Academic journal article Social Justice

"Attac": A Global Social Movement?

Academic journal article Social Justice

"Attac": A Global Social Movement?

Article excerpt

THE STUDY OF SOCIAL MOVEMENTS IS EXPERIENCING A SIGNIFICANT REVIVAL DUE TO the increasing frequency of protest across the world and to its novel international character. The emergence of "anti-globalization movements," as they are now described, raises general sociological issues and, simultaneously, elicits some rethinking of the categories elaborated within the specific field of the sociology of social movements.

The cross-national nature of these new movements, for example, echoes the contemporaneous mobility of goods, people, information, and images, which is said to reconstruct the "social as society" into the "social as mobility." The flows of people beyond national territories are also interpreted as explosions of desires, and as such, they are deemed central to sociological scrutiny. Because of its proximity to social movements, sociology has always attempted to make sense of collective desires, and "it is unlikely that it will survive if it does not again embody the ambitions of one or more of such social movements" (Urry, 2000: 18).

According to Bourdieu (2001), history teaches us that there is no meaningful social policy without movements capable of imposing it, and that social movements, not markets, are able to civilize the economy. Against economic fatalism, the French sociologist argues that governments should interfere with the laws governing the economy, which are by no means natural laws. Simultaneously, he notes the emergence of new forms of political mobilization, new leaderships, and new types of organizations inspired by self-management, and "characterised by a structural lightness allowing agents to reappropriate their role as active subjects" (Ibid.: 59). These new organizations are said to adopt forms of action of high symbolic content, to pursue concrete objectives, to be internationalist in nature, to require strong personal engagement from participants, and to shape themselves as loosely coordinated networks.

The association known in France, and by now internationally, as Attac displays most of these characteristics, and appears to be congruent with the shift noted by Urry (2000) from the "social as society" to the "social as mobility." It also appears to situate its theory and practice beyond the dichotomy identified by Touraine. (1999) in which "liberals" preach that all must be left to the market, while "ultra-leftists" confine their role to that of victims denouncing the market. Attac proposes concrete action to overcome this deadlock.

This essay discusses the ideas, structure, and action of "Attac," and attempts to locate this association, or movement, on the theoretical map of social movement theories. First, a chronology of its establishment and growth is provided, then the key ideas underpinning its activity are analyzed, and finally, some theoretical issues elicited by that activity are discussed.

Re-politicization: A Chronology

In times of alleged de-politicization, Attac has succeeded in attracting an increasing number of members and participants, providing them with some general guiding values, while leaving to individuals the task of formulating the sense of their engagement. "Re-politicization," a key word used by the movement, has been pursued through the search for a balance between general principles of social and economic justice and full respect for specific contexts and peoples. Re-politicizing justice has amounted to recognizing that developments in the world economy are not so much ineluctable as the result of individual and collective choice. Perhaps the success experienced by Attac is due to its flexibility in participants' recruitment and its careful combination of local, national, and international discourses and actions. Rooted in civil society rather than in official politics, the association/movement possesses a natural capacity to attract a plurality of members, thus distinguishing itself from traditional movemen ts or parties, whose rigidity may often discourage diversity. …

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