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The first decades of the 21st century have been characterized by intensifying economic, social, political, and environmental crises. From the collapse of national economies struggling under insurmountable debt to the ravages of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, communities all over the world are responding to these challenges in ways that are both radical and quotidian. In this subject, we draw on interdisciplinary scholarship on social movements to consider both contemporary and historical responses to a range of differently experienced crises. Why have these movements organized in the ways that they have and at the times that they have? What social norms, assumptions, and practices have they sought to challenge? What cultural resources have they built upon and/or reconfigured? And how have they sought to prevent the co-optation and commodification of cultural symbols by powerful interests? Through close readings of ethnographic work on a range of social movements (including anti-colonial, anti-racist, labor, environmental, Indigenous, and anti-corporate), we explore how subaltern struggles have been represented, articulated, and operationalized in recent years. In particular, we consider the figure of the 'activist anthropologist,' asking questions about the forms of critique and participation in which ethnographers of social movements are increasingly engaged.
Intended learning outcomes
On completion of this subject students should:
- be able to compare diverse anthropological and sociological approaches to the study of both overt and everyday resistance, particularly in relation to moments of economic, political, and environmental crisis.
- have an appreciation of the diverse ways that 'culture' has figured in a range of protest movements, both contemporary and historical (including anti-colonial, anti-racist, labor, environmental, Indigenous, and anti-corporate struggles)
- be fluent in the major theoretical approaches to the study of subaltern resistance including post-Marxism, post-colonialism, feminism, and critical race studies.
- Demonstrate an appreciation of the ethical and methodological challenges of studying social movements, with a particular focus on the strengths, limitations, and challenges of 'activist anthropology.'
Last updated: 7 July 2021