[The following is the latest iteration of how my work has morphed at the New School. It is in proposal format because I have been trying to make my free writing take this form as it seems to be the most useful later on.]
Studying the Interrelationship of DIY/Punk Cultures and the ‘Movement of Movements’
SECTION ONE: PROPOSAL
Seen from above, the canopy of a dense forest appears as one undulating mass; indeed, ecologists describe a canopy-specific ecosystem, quite different from those found below. However, when only viewed from above, it is impossible to comprehend the particular role individual trees play in that ecosystem and the subtleties of the canopy’s construction are obscured.
We might think of scholarly treatments of the ‘movements of movements’ (MM) or the ‘antiglobalization’ movement in a similar way. Top-down perspectives of this activism are pervasive throughout the social movement literature, masking the diversity of its constituents. The literature collapses marching anarchists and union workers under the same label: ‘MM activists.’ To be sure, these individuals share a physical space during some protests, but little else. They are like different species of tree standing near one another in the forest. Though they both reach into the canopy, they have distinct root systems, differing evolutionary paths and quite disparate wants and needs. Yet, seen from above, the multiplicity and diversity of the trees is literally overshadowed by the apparent singularity of the canopy.
We must not mistake the canopy for the trees. This project aims to initiate the much-needed dissection of the MM canopy, beginning with one particular tree: DIY/Punk culture and communities. This project asks: what role have DIY/Punk communities and cultures played in shaping the canopy of activism commonly referred to as the ‘antiglobalization movement’ or the ‘movement of movements.’ To what extent, and in what ways, have their respective histories been intertwined; is the relationship reciprocal, and how does this help explain the activism we see today? What are the links between the activism’s forms, goals and ideologies, and the cultural, ideological and institutional resources of DIY/Punk, over time and in different geographical contexts?
LITERATURE REVIEW: Punk, Movements, and Theory
By the early 1980s, the superficial imagery of Punk music and Punk culture had receded from mainstream popularity. The stardom and subsequent implosion of the seminal band The Clash is frequently seen as the last nail in the coffin of the early Punk movement’s widespread popularity. As Spencer succinctly notes,
The superficial image of Punk became well known, the dyed hair and leather jackets, and not the do-it-yourself ethos from where it began. The accessibility of Punk, the attitude that anyone could create music, was, in the end, part of its curse. It was seen as commercially viable and the whole attitude was packaged, marketed and sold back to young people (Spencer, 2008:216)
However, after its popular death, Punk did not disappear; indeed, a new Punk began to emerge. The culture began to reevaluate itself and embraced its creative roots, particularly through the development of music industry counter-institutions. Bands and fans once again created their own record labels, performance spaces and network ties through homemade fanzines, cultivating a DIY (Do-it-Yourself) ethic of self-reliance and thoughtful action.
By the early 1990s, the creative energy that initially fueled the reinvention of the Punk music scene had expanded into other genres of music and, importantly, into practices and institutions outside the world of music. It encouraged the development of a diverse set of social, political and cultural institutions including bookstores, infoshops, zines, bands, food distribution schemes, broadcasting stations, internet databases, libraries, cafes, squats, video networks, public kitchens, clubs, online message boards, record labels, bars, and more (cf. Halfacree 2004; Carlsson 2008; Dunn 2008; Gordon 2008; Spencer 2008; Ruggero 2009).
Meanwhile, as Punk was reinventing itself, the social movement landscape in many parts of the world was undergoing a wide reconfiguration, a shake-up that birthed the radical politics and communities that live on today, bundled up with many other groups and communities in the MM canopy. Citing the “gay and lesbian liberation movements, the feminist movement, the antinuclear movement, the radical environmental movement and the AIDS activist movement, to name only the largest ones,” Kauffman notes how these groups “profoundly influenced both each other and the larger radical project and…created the new vernacular of resistance that has been demonstrated in the global justice movement of today” (Kauffman 2002: 35-6).
Though the ‘new vernacular’ Kauffman is referring to is a diverse set of practices and ideologies, it has two key features: decentralization and an embrace of praxis oriented direct action politics. This new vernacular might also be described as a form of prefigurative politics that “attempts to preview what social change may bring…activists begin to act as if the world they want to live in has come into existence” (Jordan 2002:73). In short, the articulation of radical politics evolved its early focus on style, moved past a focus on confrontation with economic and political institutions and blossomed into a complex network of communities, organizations and institutions.
It is here that the MM canopy begins to form. This ‘new vernacular’ of radical resistance, and the prefigurative discourse that accompanies it, came into contact with an even wider variety of activist spheres, many of whom would shun the radical moniker: unions, peace groups, urban justice organizations, NGOs from many fields, and more. Groups that did not have roots in direct action politics encountered it for the first time as they found themselves standing alongside radicals in the struggle against corporate globalization. These ‘trees’ began to form an increasingly complex canopy, which developed its own ecosystem of tactics, ideologies and even its own history. The ecological principle of emergence is helpful here, whereby novel and coherent patterns, structures, and properties arise during processes of self-organization in complex systems (Goldstein 1999).
