Tag Archives: Social movement

What is a Social Movement?


Since, my research seeks to establish the existence of an International Social Movement for Afrikan Reparations (ISMAR) in the UK more generally, but focuses more specifically on the role of London based activists in shaping and advancing it, it is important to explain what a social movement is. In speaking about social movements, one tends to speak of movements as actors in themselves e.g. the ‘women’s movement,’ ‘peace movement,’ ‘environmental movement,’ or ‘labour movement’, for example. Normally studied from the perspective of sociology, several universities, such as the University of Sheffield, History Department focus their academic teaching and research on the role of social movements in historical change.[1]

Although there is no definition of social movement which enjoys scholarly consensus because definitions inevitably reflect the theoretical assumptions of the theorist, there are however some common characteristics that social more or less agree that social movements have in common. Social movements are therefore considered to be a type of group action which focuses on specific political or social issues. They are therefore commonly understood to include the sum total of all actors that are banded together by a shared collective identity. One common definition of a social movement is: “a sustained interaction, (formal as well as informal) among individuals and groups, collectives, networks and organisations that share a collective identity in order to bring about, prevent, or undo social, political or cultural change outside the established political institutions through extra-parliamentary tactics.” [2]

Other scholars have defined social movements as “purposeful undertakings by people who do not hold positions of authority or wealth, but who wish to redirect their society towards new goals and values by bypassing or defying those in power.” [3] Scholarly opinions about such movements vary tremendously. Nevertheless, the key point to grasp about social movements is that they encompass a wide range of social movements actors and organisations all working in different places and times towards achievement of a common overarching goal or securing of a common collective interest. The kinds of groups involved will undoubtedly vary from highly formalised organisations to informal ones. Each group or organisation may work on a different aspect of achieving the common goal and will adopt different strategies and tactics towards this end. Social movement scholar Mario Diani explains that:

They cannot be reduced to specific insurrections or results, but rather resemble strings of more or less connected events, scattered across time and space; nor can they be identified with any specific organisation, rather they consists of groups and organisations, with various levels of formalisation, linked in patters of interaction which run from fairly centralised to the totally decentralised, from the cooperative to the explicitly hostile; persons promoting and/or supporting their actions do so not as atomised individuals, possibly with similar values or social traits, but as actors linked to each other through complex webs of exchanges, either directed or mediated. Social movements are, in other words, complex heterogeneous network structures.[4]

Social movement-building is the long-term, coordinated effort of individuals and organised groups of people to intentionally spark and sustain a (reparations) social movement. According to social-movement scholar-activist and Associate Professor of Anthropology Jeffry S. Juris, it entails: “the creation of movement infrastructures required for sustained organising and mobilisation, including social relationships, organisational networks and capacity, affective solidarity, as well as movement-related identities, frames, strategies, skills, and leadership.”[5]



[1] http://www.shef.ac.uk/history/research/clusters/socialmovements (date accessed 11 November 2013).

[2] Hermann Maiba, ‘Grassroots Transnational Social Movement Activism: The Case of Peoples’ Global Action’, Sociological Focus vol. 38, Iss. 1, (2005) pp. 41–63 at p. 42.

[3] Cyrus Ernesto Zirakzadeh, ‘Social and Political Movements’, (USA, SAGE Publications Ltd, 2011). Available online here: http://www.uk.sagepub.com/books/Book235109?subject=A00&bookType=%22Reference%20Books%22&sortBy=defaultPubDate%20desc&fs=1 (date accessed 19, November 2014)

[4] Mario Diani and Doug McAdam, eds., ‘Social Movement Analysis: The Network. Perspective’ (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002).

[5] Jeffrey S. Juris, Erica G. Bushell, Meghan Doran, J. Matthew Judge, Amy Lubitow, Bryan Maccormack & Christopher Prener (2014) ‘Movement Building and the United States Social Forum’, Social Movement Studies: Journal of Social, Cultural and Political Protest, 13:3, 328-348.

Are you interested in being part of an African Reparations Transnational Community of Practice?


