Cultural Anthropology: Activism

The Journal Cultural Anthropology has an interesting series Field Notes on Activism. Paula Serafini writes:

Field Notes on Activism — Cultural Anthropology

reflect on what activism is, how it is experienced, and how it functions as a force for social and political change. This series of four posts looks at generating a discussion on activism as a practice, but also activism as a subject of study. By drawing from contributors’ experiences and diverse areas of expertise, this series will hopefully not only amount to a stimulating academic debate, but also contribute to a wider discussion on the role of activism in society.

As usual the series contains four posts: provocation – translation – deviation – integration. A brief overview:

Activism: Provocation — When Wealth Inequality is Hot by Angelique Haugerud

how, when, and why particular networks or forms of activism appear in and fade out from media spotlights and political discourse, and to explore activists’ own tactics of concealment, disguise, and exhibition. The satirical activists among whom I have conducted research are themselves engaged in expert forms of knowledge production, deconstruction, and auto-critique, and they are as attuned as many anthropologists are to the emergent and evanescent.

Activism: Translation — Between Art and Activism by Paula Serafini

I argue for an interdisciplinary research method that goes beyond these two approaches, and looks at art activism as a distinct practice; as something else. This, however, poses certain challenges: what terminology should we use, assuming a great amount of literature on art activism or ‘activist art’ isn’t really about activism? And most importantly, up to what point can we rely on existing categories and frameworks provided by aesthetics and social movement theory, when these do not contemplate the exceptional character of actions that are neither art nor activism (or that are both at the same time)? For instance, how are issues of participation (Bishop 2012) to be approached when an action is both an artistic performance and part of a social movement?

Activism: Deviation — Beyond Established Models and Pathways by Jeffrey Juris

Just as it is important to deviate from pre-established models of engaged ethnographic research, the same can be said for diverse forms of activism. Too often, observers and activists pit one mode of activist practice against another: direct action vs. lobbying, performative protest vs. community organizing, electoral activism vs. self-management, militancy vs. non-violence, art vs. politics, etc. These are age-old tensions, and the very real political contradictions they capture should not be denied.

Activism: Integration — Movements Against Uniformity by Marianne Maeckelbergh

from a European social movement perspective, ‘integration’ is a key ideological tool used to enforce uniformity within national boundaries, and consequently an instrument used to exclude all those who cannot or do not want to conform. European migration policy of ‘integration’, in which migrants are expected to assimilate into a specific national culture and are simultaneously denied the possibility to do so through a continuous processes of othering (in which the migrants are always the outsiders, as well as their children born and raised in Europe) is at the heart of racist and oppressive policies across Europe. The creation of literal borders between people based on a notion that everyone within certain borders shares some national and political identity is a centralizing power that is counter to the principles of ‘horizontal’ equality that many of today’s movements are struggling for.


Haugerud, Angelique. “Activism: Provocation.” Fieldsights – Field Notes, Cultural Anthropology Online, May 04, 2014,
Serafini, Paula. “Field Notes on Activism.” Fieldsights – Field Notes, Cultural Anthropology Online, May 04, 2014,
Serafini, Paula. “Activism: Translation.” Fieldsights – Field Notes, Cultural Anthropology Online, May 11, 2014,
Juris, Jeffrey. “Activism: Deviation.” Fieldsights – Field Notes, Cultural Anthropology Online, May 18, 2014,
Maeckelbergh, Marianne. “Activism: Integration.” Fieldsights – Field Notes, Cultural Anthropology Online, May 26, 2014,

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