Announcements and Calls

Prefiguring Activism: Free spaces of Socio-Ecological Change

A one-day workshop organised by Steffen Böhm and Annika Skoglund

14 September 2018, British Academy, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AH

The world is becoming more polarised. Whether the issue is climate change, LGBT and workers’ rights or migration, people are increasingly engaged in contentious politics, expressing their pro- and anti- views in a variety of different ways. Perhaps it is because we have access to ever more media platforms, often with a global reach, but it seems that the political issues people argue about, and organise themselves around, are multiplying.

Activist spaces and actions are diversifying too. While most attention is still put on activism as something that is taking place in the realms of civil society – on the streets so to say – activism is actually much more dispersed throughout society, and it is happening everywhere. Enacted not only by ‘radicals’ in grassroots social movements, but also by employees, managers, policymakers, NGO workers and ordinary citizens in their communities, activism can be described as something that people just get on with. No major preparation and organisation is needed. This is an everyday DIY practice of doing politics. It’s an activism that often takes place under the radar, at the same time as it accomplishes something, perhaps with more diffuse and dispersed outcomes. This has also been called ‘prefiguration’, i.e. political actions that seek direct and immediate, often small-scale, effects that everybody can engage with in the here and now.

This workshop will explore how activism transforms in the changing political landscape, taking different shapes in a variety of spaces – from corporations to civil society, from state agencies to art. While primarily academic in nature, we will seek to involve activists from within companies, NGOs, governments and social movements to give us insights into, and help us reflect about, everyday activist practices.

Preliminary schedule

9.00-9.30 Arrival and Refreshments

9.30 Welcome and Introduction by Steffen Böhm (Exeter University) and Annika Skoglund (Uppsala University)

10-11 Keynote talk: Resisting in and beyond the corporation: The role of hybrid spaces in new forms of activism – By Florence Palpacuer (Montpellier University, France)

11.00-11.15 Break and Refreshments

11.15-11.40 Academic activism (Martin Parker, Bristol University, UK)

11.40-12.05 Enterprising Activism (Annika Skoglund, Uppsala University, Sweden)

12.05-12.30 Feminist Activism (Sine Nørholm Just, Roskilde University, Denmark)

12.30-12.55 Art Activism (Danny Chivers, BP or not BP?)

1.00-1.45 Lunch

1.45-2.45 Keynote talk: Social movements and prefigurative organizing: The Case of Occupy London – By Juliane Reinecke (King’s College London, UK)

2.45-3.00 Tea/Coffee break

3.00-4.00 Final Discussion Panel (All speakers as part of the panel)

Keynote talk 1:

Resisting in and beyond the corporation: The role of hybrid spaces in new forms of activism

By Florence Palpacuer (Montpellier University, France)

Abstract: Some of the most innovative cases of workers and civil society resistance, which succeeded in producing breakthroughs in the French institutional landscape in recent years, share a common feature: they involved bridging people, ideologies, tools and resources beyond established boundaries, via the creation of ‘hybrid spaces’ across the corporation, civil society, and the State, where activists of various kinds could jointly launch and sustain broadly transformational dynamics. Drawing on in-depth analysis of one such case, we will develop comparative insights across varied initiatives so as to enhance our understanding of how such hybrid spaces can serve to tackle the social and environmental issues of our time.

Florence Palpacuer is Professor in Management Studies at the University of Montpellier, France, where she is co-directing the Chair on Responsible Management and Entrepreneurship, funded by the French National Research Agency (2010-2019). A former consultant for the International Labour Organization, she has been studying globalization processes and their social consequences from a management perspective over the last 20 years, with a recent interest in workers’ resistance and social justice movements in global value chains. She has published over 50 articles and book contributions on these issues in journals such as Human Relations, World Development, Economy & Societyor the British Journal of Industrial Relations. She is a co-founder of the Responsible Global Value Chainsinitiative established in 2015. Webpage: http://mrm.edu.umontpellier.fr/membres/perm/membre-palpacuer-florence

Keynote talk 2:

Social movements and prefigurative organizing: The Case of Occupy London

By Juliane Reinecke (King’s College London, UK)

Abstract: Organizational scholars have examined how social movements generate institutional change through contentious politics. However, little attention has been given to the role of prefigurative politics. The latter collapses expressive and strategic politics so as to enact the desired future society in the present and disrupt the reproduction of institutionalized structures that sustain deep-seated inequalities. The paper presents an ethnographic study of Occupy London and protesters’ encounter with people living homeless to examine how prefigurative politics is organized in the face of entrenched inequalities. Findings show how the macro-level inequalities that protesters set out to fight resurfaced in the day-to-day living in the camp itself. Initially, the creation of an exceptional space and communal space helped participants align expressive and strategic politics and imbued them with the emotional energy needed to confront challenges. But over time these deeply entrenched institutional inequalities frustrated participants’ attempts to maintain an exceptional and communal space, triggering a spiral of decline. The dilemma faced by Occupy invites us to reflect on how everyday constraints may be suspended so as to open up imagination for novel and more equal ways of organizing.