Unfortunately, collective action and social movement literature has been preoccupied with the emergent properties, skipping over explorations of the individual constituents and their role in this process. They are trying to understand the canopy ecosystem without an understanding of the individual trees. The most prominent approaches, social movement theory’s structural canon, are plagued by an institutional-political reductionism that places movements in a particular level on the political system, sidelining their historical roots, creative organizational developments, horizontal social ties and daily forms of activism (cf. Cox and Nilsen 2007: 429; Cox 1999, Mayer 1995; Perrow 1979; Piven and Cloward 1995). Of course, these crucial characteristics are difficult or impossible to see when looking only at the canopy that manifests during protest events or structured political engagement.
Alternatively, there is the ‘cultural turn’ in social movement studies (cf. Jasper 1997; Johnston and Klandermans 1995; Jordan and Lent 1999; McKay 1996). However, these too take a top-down perspective, reframing behavior in terms of style, leaving the findings essentially static, unable to understand the moral or structural forces that actually shape (and expand) the canopy. Finally, and most numerous, supposedly thorough and objective descriptive overviews of the ‘movement’ attempt to take in the canopy in its enormity, losing the ability to focus; they are little more than journalistic snapshots, devoid of any historicism or any understanding of actors’ own perceptions (cf. Cockburn et al. 2000; Schalit 2002; Shepard and Hayduk 2002; Klein 2002; Neale 2002; Starhawk 2002; Notes from Nowhere 2003; Mertes 2004; Solnit 2004; Kingsnorth 2004).
FRAMEWORK FOR STUDY:
Clearly, there is plenty of scholarship that deals with DIY/Punk and the activisms grouped under the MM label. However, as has been discussed here, the movement literature it plagued by a lack of focus, inaccuracy and stagnation, while the writings on DIY/Punk culture have remained somewhat parochial. Further, there have not been any concerted attempts to examine the intersection and relationship of these two social spheres.
Indeed, the activist resources and institutions and the emerging DIY/Punk networks and institutions pointed to above sometimes overlap one another and, in some cases, they are the same. However, it is not enough to simply state that they ‘share members,’ or ‘cross paths;’ their relationship has been much more nuanced and substantial than that. My research aims to fill this gap in the literature. However, this requires the development of a theoretical and methodological framework that can avoid the pitfalls found in the current literature. Though there is no room to detail these problem areas, there are two worth mentioning briefly. The most obvious is scholars’ early focus on megaprotests in their search for something they could use in variable analysis, often passing over the actions and values activists esteem most in favor of more spectacular or easily quantified phenomena. More significant, in my opinion, is the lack of analyses of ideology. Without incorporating ideology, there would be no way to, for example, differentiate between anarchists and union workers that, seen from above, look essentially the same. Further, analyses of ideological structures are necessary to reveal the actions and practices actors do value.
So, this project suggests a corrective for these problems by arguing for a method that sees the canopy for what it is and then attempts to dissect the canopy, using ideology, among other things, to guide the knife.
Preliminary research, drawing on interviews, surveys and discourse analysis, has already made some inroads towards these suggestions (Ruggero 2009). Specifically, Punks’ and activists’ words and actions suggest a move away from event-based case studies and narrowly defined causal relationships in favor of a broader notion of what a movement and a subculture is. To that end, recent developments in relational and network sociology offer the most potential for this project. These approaches embed the social actor in “dynamic, processual relationships that shift over space and time” (Cherry 2006: 157; Emirbayer 1997). Indeed, very recent studies of the role of fluid networks in contemporary radical activism have produced insightful examinations that have helped breakdown the static movement form that was initially applied to the MM (Juris 2008; Grewal 2008). Armed with this theoretical framework, the points of intersection between these social spheres can be more easily accessed.
From here, the methodology attempts to weave a ‘middle way’ between macro- and micro-level approaches to inquiry. The macro-level histories, theorizing and reflection found in the rich material archives offered by both entities will be combined with ground-level, personal perspectives of individuals. This entails the use of archival materials (zines, newspaper articles, movement histories, meeting transcripts) as well as in-depth interviews, surveying and analyses of cultural narratives found in music and film. The sources for these materials are already well known to me and I aim to expand upon this initial base, reaching beyond the US and Western Europe, into Latin America and Southeast Asia. Though I already have a number of contacts for access to these sources in these locations, further communication and travel will be needed to expand this base. Fortunately, the preliminary research on network ties in both spheres has already revealed a number of institutions and mechanisms through which this research can be expanded into these non-Western locations, saving a considerable amount of preparatory time (e.g. online message boards, zines, touring bands, activist summits, etc.).
In the following stage, the data and observations will be collected, transcribed and organized. The goal at this stage is to develop a sort of temporal and geographical map of the evolution of both entities, following the spread of ideas and resources in both. This will enable comparisons between different geographical and temporal contexts.
