Question: who are the activists?

Keep Your Coins (Graffiti #18)

The challenge is to do more than just tell people what you’ve found

This Grand Challenge will encourage you to become scholar-activists. It will help you to develop the kinds of research skills students normally develop during their time at university and the kinds of cultural activist skills that can help you to become more wholeheartedly engaged in the issues that you’re concerned about.

The aim of this post is to introduce you to academic and activist debates about such work using quotations taken from the latest literature on the subject. Click the links to read more. Ask questions in the comments.

Activism is not new

Tactical pranks go back at least as far as the Trojan Horse. Jesus of Nazareth, overturning the tables of the money changers, mastered the craft of political theater 2,000 years before Greenpeace. Fools, clowns and carnivals have always played a subversive role, while art, culture and creative protest tactics have for centuries served as fuel and foundation for successful social movements. It’s hard to imagine the labor movements of the 1930s without murals and creative street actions, the U.S. civil rights movement without song, or the youth upheavals of the late 1960s without guerrilla theater, Situationist slogans or giant puppets floating above a rally (Boyd & Mitchell 2012, np link).

Activism may be more diverse than you think it is

Giving people long sermons on the need for them to get involved in change can often be patronising and disempowering. Traditional  campaigning tends to involve attempting to attract people to a cause by bombarding them with facts and fiery speeches. Cultural activism  tends to move away from one-sided monologues, speeches and propaganda into porous forms that use dialogue and interaction (Verson 2007, p.175 link).

Everyone is an activist, 

Everyday, everywhere, through spontaneous and planned actions, people are changing the world, together. These everyday actions come from the growing desire to do it ourselves – plant vegetables, organise a community day to get people involved in improving where we live, expose exploitative firms, take responsibility for our health, make cups of tea in a social centre,  figure out how to install a shower powered by the sun, make a banner, support strikers, pull a prank to make someone laugh, as  well as think. … Often what motivates us are emotional responses – anger, fear, passion, desperation and hope. We all have a right to be angry at injustice, at oppression. Building movements and groups of change is about using this anger constructively  (Trapese Collective 2007, p.1 & 4 link).

C21st activism combines specific challenges and opportunities

The current political moment of looming ecological catastrophe, deepening inequality, austerity and unemployment, and growing corporate control of government and media offers no choice but to fight back. At the same time, the explosion of social media and many-to-many communication technologies has put powerful new tools at our disposal. We’re building … movements marked by creativity, humor, networked intelligence, technological sophistication, a profoundly participatory ethic and the courage to risk it all for a liveable future (Boyd & Mitchell 2012, np link).

It’s OK to be ‘anticapitalist’, if you know what the word means

When it is so diverse, criticising capitalism is not very meaningful. What you have to change to improve the Swedish or the Japanese capitalist systems is very different from what you should do for the British one. … By labelling [a protest] movement ‘anti-capitalist’, those who do not want reforms have been able to avoid the real debate. This has to stop. It is time … for a serious debate on alternative institutional arrangements that will make British (or for that matter, any other) capitalism better for the majority of people (Chang 2011, np link).

This website (and this Grand Challenge) is designed to introduce you to fashion scholar activism that has emerged in the wake of the Rana Plaza factory collapse. We’ll be building the site together as this Challenge develops. It’s designed to browse, so please start on the home page.

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