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Anthropology and Social Movements


The vivid re-emergence of social movements and political mobilization in many parts of the world attracts increasingly the interest of ethnographers and anthropologists. This network offers the possibility to share information related to fieldwork and theoretical approaches not only to “indigenous movements”, but to a wide range of social movements, activism and forms of mobilization throughout the world. Through the mailinglist we exchange information about events, publications, conferences, and funding opportunities. We also organize in-depth thematical workshops and conference sessions.

In her volume, Social Movements. An Anthropological Reader, June Nash (2004) states that «(a)nthropologists who once ignored the intrusion of national and international in their field, are now among the principal observers of social movements (...). Although the potential of these movements is often underestimated, it is in these circuits once considered marginal to global processes that the major changes occurring. Because of their cultivated peripherical vision, anthropologists are in a position to asses new directions».

The network aims to take up this primarily methodological challenge and bring together different scholars of movements interested in accounts and experiences of ethnographic research. It wishes to discuss the specific potential of qualitative approaches for their studies, contributing to the creation of new theoretical frameworks and studies of social movements and collective action in a broad range of diverse global settings, beyond the classical focus on indigenous movements. Thus, possible questions that are central for scholars engaged in the network may be:

The expression 'social movement' cannot be easily reduced to an observable phenomenon 'on the field', but it is an expression that evokes - as remarked by Alan Touraine - 'historical ensambles'. To talk about 'social movements' is like to talk about capitalism, renaissance or modernity: it is not clear where and when they actually start and finish. Nevertheless, an "anthropology of social movements" can be considered as an emerging field of studies in the last decade. However, anthropological contributions on social movements are often less indulgent to the temptation of wide theoretical speculation than other disciplines like sociology, because the fieldwork leads to keep alive the awareness of a complex and irreducible social life, although, by a historical point of view, study of social action and social sciences in Europe are interrelated since the beginning of the 19th century for a double reason: on one side because of the social change occurred to the emergence of working class movements in industrial societies, and, on the other side, because both these phaenomena (social sciences and social movements) look at the social world as a collective construction which demands transformations. In this sense, the academic work of the network could be understood as a space for theoretical (self-)reflexion in which it becomes possible to compare different cultural contests and research experiences with the aim to promote a revision of  the multiple connotations of the classical concepts of 'activism' and 'social movements'.

Before its formalization within EASA, two international conferences about the “Anthropology of Social Movements” have been organized (University of Muenster, Germany, and University of Milan, Italy) between 2009 and 2010, leading to two consequent publications. In the future, the network will organize also in-depth workshops and sessions at EASA biennial conferences, increasingly in an interdisciplinary perspective.

For further information or to join the network please contact:
Alexander Koensler (University of Perugia)
Elena Apostoli Cappello (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)

To join go to lists.easaonline.org/listinfo.cgi/socialmovements-easaonline.org and follow the instructions. You can also email one of the coordinators and ask to be subscribed to the list.