Juliane Reinecke joined King’s Business School in 2017 as Professor of International Management & Sustainability and Associate Dean (Impact & Innovation). Previously, she was Professor at Warwick Business School. Juliane also holds a Visiting Professorship in Sustainability at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. She is a Research Fellow at Cambridge Judge Business School, from where she earned her MPhil and PhD, and Fellow at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, both University of Cambridge. Juliane has studied Philosophy & Economics in Germany, USA and France and worked in strategy consulting. Juliane’s research draws on insights from organization theory, political philosophy and process studies to explore, broadly speaking, how transnational governance institutions emerge and evolve as a result of the interactions of multiple stakeholders to promote more just and sustainable forms of globalization in global supply chains, but also organizations in general. Her work has won a number of awards, including the Journal of Management Studies (JMS) Best Paper Award, the Best International paper award & Best Environmental and Social Practices paper award, Academy of Management (OMT Division).Webpage: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/business/people/juliane-reinecke.aspx

Academic Activism

By Martin Parker (Bristol University, UK)

Abstract: To what extent can academics engage in activism as academics? As ordinary citizens they are faced with the same problems and opportunities as everyone else, but is there anything distinctive about their occupational position? My talk will explore two answers to this question. One is to think about their role in criticizing or radicalizing their own institutions, and I will use some examples to illustrate that. The other is to imagine how they might use the platform and resources of the university as a pulpit, loudspeaker or treasure box to work with allies outside the university. Both strategies are messy, but probably better than just writing another article for another journal that no-one ever reads.

Martin Parker’s research and writing is an attempt to widen the scope of what is usually part of business and management studies, whether in terms of particular sorts of organisations (the circus, the worker co-op, Apollo space programme etc), or ways of representing organising (in art, cartoons, films etc). His recent writing has been about ‘alternative’ organisation in two senses. One is work on co-operatives, worker self-management, alternative finance and so on. The other is on different ways of thinking about what ‘organisation’ means, so I have written about angels, shipping containers, art galleries, as well as a book on outlaws. His latest book is called ‘Shut Down the Business School’. Martin is also very interested in how academics write, and how they might cultivate new audiences for their ideas. Webpage: http://www.bris.ac.uk/efm/people/martin-g-parker/index.html

Feminist Activism

By Sine Nørholm Just (Roskilde University, Denmark)

Abstract: From Pussy Riot to #metoo feminist activism is becoming increasingly visible in the public sphere, at least partially due to the ways in which feminist activists are employing novel and creative communication strategies that cater to the digitalized and globalized conditions of possibility of public debate. Noting this surge in public attention, this talk explores how feminists may resist and reform biased and bigoted practices within their own places of work and, indeed, activist organisations. How may they, as individuals and collectives, prefigure the changes they advocate? Considering different prefigurative strategies of feminist activism as employed within non-feminist settings, e.g. universities, and in self-avowedly feminist contexts, e.g. the Women’s March, respectively, the talk details a mode of feminist activism that is generative of change from within. Thus, it explores the interconnections of feminist activism and insider activism.

Sine Nørholm Just is professor of strategic communication at the Department of Communication and Arts, Roskilde University, Denmark. Working with colleagues at Copenhagen Business School, she currently heads the collaborative research project AlterEcos – Exploring alternatives to currently dominant forms of economic organizing. Within this project, and concomitant with recurrent intellectual and political motifs of her work, Sine engages with feminist modes of conceptualizing and promoting socio-economic change. Webpage: https://forskning.ruc.dk/en/persons/sinenjust

Art Activism

By Danny Chivers (BP or not BP?)

Abstract: Danny Chivers from activist theatre group BP or not BP? shares examples from the growing movement of rebel artists and guerrilla performers challenging the role of fossil fuel corporations in the cultural sector.

Enterprising Activism

By Annika Skoglund (Uppsala University, Sweden)

Abstract: Previously, civil activism and enterprising activism lived two parallel lives; the first disconnected from business reason and capitalism, and the second used within business reason and capitalist accumulation. This talk on the latter type will briefly address the recent developments of shareholder activism, CEO activism, brand activism, employee activism, consumer activism and prosumer activism, with focus on the increasing alignment between civil and enterprising activism in activist corporations. This alignment is of specific interest in the growth of prosumer activism within the transition to a more sustainable energy system, where a conglomerate of activists, transnational and national agencies, as well as businesses of various sizes, collaborate closely to spur individual or collective ownership of the means of production.

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