Through these comparisons, I aim to uncover those elements of the relationship between Punks and the MM canopy that are decisive in terms of the growth, decline, form and ideology of each social sphere. By comparing the presence, relative size and ‘significance,’ form, and ideological character of these spheres within and across locales, I hope to get at the subtleties of their interrelationship. Though it is difficult at this point to make conjectures regarding what direction this stage of analysis may take because it will be largely dictated by the observational results, as an example, it reveal the role persistent DIY/Punk institutions play in shaping movements’ form and ideology (e.g. anarchist and decentralized vs. liberal and NGO-based); or, it may be quite the opposite, where the persistence of activism of any stripe fuels the growth of DIY/Punk. Regardless, the goal remains the same: to uncover the nature of the relationship between the DIY/Punk tree and the MM canopy ecosystem.
SECTION TWO: ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES
The project proposed here, as may be clear by now, not only aims to explore the DIY/Punk-MM relationship, but it also proposes alternative methods for carrying out this research. These methods are suggested because those found in current social movement scholarship are unfit for this task.
Section two will expand on the brief theoretical and methodological criticisms made in section one, highlighting some of the more serious and imposing problems within existing scholarship while also suggesting how these issues may be avoided or remedied.
In section one, I argued that the tools scholars use are mismatched to the task, resulting in a body of literature that feels somewhat stagnant and adrift. I believe this sense of stagnation emanates from the persistence of a rift within social movement studies (SMS). Andrew Abbott’s discussion of ‘causal’ versus ‘narrative’ approaches to the study of careers is helpful here in conceptualizing this rift; he notes,
There are thus two ways of seeing careers, indeed two ways of seeing historical processes more generally. One focuses on stochastic realizations and aims to find causes; the other focuses on narratives and aims to find typical patterns. This dichotomy holds as clearly in other fields of research as it does in the study of careers. Thus, one can imagine revolutions as the realizations of stochastic processes, in which case the history of a given revolution is actually just the listing of successive outcomes of some underlying casual process. On the other hand, one can see revolution as having a complete implicit logic running from start to finish, in which case the history of a given revolution is a logical narrative with an inherent telos. (Abbott 1990:141)
While the SMS field may not be as dichotomized as Abbott’s example, it is a useful heuristic for conceptualizing the SMS rift. On one side is literature that follows Charles Tilly’s legacy, generalizing across cases in search of patterns and causation. In this discussion, this side of the rift will be referred to as ‘hierarchical,’ though it could just as easily be labeled ‘causal,’ ‘stochastic,’ or ‘structural.’
On the other side lies the ‘cultural’ or discursive turn’s celebration of variability over generality and interpretation over causal explanation. In this discussion, this side will be referred to as the ‘narrative’ approach, though the label could have been ‘interpretive,’ or ‘constructivist.’
Of course, these labels are only meant to ease the discussion that follows; they are inherently limited in their ability to reflect the impressive breadth and valuable scholarship each one is meant to represent.
The use of Abbott above is instructive in another way as well. The study of careers and the study of social movements are similar in that their subject is defined more by its form than its content; the type of career or the ideology of the movement are not necessarily what defines them as careers or movements. If this discussion can be aided by Abbott’s contribution from another subfield, there are likely other areas we can turn to for further guidance.
Indeed, this rift is reflective of a wider body of critical debates across the sociology discipline. However, they are particularly well represented within the field of historical sociology, for two reasons in particular. The first is the close connection between studies of social movements and historical sociology; one immediately thinks of the work of Charles Tilly, Theda Skocpol, and Doug McAdam. Second, historical sociology’s own critical debates over its approaches to and uses of history, particularly its development of techniques for sociological abstraction, are useful in unpacking the details of the SMS rift, which is similarly related to the issue of abstraction and generalization. Consequently, this discussion will draw on historical sociology literature for clarification and for help in finding a way out of SMS’ listlessness.
I should also note that the bulk of this discussion will focus on MM activism, with less space devoted to DIY/Punk. This is primarily due to the fact that the problems facing MM scholarship are more complex and tangled than it is for DIY/Punk. As noted previously, the small body of DIY/Punk literature that does exist is sprinkled throughout many different disciplines and subfields. In general, this literature remains largely descriptive, temporally bounded, and inward looking, offering little empirical analysis and almost no exploration of the culture’s links with the rest of the world. Indeed, it does not seem to have even occurred to many scholars to attempt to trace these wider connections. In this sense, studies of DIY/Punk may benefit from this lack of attention, possibly building on the suggestions made here, avoiding the tangled web that is SMS literature.
The following discussion proceeds from the claim that there is a real problem with the basic way in which scholars are seeing these subjects. This ‘vision problem’ can be divided into two general issue areas. First, the lens through which scholars study these subjects may be broken, or at least cracked. These cracks cause the picture to refract in misleading ways, leading scholars to use inappropriate or ill-suited methodologies and to focus on irrelevant or misleading units of analysis, most commonly, megaprotests. Second, and possibly due to this first methodological misstep, scholars have overlooked or avoided the incorporation of ideology in their analyses. Not only is ideology important for understanding the ‘content’ of each sphere (goals, dreams, discourse), but the pervasive celebration of praxis in both means the careful dissection of ideology is essential for the process of mapping these entities and tracing the links between them.
