Social Movement Theory is Irrelevant?

Canadian professor Aziz Choudry faults ivory tower scholars of social movements for ignoring the knowledge created by activists in the field, such as the University of Robben Island, the prison in South Africa that housed Mandela and other activists.[i] Choudry also faults isolated “stars” for not engaging in the activism about which they apply their theories: Collective Behavior Theory, New Social Movements, Resource Mobilization Theory and its offshoot Political Process Theory. The test of an efficacious theory is that activists find it useful, as Bevington and Dixon advocated in an article in Social Movement Studies in 2007.[ii] Chourdry advocates learning by doing, the Marxist theory of praxis that joins thought and action.

Choudry finds Marxist dialectical theory most useful in understanding activism, more recently called Subaltern Studies. It emphasizes the importance of engaging with and learning from the proletariat and other marginalized groups. This approach is called “history from below” “struggle knowledge,” and “learning from the ground up.” He includes anti-colonial and feminist theory in this category of valued approaches, and the writings of African American historian Robin Kelley. Choudry joins the ranks of other academics who press for more attention to the impact of neoliberal capitalist globalization as a continuation of colonialism and analyzing how to oppose it.

Although Chodry faults academics for not exploring racism, sexism, and classism within social movements, he doesn’t mention ageism. He only refers to youth several times (in reference to the Quebec student uprisings and to being “Generation NGO”) in Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Contemporary Social Movements (2015). He praised the organizing efforts of the Quebec students who were called “rioting spoiled children” for “forcing some to re-examine their cynical view of today’s youth as inherently individualistic and self-absorbed.”[iii] He doesn’t call attention to ageism other than these sentences.

[i] Aziz Chourdry. Learning Activism: The Intellectual Life of Contemporary Social Movements. University of Toronto Press, 2015.

[ii] Douglas Bevington and Chris Dixon, “Movement-relevant Theory: Rethinking Social Movement Scholarship and Activism,” Social Movement Studies Vol. 4 , No. 3, 2005. DOI:10.1080/14742830500329838

[iii] Chourdry, p. 25.

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