Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Social movements
Secondary Theme: Identity and Equity
Anthropology is richly equipped to study social movements – particularly the ecological complexities with which they arise, emerge into public awareness, and transform or quiesce over time. Yet, the predominance of anthropological thought over past decades has tended to semi-local activisms –often single-issues based mobilizations– rather than engaging with the quixotic yet uniquely complex entities that are lengthily and complexly elaborated movements: ones sometimes spanning continents and political “moments.” Transdisciplinary social movements scholarship has grappled consistently with questions of movement latency and regeneration, as well as with the fundamental question of what constitutes a “social movement” itself; yet sustained inquiry into the multiple and shifting relationships between activists and organizations within these cycles of effervescence and quiescence remains nascent in ethnographic examinations.
Simply put: scholarship of “movements” has not fully attended to the precise principle of their “movement” – over time, between configurations of constituent actors, and even across political claims and moments. Inspired by chaos theory and the particular visual metaphor of the starling murmuration, in this panel we initiate a complexity science approach to considering social movements. We consider how social movements in fact exist as a phenomenon of “emergence”: the ever-shifting, ever-reorganizing product of inter-relations between human actors. Turning attention specifically to six longstanding and iteratively/ reiteratively configured social movements, we ask: Can movements ever be “known” by knowing one or more or their constituent elements – whether individual or (sub-)coalitional? What can the uniquely rich, deeply contextualized, and often longitudinally unparalleled offering of ethnography contribute to understanding of the dislocated; the quixotic; the unpredictable and dynamic co-creation of social movements?
In the dynamic interplays of the individual, the coalitional, and the ideological within social movements spanning indigenous and urban Mexico, the U.S.-Mexico border, and the Puerto Rican diaspora, this panel examines movements’ emergence, expansion, contraction, re-articulation, and multiply configured existence cycles. In parallel with its theoretical focus on the “emergent” in political acts of co-creation, we consider how a dialogical approach to this panel’s creation and presentation – with all papers coauthored and the product of dynamic dialogue between their authors – might generate fundamentally new and dynamic understandings of our respective sites and social movements.
In an ethnographic arc of 2003-2018, from the demilitarization of Vieques (2003) to University of Puerto Rico student uprisings (2010-2011) to post-Hurricane Maria diasporic coalition (re-)building (2017-2018), Torres-Vélez and Rosa engage the shifting terrain of decolonization movements in and of the Puerto Rican diaspora. In ethnographies spanning 2002-2018, from the creation and contested dissolution of Mexican American Studies curricula in Tucson, AZ (2002-2010) to the re-organization of youth- and women-led movements for racial and immigration justice on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border (2010-2018), Stauber and Téllez consider the uniquely important lens that feminist ethnography offers to the consideration of claims-making movements. Finally, in ethnography dating from 1999 to 2017, Magaña and Juris consider youthful projects of self-organization for autonomy that are rapid and dynamic in their self-organization as unbounded by –though fundamentally concerned with– physical spaces and places.