Below, these points of critical engagement will be explored with specific reference to similar debates within historical sociology. The goal is to develop a more robust foundation and justification for the steps I’ve taken to rectify these problems in the development of this research project.
Methods and Units of Analysis: Events, Narratives, and Contingencies
Recalling the metaphor used throughout the first section, I noted that the MM canopy began to form during the 1980s and 90s, when ‘new vernacular’ of radical resistance, and the prefigurative discourse that accompanied it, came into contact with an even wider body of activist spheres, many of whom would shun the radical moniker: unions, peace groups, urban justice organizations, NGOs from many fields, and more.
These ‘trees’ began to form an increasingly complex canopy, which developed its own ecosystem of tactics, ideologies and even its own history. The ecological principle of emergence is helpful here, whereby novel and coherent patterns, structures, and properties arise during processes of self-organization in complex systems (Goldstein 1999). SMS have been preoccupied with these emergent properties, skipping over explorations of the individual constituents and their role in the development of these emergent properties. They are trying to understand the canopy ecosystem without an understanding of the individual trees.
This is, in no small way, the result of scholars’ early preoccupation with megaprotests, specifically those in Seattle in 1999 and Genoa in 2001. This early focus is reflective of SMS’ general bias towards spectacular protest behavior. However, in the most basic sense, the empirical focus on megaprotests simply overlooks the fact that, for the majority of MM activists, battling with police for media attention is not seen as an important step towards change. In the words of John Sellers, director of the Ruckus Society, ‘[t]o truly be radical, you’ve got to go for the roots, and the cops aren’t the roots’ (Sellers 2004: 185).
Seattle and Genoa – along with lesser-known demonstrations: Berlin88, Mardird94, and J18 – should instead be analyzed in terms of their transformative nature. William H. Sewell’s phrase, ‘transformative historical event,’ is helpful here (Sewell 1996). Sewell describes a historical event as one in which a “ramified sequence of occurrences that is recognized as notable by contemporaries…results in a durable transformation of structures” (Sewell 1996: 844). In the present case, ‘structure’ can be understood as the reigning paradigm of contentious collective action (CCA) in Western countries at the end of the 1980s. This includes activists’ perception of what is possible and desirable, political actors and authorities’ perception of what is acceptable and predictable, and the media and public’s perception of how political activism is ‘done.’
Following Sewell’s conception of structure, the CCA-paradigm structure has the following characteristics: (1) it represents “multiple, overlapping, and relatively autonomous” structures as opposed to a “single, unified totality of some kind;” (2) it shapes practices of activists, authorities, the media, the public – while also being shaped, constituted, and reproduced by those practices; (3) it is composed simultaneously of “cultural schemas, distributions of resources, and modes of power.” (Sewell 1996: 842). Together, these facets serve to “reproduce consistent streams of social practice,” that is, CCA takes on a somewhat predictable character (Sewell 1996:842).
The protests in Seattle and Genoa were transformative events in that they represented a break with ‘routine practice’ under the previous CCA paradigm. The ideological targets of the actions and the dynamics of the protests were altogether new. Protests with union members side by side with environmentalists and anarchists were not something that political elites, the police, the media or the public were able to reconcile with the reigning paradigm of institutionalized, fragmented identity politics engaged in routinized demonstrations and political bargaining.
Importantly, and something scholars often miss, these protests were only one part of a sequence of rupturing events that culminated in the durable transformation of the CCA-paradigm structure. Not only did the actual days of protest constitute a rupture, but so did the organizing that preceded it, the activist reflections and reorganizations that followed it, the narratives composed by the media and authorities and the subsequent interpretation of these narratives and reflections by the public and, in a feedback process, by activists, authorities and elites.
The result of this chain of ruptures was the transformation of the CCA-paradigm structure. However, as is the nature of social structures, these new expectations and configurations eventually formed a new CCA-paradigm structure, again coming together in an “interlocking and mutually sustaining fashion to reproduce consistent streams of social practice” (Sewell 1996: 842). Indeed, over time, the megaprotest form that initially represented a rupture has itself become somewhat routinized and predictable, evidenced both by coordinated and purposeful police tactics, declining activist attendance, and, often, a complete lack of media coverage.
Consequently, scholars should approach megaprotests as transformative events as opposed to accurate barometers for ‘movement’ activity. These events were not the product of a transformation of global activism; they were both a part of it and an influence on it. The idea that tallying and analyzing megaprotest events will reveal the internal dynamics of the MM is fundamentally flawed.
