What is a “social movement” | MovementsRethink part 4

A movement is an organized set of constituents (people) pursuing a common political agenda of change through collective action.

– Batliwala, 2012

I remember years ago, in Amsterdam when I had just entered the sex workers’ rights movement, an academic involved in sex worker’s rights rights told me that movements were the collective written/documented/produced body of a specific activist stream; here she questioned the existence of a “Dutch sex worker’s rights movement”. At that stage, which was 2005, any sex worker’s rights activism was limited to a few individuals, and apart from health specific works, very little was produced regarding sex worker’s rights and even less produced by sex workers themselves (apart from the “survival memoirs” perhaps…)

The question about “what is a social movement?” came up yesterday, and is being explored today. Personally I’m not sure if I agree with the description that my friend then put forward, though she has a point that history will remember movements (and validate it) according to what is left behind, what is “tangible”. In the age of Web 2.0, production of knowledge is a lot easier, the internet allows self publishing in the forms of blogs, status updates, tweets, etc. and it is being more and more acknowledged. Even at this meeting, reporting is done through blogposts written about each day by the official rapporteur, instead of waiting for an official meeting report that is usually a digital version of something that used to be printed and mailed.

Is a revolution a movement? or simply an event that can be part of a bigger movement (or not)? And how collective does it need to be? Single issue and identity based movements are quite common, formally; I think here about sex worker’s rights movements, LG(BTI) movements, transgender (& intersex) movements, women’s movements, etc. Even this meeting in itself talks about women’s activists, who will stay on tomorrow, while the “others” will leave after today… what are the definitions of women’s activists, and how restricitive, open, closed, collective, individual, identity based (or not), issue based (or not), is that? A clear example in South Africa is SHE, an organisation started by a transgender woman specifically positioned as a transfeminist organisation, trying to position itself both in the women’s movement and the transgender movement in South Africa; the challenge being that such an intersection somewhat challenges some people who have literally asked, when I tell them about it, “so is it a transgender organisation?” Ironically, often a question heard from funders…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s