these have in outreach practices within neighbor communities.
Hanne Veber (1998) explores activism in the Amazon, focusing on the differences between indigenous and western social movements. She discusses the shortcomings of social movement theory, specifically the problem of grasping the essence of indigenous politics, and the consequences this has for understanding difference, indigenity, and place in activism research.
Iris Jean-Klein (2001) presents her research of everyday activism in Palestine during the Intifada. Participating in the daily activities of a family, she theorizes about the process of self-nationalization and the importance of mundane tasks for the construction of an identity of resistance.
Cymene Howe’s article (2008) introduces the reader into the world of “televisionary” activism in Nicaragua. The author goes behind the scenes of an activist TV show that deals with issues of gender and sexuality. Her discussion focuses on the show’s production and the way episodes engage views of sexuality.
Yarimar Bonilla (2011) analzyes memory walks as a way of creating historical and political awareness in Guadeloupe. Started by the labor movement, the author argues that memory walks as historical praxis are fundamental to the formation of political subjectivities.
Ananthakrishnan Aiyer (2007) explains how the Adivasi struggle for land rights in Plachimada evolved into a greater mobilization against the Coca-Cola Company and the effects of their water-extracting practices in the region. This particular conflict, Aiyer argues, showcases some key issues on the nature of transnational corporations, globalization, and their effects on the agrarian situation in India.
Marisol de la Cadena (2010) looks at the struggle against mining in the Ausangate mountain in Peru, using this struggle as an example of how the indigenous cosmology becomes crucial to claims on environmental and economical issues. The author suggests that this new wave of indigenous presence in the political sphere has generated a rupture in modern politics.
Jacqueline Urla (1988) addresses the Basque language revival as a form of cultural activism, and takes it as a starting point to reflect on the relationship between language and identity, and language and social power.
Ritty Lukose (2005) explores the concepts of “political” and “civic” publics in the context of student politics in Kerala, India. As global neoliberal economic policies shape education in the region, student politics are transformed, and specifically, the gender politics of student activism.
Finally, Charles R. Hale (2006) talks of his experience with the Awas Tingni community in Nicaragua. Describing the community’s struggle for recognition of ancestral lands, Hale makes a case for politically engaged anthropology. Discussing the differences between “activist research” and “cultural critique”, Hale examines the challenges and advantages of engaged anthropological practice.
Taken together, these articles highlight Cultural Anthropology’s longstanding engagement with the topics of activism and social movements. By exploring the dynamics of different social movements and activist groups across the globe, this set of articles invites readers to reflect not only on activism as a practice, but also on the way anthropology has approached activism ethnographically.
On the Trail of Living Modified Organisms: Environmentalism within and against Neoliberal Order
Cultural Anthropology November 2009, Volume 24. No. 4: 712 - 745
Moral Ambitions of Grace: The Paradox of Compassion and Accountability in Evangelical Faith-Based Activism
Cultural Anthropology February 2008, Volume 23, No. 1: 154 - 189
The Salt of the Montaña: Interpreting Indigenous Activism in the Rain Forest
Cultural Anthropology August 1998, Volume 13, No. 3: 382 - 413
Nationalism and Resistance: The Two Faces of Everyday Activism in Palestine during the Intifada
Cultural Anthropology February 2011, Volume 16, No 1: 83 - 126
Spectacles of Sexuality: Televisionary Activism in Nicaragua
Cultural Anthropology February 2008, Volume 23, No 1: 48 - 84
The Past is Made by Walking: Labor Activism and Historical Production in Postcolonial Guadeloupe
Cultural Anthropology August 2011, Volume 26, No 3: 313 - 339
The Allure of the Transnational: Notes on Some Aspects of the Political Economy of Water in India
Cultural Anthropology November 2007, Volume 22, No 4: 640 - 658
Indigenous Cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual Reflections beyond "Politics"
Marisol de la Cadena
Cultural Anthropology May 2010, Volume 25, No 2: 334 - 370
Ethnic Protest and Social Planning: A Look at Basque Language Revival
Cultural Anthropology November 1988, Volume 3, No. 4: 379 - 394
Empty Citizenship: Protesting Politics in the Era of Globalization
Cultural Anthropology November 2005, Volume 20, No. 4: 506 - 533
Activist Research v. Cultural Critique: Indigenous Land Rights and the Contradictions of Politically Engaged Anthropology
Charles R. Hale
Cultural Anthropology February 2006, Volume 21, No 1: 96 - 120