That said, the suggestion that scholars move away from megaprotests as an empirical focus is not to imply that it should simply be replaced with some other ‘more accurate’ unit for variable analysis. Thinking about Seattle and Genoa as transformative historical events should be part of a wider shift away from static, ahistorical approaches to analysis and towards a greater sensitivity to process and sequence.
Indeed, these modern movements need to be studied in terms their process of ‘becoming’ rather than solely in terms of their states of ‘being.’ Philip Abrams’ discussion of the sociology of deviance is helpful in considering the benefits of applying this perspective to social movement (Abrams 1983). He notes,
The problem of accounting sociologically for the individual in particular is really only a more precise version of the problem of accounting for individuals in general. The solution in both cases lies in treating the problem historically – as a problem of understanding processes of becoming rather than states of being. (Abrams 1983:265)
The sociology of deviance is a handy referent here because, as Abrams claims, it is inherently historical in that it studies its subjects in terms of their histories. By seeing the outcome (deviance) in terms of a sequence of contingencies, this sort of historicism forces us to see “social reality as process rather than order, structuring rather than structure, becoming not being” (Abrams 1983: 267).
Because SMS has not comprehended the historical development of these forms of activism, attempts to use variable analysis inevitably abstract from the temporal context in which the activism was formed and takes place. This is akin to attempting to understand deviance by only examining the outcome, or, attempting to understand the development of deviance by only examining the final form: deviance. Similarly, because it is not sensitive to time and sequence, variable analysis only exacerbates SMS’ existing lack of appreciation for the processes that worked to create MM activism and the processes that continue to shape it today. Instead, SMS should approach MM activism as deviance studies approaches the individual: in terms of their experiences as they were experienced.
Importantly, the incorporation of individual experience should not be claimed as a victory for the narrative side of the SMS rift. Indeed, a key asset of this approach to individual experience is that it does not require the exclusion of important structural factors, a serious deficiency in narrative approaches. Indeed, if thoroughly constructed, such analyses can explain the experience of the individual in terms of the social and structural milieu in which the individual operates and the choices (agency) they make within that complex of opportunity and constraint (Abrams 1983: 268).
Further, this sort of process/sequence-oriented lens may allow for the possibility of multiple levels of analysis, from the individual to the canopy itself. Indeed, comparisons of the ‘becoming’ processes of different activists may help to explain the formation, evolution, structure and internal dynamics of the movements themselves. This is particularly important in this case because any dissection of the MM canopy must trace this formation process, from individuals to groups and sub-movements to the canopy.
In this sense, the incorporation of individual experience does not have to remain confined to individuals. This may be an important step towards bridging the SMS rift. Of course, opening to the experience of individual is largely a problem to be confronted by the hierarchical camp. But they need to be met halfway. We do not have to abandon attempts at generalization; indeed, this has been problematic for the narrative approaches. The goal here is to craft a framework for studying the MM and DIY/Punk that fully captures the dynamics of these social phenomena; only then can we hope to proceed to look for patterns, both internally and between these and other cases.
Indeed, if SMS seeks to engage with the MM in a productive way, scholars must come to recognize that neither side of the rift is going to be able to do so alone. Hierarchical approaches too often subjugate the uniqueness of individual cases in favor of finding similarities among them. Narrative approaches too often avoid helpful generalizations and become bogged down in a quagmire of disparate, unconnected individual experiences.
The approach I aim to develop out of these criticisms aims precisely to break out of this dichotomized field of study. However, I do not claim a ‘more perfect’ third way, nor do I believe this is the right approach given the current state of SMS. Many of these problems run so deep that scholars might be best served by dropping their guard and just taking time to observe, then, with an almost reckless abandon, grab the methodological and theoretical tools that seem appropriate and try them out.
Though this may seem like poor advice, it appears that as SMS continues to drift it is also becoming more rigid and detached. Indeed, the MM or antiglobalization subject has all but disappeared from the literature. When it does appear, there seems to be an almost mindless determination to make one approach or another work ‘best.’ This has sapped SMS of its creative energy and stalled novel thinking. SMS may not need entirely new tools, but existing ones should be tested in new ways. In short, things may be so bad that the only way to go is up.
Working with Ideologies
The second source of social movement studies’ MM ‘vision problem’ lies with the complicated issue of how (and if) to incorporate movement and activist ideologies into analysis. In this section I will argue that, particularly in the case of the MM, the incorporation of ideology is not only helpful, but also essential.
Turning again to historical sociology for help in framing this issue, Sewell picks up the issue of ideology in a discussion of Theda Skocpol’s States and Social Revolutions. While Sewell has “nothing but admiration” for Skocpol’s inventive combination of narrative and hierarchical strategies for dealing with the problem of multiple causation, he argues that “she has not made her causation multiple enough – that she has not recognized the autonomous power of ideology in the revolutionary process) (Sewell 1985: 58). In turn, Sewell focuses on the case of the French Revolution and sets out to trace the autonomous dynamics of ideology and explore the role of ideology in the revolutionary process.
