Michigan Paper Series 2009 - Della Porta

Eventful Protest, Global Conflicts

Description: Although social movement studies have traditionally stressed conflict as a dynamic element in our societies, since the 1980s, research in democratic society has presented an image of an institutionalization of social movements. Since 1999, with the protest in Seattle against the WTO Millennium Round, this image has been however challenged by a new cycle of protest focusing on 'alternative globalization' and global justice. Beyond describing some forms of action that (through counter-summits and social forums) emerged in this cycle of protest, the article addresses the more general issue of conflict nowadays by considering the emergent character of protest itself. In social movement studies, protest has in fact been mainly considered as a 'dependent variable', and explained on the basis of political opportunities and organizational resources. The author suggests here a different approach, by looking at protests as eventful, in the sense of having relevant cognitive, affective and relational transformative impacts on the very movements that carry them out. Some forms of action or specific campaigns have a particularly high degree of'eventfulness'. Through protest events,new tactics are experimented with, signals about the possibility of collective action are sent, feelings of solidarity are created, organizational networks are consolidated, and sometimes public outrage at repression is developed. Data from interviews, surveys, focus groups and discourse analysis are used in order to reflect upon the mechanisms that make protest eventful. More in general, the article suggests that the contemporary sociological reflection on conflicts as producers of social capital, collective identity and knowledge, could be useful to balance the negative vision of conflicts as being disruptive of social relations, an analysis that can emerge from an exclusive focus on the most extreme forms of political violence. Key words:European social forums; eventful protest; global justice movement;protest; social movements.

Publication Date: 2009