How movements move: a policy mobilities approach to studying repertoires of contestation

Authors: Nik Theodore*, University of Illinois at Chicago
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: policy mobilities, social movements, workers rights
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Washington 1, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In studying the circulation of protest tactics, interpretive frames, and other elements of activist repertoires, social movement scholars have relied on diffusion models to explain both how protest cycles develop and how specific tactics “spill over” from one movement to another. This research has shed light on how ideas and tactics travel across time and space to influence the repertoires of contestation adopted by movement actors elsewhere. However, despite their widespread acceptance, diffusion models have at least three weaknesses: (1) they tend to underplay the role of actors’ agency in the circulation and adoption of tactics and practices (Morris, 2000); (2) analyses tend to identify initiators and replicators, with little sense of the relationality between the two; and (3) processes of social learning within and between movements are often underexplored. As a result, key dynamics of social movement formation and strategy development have received insufficient consideration by researchers.

With its focus on relationality, historicity, agency, and learning, the policy mobilities approach has the potential to remedy these shortcomings. This paper explores this potential by extending policy mobilities methodologies to the study of social movements. Part one considers the limitations of diffusionist concepts in social movement research and proposes several analytical extensions from the maturing field of policy mobilities research. Part two then applies this framework to the study of workers’ rights movements in the US. The paper concludes by reflecting on the appropriateness of extending policy mobilities methodologies to the study of social movements.

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