Though the specifics of the French case are not entirely relevant to this discussion, Sewell’s framing of ideology in his analysis is. He notes that Skocpol prematurely rejects ideological explanations of revolution – indeed, she argues they have no explanatory value – because of her aim to provide a ‘structural’ explanation of revolutions. But, Sewell argues, Skocpol has associated the incorporation of ideology with what he refers to as “naïve” voluntarist theories, not taking into account a ‘structuralist turn’ that has, in a sense, structuralized ideology. This turn has sought to highlight the impersonal aspects of ideological formations, associating their coherence and dynamics less with the conscious will of individuals, but with “the interrelations of its semantic items and in their relation to social forces…Ideologies are, in this sense, anonymous, or transpersonal” (Sewell 1985: 60).
Further, in order to conceive of ideology in structural terms, it is important to recognize that, like all social structures, ideological structures are at once “constraining and enabling:”
Ideological structures undergo continuous reproduction and/or transformation as a result of the combined willful actions of more or less knowledgeable actors within the constraints and the possibilities supplied by preexisting structures. (Sewell 1985: 60)
So while ideological structures are prone to the influence of willful action, no individual actor has complete control – or even consciousness – of the entirety of an ideological structure. Indeed, ideological structures can never be ‘complete,’ or even self-consistent; they are the product of myriad ongoing actions and interactions between numerous individuals or groups. Thus, ideology can be conceived of as an “anonymous and collective, but transformable, structure” (Sewell 1981: 61).
Finally, and of critical importance here, Sewell argues that ideology must also be understood as constitutive of social order. More than simple reflections of material class relations or merely the ideas of intellectuals,
…ideologies inform the structure of institutions, the nature of social cooperation and conflict, and the attitudes and predispositions of the populations. All social relations are at the same time ideological relations, and all explicit ideological discourse is a form of social action. (Sewell 1985: 61)
Perhaps the best way to demonstrate the importance of incorporating this view of ideology into analyses of the MM is through a brief example of its application.
I noted above that the MM label itself is misleading. The top-down perspectives of both the hierarchical and narrative approaches masks the diversity of the MM constituents, collapsing marching anarchists and union workers under the same label: ‘MM activists.’ Of course, union workers and anarchists are hardly as similar as this perspective implies.
However, revealing this internal variance requires more than just a shift in perspective; understanding the role of individual trees in the canopy ecosystem is just as difficult to do from the ground if we continue to focus solely on the canopy. Indeed, problem lies with the continued dominance of the singular MM label over the plurality of the activism’s reality, a problem Rogers Brubaker refers to as ‘groupism:’
[T]he tendency to take discrete, sharply differentiated, internally homogenous, and externally bounded groups as basic constituents of social life, chief protagonists of social conflicts, and fundamental units of social analysis. (Brubaker 2005:471)
The staggering diversity of the MM reality is obscured by the analytical imperatives of SMS, namely, the need to study a ‘movement’ as opposed to a more nebulous collection of networks and individuals loosely associated through multiple, layered ideological structures.
If SMS hopes to correct the problem of groupism in the study of MM activism, without losing analytical focus, it must incorporate analyses of ideological structures. In order to differentiate between the influences of anarchists and union workers, scholars must map their respective ideological structures and mesh these with other forms of analysis. This is likely the only accurate way to, for example, explain why the MM manifests as protests in one time and place and as reading groups in another.
Indeed, ideological structure analysis must be done before such comparisons can even be made. The SMS ‘vision problem,’ is not simply one of perspective; scholars are missing entire realms of analytically relevant social action. Analyses of ideological structures stand to reveal what MM actors consider as meaningful or relevant action, situating disparate forms (window-smashing v. lobbying) together in a more realistic and, importantly, a more productive framework for further analysis than currently exists.
Further, such an approach offers potential benefits for both the narrative and hierarchical approaches, drawing them together. One on hand, incorporating ideology helps to work around a central problem in narrative based analysis: it is restricted to discussing causal factors only as they make themselves felt in the unfolding of the story (Sewell 1985:58). Of course, many causes may never make themselves ‘felt’ in a clear or complete way; further, by only seeing their influence on the narrative, their autonomous dynamics remain hidden as does their impacts outside of the narrative.
On the other hand, incorporating ideology offers hierarchical approaches a way to open the field of causation. However, incorporating ideological structures does more than another factor or variable to hierarchical analysis. It alters the way in which the subject is analyzed from the start, broadening the field of relevant social action to include phenomena that lie outside SMS’ myopic and groupist traditional focus on ‘movements.’
In the interest of clarifying this point and in an effort to lend further support for the project, I will close this section with an example that directly relates to the DIY/Punk-MM relationship.
