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International Sociology Seminar Focuses on Social Movements

On October 19, the HSE School of Sociology hosted Dr. Kerstin Jacobsson, Professor of Sociology at the University of Gothenburg (Sweden), for a seminar entitled ‘Emotions and Morality in a neo-Durkheimian Perspective on Social Movements’. Held as part of the International Sociology Seminar Series, Dr. Jacobsson’s talk was based on the book Animal Rights Activism: A Moral-Sociological Perspective on Social Movements (co-authored with Jonas Lindblom), which develops a novel theoretical perspective on social movements. Following her lecture, she spoke with the HSE News Service about some of the key findings in her research on social movements, including as they relate to the post-Soviet space.

— What are the main characteristics of social movements in the modern world? 

— This is a huge question, which I can only address in brief here. I would point to the combination of local action and transnational inspiration, that is trans-local forms of activism. Also, the role of social media needs to be stressed, reinforcing what Bennett and Segerberg have phrased the 'logic of connective action' as a contrast to the classical logic of collective action. We also see, not least in Central and Eastern Europe, but also in post-Soviet space, a polarization of social movements, and how the neo-liberalization of our economies and societies are contested from both the left and the right end of the political spectrum.

— Which social movements in the post-Soviet space have you researched? What do you find unique about them? 

— The research I have followed as well as researched myself is urban movements and activism. Some of them would be of a more reactive kind, i.e., neighbourhood mobilizations against unwanted developments in the close vicinity. Others would be more proactive, attempts to make cities a more hospitable place to live, including more flourishing local communities and neighbourhoods and a more beautiful and better living city environment. I find urban activism of particular interest and importance in post-Soviet space as they typically serve as a bridge between everyday life and political action, conducive to what Elzbieta Korolczuk and I have conceptualized as 'political becoming', that is agency-formation by which citizens come to see themselves as agents of change rather than victims or passive objects of change. Also, Carine Clement has studied the process by which ordinary Russians with no experience of activism gradually get engaged and may even become protest leaders.

— You have recently studied housing activism in some countries, including Lithuania. What have been some of your main findings? 

— In Lithuania, housing and urban activism typically take the form of community-organizations (in contrast to, for instance, Russia, where non-institutionalized action is predominant). In Lithuania, political and economic opportunity structures favour institutionalization, as both the European Union and local policymakers provide incentives for formation of community organization. On the one hand, forming community organizations, as well as city-wide and national umbrella structures for community organizations have increased their leverage in relation to local and national policymakers. On the other hand, there is a risk of cooptation stemming from these close relationships and mutual dependencies.

However, we see little of the type of cross-class alliances in Lithuania which are more prevalent among urban and housing movements in other Central and Eastern European countries, such as Hungary, Poland and Romania. Examples are alliances between middle class activists and the poor or marginalized groups. In Hungary, we also see (in one of my projects) how both new left activists and right-wing, nationalist groups mobilize on issues related to affordability of housing. Again, that polarization is something I find to be important research currently taking place.

— Can you share with us some of your ideas about the role of emotion in social movements?

— Emotions are critical in social movements in a number of ways. For instance, in explaining mobilization, as often moral emotions, such as righteous anger or indignation, are what drive people to take action. Shared moral emotions are a key component of collective identity in social movements. Moreover, some movements, such as the gay rights movement, seek emotional liberation, converting shame into pride. Emotion work is also important to sustain commitment over time, as activism typically entails both emotional costs and emotional rewards. In my own research of the animal rights movement, I have shown how activists pursue collective and reflexive emotion work in order to sustain commitment over time and to cope with the effects of norm transgressing activities and the public's reaction to their work.

— How did your cooperation with HSE begin? Are you planning to continue such joint seminars or other activities?

— My cooperation with HSE started by the research collaboration with Christian Fröhlich, within our common research project on urban social movements in Moscow and Vilnius. I look forward to meeting more of the HSE researchers and learning about important research directions at HSE, and find possible synergies.

Dr. Jacobsson obtained her PhD in Sociology in 1997 at Uppsala University (Sweden) and became Associate Professor there in 2002. Since 2013, she has been Professor of Sociology at the Department of Sociology and Work Science at University of Gothenburg. Her broad range of research interests includes Europeanization, soft forms of governance, European employment and labour market policy, discourses on employability and activation, social movements and civil society.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service

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