What is a Community of Practice? Communities of practice and issues of identity are universal and have always they have existed for as long as human beings have learned together. However, according to popular conceptualisations, a community of practice (CoP) is, according to cognitive anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, a group of people who share a cause, interest, profession or vocation. In a nutshell communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. They are held together by a common interest and are driven by a desire and need to share problems, experiences, insights, tools, and best practices. Communities of Practice can exist online, such as within discussion boards and newsgroups, or in life settings, such as at work, in a community group, or elsewhere. Rather than looking to learning as the acquisition of certain forms of knowledge by individuals, Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger maintain that learning is a process of social participation which takes place through a connection of interactions and understandings with others. It is also important to remember that a CoP is a strategy or approach, it is a way of participants working together with various stakeholders to achieve common and agreed goals in a manner that can be more beneficial than each member working in silos.

What are the advantages and benefits of working as part of a community of practice?
• Map knowledge and identify gaps in existing knowledge • Encourage knowledge sharing; open to both explicit (published) knowledge – articles, reports, websites, protocols and guidelines – and tacit (personal) knowledge gained through experience and reflection;

• Promote learning from previous mistakes and correction of movement-building weaknesses; • Support members to identifying solutions to key issues and challenges;

• Prevent duplication of reparations organising and campaigning efforts; • Facilitate connections and collaboration among reparations advocates, activists and allies.

Why an African Reparations Transnational Community of Practice (ARTCoP)?

As part of ensuring that my research is relevant to the ISMAR, in association with research participants, I am co-facilitating an African Reparations Transnational Community of Practice (ARTCoP). The ARTCoP is essentially an informal network for research participants and other interested stakeholders who share a an interest or passion for African reparations advocacy or activism and can be supported to share information knowledge and learning in order to strengthen or improve their reparations advocacy, campaigning or organising actions as they interact regularly. In fact, the pedagogical, understood as knowledge practices and learning processes, often takes a pivotal role in the emergence, development and sustainability of social movements and community struggles. Notably, building the ARTCoP consciously critiques the assumption that ‘knowledge’ is only generated only in academic institutions of learning such as universities. The purpose of developing the ARTCoP is to give recognition to all those involved in co-producing knowledge relevant to African reparations and then to facilitate processes for the effective use of this knowledge in the service of the International Social Movement for African Reparations (ISMAR).

What are the aims of the ARTCoP ?

• Provide a much-needed space for critical reflection as a basis for taking more effective strategic action by supporting members of the International Social Movement for African Reparations (ISMAR) and their allies to strengthen and improve their movement-building activities enabling them to learn from, compliment and collaborate with each other to achieve common reparations-related objectives;

• Enable participants in the ARTCoP to develop a shared understanding of the history of the ISMAR; • Facilitate the learning and the sharing of ideas, knowledge, information, experiences, expertise, research, strategies and resources among participants in the ARTCoP pertaining to the history and heritage of reparations thought, advocacy and activism;

• Gain recognition in mainstream academia and amongst policy-makers of the knowledge and pedagogical practices being produced outside of formal educational institutions on reparations and to bridge the gap between these various knowledges;

• Stimulate dialogue among and between members about the ISMAR’s past, present and future;

• Support participants in the ARTCoP to develop various resources such as tools, documents, vocabulary and symbols that in some way carry the accumulated knowledge of the ISMAR. On the basis of learning being gleaned and constructive engagements from research participants thus far there is a need for the creation of a reparations movement-related education, learning and reflection space which accompanies efforts to mobilise and organise constituencies within the community of African reparations interest, builds a clear reparations social change agenda, and prepares the constituencies to choose their targets, strategies and actions to bring about the changes or improvements sought.

In light of the above, the following have been proposed as priority concerns of the ARTCoP:

1. To counter fragmentation amongst constituencies within the community of African reparations interest and reparations groups, networks and organisations by promoting understanding of the common grounds and shared goals between many reparations groups, organisations, campaigns and other social justice movements;

2. To promote honest discussions on the obstacles to integrating a reparations framework in the work of other social justice causes and movements; 3. To promote honest discussion of the obstacles to building a more inclusive ISMAR and existing reparations advocates, activists and allies working together more constructively.

For further info about how you can contribute to building the ARTCoP please email: artcop.edu@gmail.com or E.Stanford-Xosei@chi.ac.uk ________________________________________ [1] Lave, Jean; Wenger, Etienne (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-42374-0.; first published in 1990 as Institute for Research on Learning report 90-0013