One of the best illustrations of the role of ideological structures in DIY/Punk communities is found in one of the culture’s core social institutions, the DIY/Punk show (i.e. musical or other performance). Shows illustrate how this community “actualiz[es] the ideal that anyone can (and should) be a producer of culture” (Spencer 2005: 200). Organizers, not focused on turning a profit, set up shows in the basements of houses, churches or community centers to both keep ticket prices cheap or free as well as to offer the most open and accepting space for all show-goers. Bands tour through networks of such spaces that span multiple continents, playing for whatever they can gather at the door, valuing the act of performing, spreading their message and supporting the community over income. Those attending bring flyers for political events, other shows or social gatherings and there’s usually a plethora of free literature tackling issues like sexism, racism, poverty, war, police violence, the environment, animal rights and more. Some may bring homemade clothes, pins, artwork, zines or books to sell, often priced on sliding scale.
People open their houses, create and buy handmade artwork and throw bands they may not like a few extra dollars gas money because it supports the community and the Do-it-Yourself ideology. Importantly, these show spaces persist over time, both in a strict material sense and in an ideological sense. Though individual spaces may open and close over time, others replace them, creating a durable, if transient, network of cultural and intellectual institutions.
If, in an analysis of the MM-DIY/Punk relationship, we wanted to compare the possible influence of these durable community resources on the persistence of MM activism in Portland, London and Jakarta, there would be no way of even recognizing that these spaces may be relevant to the study without incorporating analyses of ideological structures. Of course, to get beyond a mere recognition of relevance, incorporating ideological structures becomes even more crucial
Conclusions: Alternative Approaches and Conflicts Between Cohorts
This paper has been built around a project proposal that aims to answer: what role have DIY/Punk communities and cultures played in shaping the canopy of activism commonly referred to as the ‘antiglobalization movement’ or the ‘movement of movements.’ It has endeavored to present the project in two ways: in terms of its overall structure, background and methodological intentions (Section One), and in terms of its epistemological arguments and suggestions (Section Two).
Section one briefly discussed the history of both DIY/Punk and the collection of activisms referred to as the MM. Both entities underwent dramatic and important changes during the late 1980s and the early 90s, yet, the connections between these evolutionary processes have remained largely unstudied. I argued that this is due to a number of deficiencies in the methods and theoretical approaches employed to analyze them. I then presented a methodological framework that aims to avoid these problems and to produce a useful and relevant analysis of the DIY/Punk-MM relationship.
Section two expands on the ‘deficiencies’ argument that was briefly explained in the first section. Rather than implying that the deficiencies are those of individual scholars, I chose to reframe the problem as one of seeing; social movement studies have a ‘vision problem’ when it comes to this area of research. Further, this problem is not confined to either narrative or hierarchical analytical approaches; indeed, it spans this intellectual paradigm rift.
I then explained the notion of vision problems in more detail through a discussion of how they have manifested on either side of this rift. Scholars’ early focus on megaprotests is but one example of reductive analytical tendencies of hierarchical approaches. Spectacular actions, while easily observed, quantified and analyzed statistically, are composed of many different actors, participating for many different reasons. Further, different actors hold different views on the importance and role of such spectacular action in their activism project overall. Because of this diversity of opinion and intent, megaprotests and other forms of spectacular action should be seen as transformative events that both shape and are shaped by the evolutionary processes of this activism.
The move away from megaprotests is one example of changes that must be considered as part of a wider analytical shift towards a greater sensitivity to process, sequence and individual experience. However, this is not to uncritically extol the virtues of narrative approaches. Indeed, narrative approaches too often avoid or discount the role of structural factors in their analysis. Instead, efforts should be made to explain the experience of the individual in terms of the social and structural milieu in which they operate and in terms of the choices (agency) they make within that complex of opportunity and constraint.
Further, accounts of individual experience do not have to remain confined to individual actors; comparisons among and between activists may offer the potential for tracing the experience of groups, networks and possibly even movements. The point here is to suggest that narrative approaches are not necessarily incompatible with the generalizing impulse of hierarchical approaches and that narrative approaches should embrace the opportunity to bridge the rift. Narrative approaches aversion to generalizing is not only a hindrance to its analytical viability, but it quietly ignores the fact that the real difference between these approaches is the level of abstraction. While narrative approaches do their generalizing ‘closer to the ground,’ they must still engage in some level of abstraction in order to produce analysis rather than biography.
In an effort to further demonstrate the points of convergence, similarity and shared failure between the hierarchical and narrative approaches, the paper then discussed the critical importance of incorporating ideology into the analysis of DIY/Punk and the MM. Criticized by hierarchical approaches as too subjective for causal analysis and muddled by overly constructivist and particular narrative approaches, ideology is an excellent example of a useful tool that remains improperly applied. The discussion of ideology ends with two examples of how a structuralized view of ideology is essential for accurate engagement with both the MM and DIY/Punk.
Finally, I want to suggest a third way in which the SMS ‘vision problem’ is related to the hierarchical-narrative rift while also encompassing both sides equally.
Many activists and activist-scholars speak of a ‘specter of the 60s’ that looms over them, undermining their efforts in the present. A significant source of this resentment stems from SMS’ repeated return to the movements of the 1960s and 1970s for reference and comparative analyses. McAdam, Sampson, Weffer, and MacIndoe (2005) write,
The movements of the 1960s and 1970s greatly increased interest in the [social movement] field but their own particular forms and processes have tended to dominate contemporary social movement scholarship and theory. The danger is that the disproportionate attention accorded the struggles of the sixties has created a stylized image of movements that threatens to distort our understanding of popular contention… (McAdam et al. 2005: 2)
Reflecting on the scholarly impact of this distorting influence, McAdam and his coauthors note a “close association in the minds of most researchers between movements and extreme forms of protest” (McAdam et al. 2005: 9). This association has, as discussed above, allowed megaprotests to become a central empirical focus for study of the new transnational activism. Worse, the specter of the movements of the 1960s and 70s has a power beyond the realm of the academy. In the words of George Katsiaficas,
The aura of the sixties is being used against the antiglobalization movement…an exaggerated sixties diminishes contemporary movements. Movements today are written off as shadows, imitations or lesser beings. Seattle is recognized as highly significant, but movements between the sixties and the present are forgotten. Glorification of decades (or of great events and individuals) diminishes the importance of continuity and everyday activism in the life of social movements. As a social construction, the myth of the sixties functions thereby to discourage people from having authentic movement experiences now, in the present. (Katsiaficas 2004: 9)
In my own personal experience I have found that many activists feel they are fighting on two fronts: against the systems and structures they wish to change as well as an entrenched notion of what ‘activism’ should be.
I wonder, then, is it possible that the personal connection many scholars (particularly within SMS) have with this past radicalism and activism has influenced the way activism in the present is viewed and studied? Similarly, the lack of DIY/Punk analysis in SMS and its parochial appearance elsewhere may stem from a similar unintentional disparagement, not to mention a basic lack of familiarity or contact with the culture’s evolution over the past thirty years. In a discussion of sociology’s epistemological shifts, Geroge Steinmetz reminds us: “intellectual paradigms are not simply intangible discourses but are embodied practices” (Steinmetz 2005:156). As embodied practices, then, are intellectual paradigms subject to the same social forces as other embodied practices, specifically, careerism and the inevitable resistance of individuals to having their personal histories viewed in any way other than the one they themselves have constructed?
I recognize that this may seem like an unnecessarily polemic suggestion. However, if it is indeed a factor worth considering, the impacts could be quite serious. In any case, it does little good to pour salt on these wounds, if indeed they do exist, and risk igniting a pointless intergenerational war among sociologists. Instead, the point is raised to further highlight the need for SMS scholars to reflect on the purpose of their work. Is it to engage in an endless defense or critique of a particular method or approach to study, a dispute, I might add, that has not actually seen the debunking or retreat of either of the two main camps from the literature? Indeed, the same Steinmetz article highlights the persistence of positivist sociology, despite decades of criticism and the rise of post-Fordist political economies (Steinmetz 2005).
Or, is the goal of sociological analysis to develop and refine a body of knowledge about human social activity that strives for both accuracy and coherence? Further, do sociologists have a responsibility to acknowledge the ways in which their research may be practically applied? With a particular concern for SMS, I would argue they do. Social movement scholars are in a unique position, due to their training and time available for study, to develop case studies, indentify larger patterns, and develop theory that is relevant to movement experience. While it may be argued that this invites bias, is there anything necessarily wrong with seeing social phenomena from the point of view of those engaged in it? A careful scholar would be able to delineate between adopting a particular perspective and making unfounded claims in favor of a predetermined outcome. Indeed, activists too are continually confronted by the need to defend their beliefs without blindly barricading them against all criticism.
In closing, I would like to emphasize this last point with a quote from the late Roger V. Gould. In a discussion of the interpretivist approach to social action, he notes, “interpretive studies of contention operate on the premise that women and men do not merely make their own history; they also, by the power of interpretation, through which all objective conditions are filtered, make the circumstances in which their history is made” (Gould 2005:297). I would argue that the core of this perspective – the power of interpretation – speaks to the issues I’ve rasied here in the conclusion. Scholars of social movements and contentious action, regardless of whether they take an interpretivst tact with their analysis, must recognize that they too are interpreters; they seek to illuminate and understand particular social phenomena. In doing so, they also affect the conditions in which those movements and actions are carried out. Activists look to scholars for guidance in developing their own interpretations. The sooner SMS scholars recognize this, the sooner they can overcome their damaging reluctance to engage with activists, a step that may help to steer social movement studies out of the stagnant doldrums in which it wanders today.
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 It is important to note that while there is no shortage of literature that deals with the history and philosophy of the DIY/Punk culture, this work is largely descriptive and bounded, that is, it remains focused inward and doesn’t attempt to trace the culture’s influence on a wider set social phenomena and institutions. When DIY/Punk does appear in academic literature, it is usually relegated to the ‘subculture’ studies realm where it is interpreted in terms of style and, thus, made static with little to no investigation of the cultures wider social and political impact.