Deviant mainstreaming: overcoming social movements dichotomy?
The KATARSIS project and the two previous related projects DEMOLOGOS and SINGOCOM place an emphasis on emancipatory social innovation that is located within a political economy analysis of international capitalism. These projects explore how international capitalism creates an unequal society where a large proportion of the population are excluded from the opportunities opened up by the productive power of the mode of production despite being central to the process of production. Forms of exclusion have been used by the projects to conceptually describe the denial of opportunities and power in terms of lost rights, capabilities and unsatisfied basic needs: exclusion from social, economic, symbolic and political capitals. The KATARSIS project has explored social innovation as forms of socially creative strategies that have developed in response to these inequalities and exclusions.
Deviant mainstreaming is suggested in this paper as a possible concept of social innovation that can be used to capture the process of socially creative strategies that do not just respond, but specifically contest the dynamics of social exclusion. Such an approach raises a key problem: to what extent is it possible for social and cultural strategies as social movements to be in contention and be transgressive in the face of the domination and power of international capitalism? It is not a new argument and clearly strays into the long history of the political discourse of reform and revolution where most sensible angels fear to tread – but here goes.
In the early 1920s it started to become clear within the Third International, especially after the failure of the German uprising, that the Revolution in Russia was going to be isolated for a period and affiliated parties would have to prepare for a struggle that would fall short of revolutionary change. Antonio Gramsci’s reflections on this period together with those of the Frankfurt School of critical theorists form one of the most lasting contributions to the understanding of such historical periods where collective struggle appears to be in abeyance. Gramsci for example (1971) developed the concepts of a ‘war of manoeuvre’ and a ‘war of position’ to help think through this situation. In the former case a frontal assault on the state and a redistribution of power is possible, however in the war of position the struggle passes over to siege warfare and ‘… this is concentrated, difficult, and requires exceptional qualities of patience and inventiveness’.
From these starting points and the attendant problems involved in the war of position as recognised by Gramsci a dichotomy has developed both in political and social movement discourses which is unhelpful in coping with this situation. The political language of reform or revolution sits deep in the thinking of the left and is reflected in the political structure of socialist parties, see for example Callincos (2004). To be labelled a ‘reformist’ is to be associated with class collaboration, ‘selling out’, the compromises of social democracy and more recently, Blairite ‘third ways’. For a revolutionary the choices are often stark as a consequence, be involved with parties to the left of social democracy and support collective mobilisation and direct action or accept the reformist label. Melucci (1996) has made a useful attempt to go around this dichotomised discourse by the use of the concepts of synchronic and diachronic change. Synchronic change he suggests, would describe alternative and contesting social movements that are able to make a difference within the contemporary and existing environment. Diachronic change relates to those movements which seek to mobilise for whole society level changes in the future. The change in language from reform or revolution helps the discourse but still does not sufficiently explore the dynamic relationship between the two sorts of social movement and associated strategies to effectively undermine the dichotomy.
Similarly within social movement studies, Crossley (2002) identifies two main themes that run through the field that of ‘resource mobilisation theory’ (RMT) and ‘new social movement theory’ (
The dichotomy clearly has usefulness to social movement studies and helps to make sense of what is happening and in part to provide a guide to action in the same way as Gramsci also found the distinction of position and manoeuvre useful in making sense of his historical situation. However, changing the language from reform and revolution has still left normative implications of the dichotomy. So for example, RMT continues to describe social movements in ‘abeyance’ during periods when they are not able to mobilise or have faced a defeat. The real danger in the use of this type of analysis is that it does not sufficiently capture or bring to conceptual and theoretical understanding ways in which people resist and find ‘exceptional patience and inventiveness’ in coping and overcoming the problems they experience: at worse people could be condemned and dismissed for trying. Moreover, it is necessary to recognise that such acts of resistance and inventiveness take place synchronically, meaning that whilst coping and resisting people still have to exist and survive within the social structure that creates the problems: to describe survival in these circumstances as a compromise or in abeyance is to miss the value of their impact of their actions and may even give succour to the oppressor.
Within WIRC in Cardiff we have developed this concept both as an attempt to help overcome the dichotomy between RMT and
Deviant is chosen with a sense of irony and a reversal of categorisation. Deviancy as a concept has its roots in functionalist sociology where it is used to label and frame actions – they would use the term behaviour – that are not sanctioned by the norms that support the social whole. The concept has retained this meaning as a description of those who exist outside and who need to be disciplined into conformity in areas of study such as criminology and in the works of Foucault. Our use of the term on the contrary is to celebrate being deviant, being different, outside, in contention and demonstrating that alternative ways can work. Mainstreaming as a verb is chosen in recognition that there are, at any one historical conjuncture, limits to the extent of the contention whilst being deviant in a war of position. But being a verb of action it renders deviant mainstreaming into an active process of contention: defending and developing what alternatives have been put into practice, perhaps carrying forward Gramsci’s notion of exceptional patience and inventiveness. Hence deviant mainstreaming appears to be a contradiction to those who are being challenged but to those who are in contention it serves to indicate a trajectory of being able to be transgressive.
It may also be helpful to just pause and reflect that the pattern of most historical social movements is actually one of deviant mainstreaming. Where contention has resulted in some change, but the momentum slows and the change has to be defended and moved forward whilst surviving in the mainstream.
Beuchler (1999) similarly worked at a dynamic rapprochement between RMT and
‘ … from their inception, social movements have had a dual focus. Reflecting the political, they have always involved some form of challenging to prevailing forms of authority. Reflecting the cultural, they have always operated as symbolic laboratories in which reflexive actors pose questions of meaning, purpose, identity, and change’. P211
He suggests that the consequential challenge that can derive from social movements as ‘symbolic laboratories’ can take five forms:
‘De-legitimation, which underscores the unacceptability of existing social arrangements
Revelation, brings power relations to the surface of social consciousness.
Differentiation, rejects false unities and identifies more fundamental lines of social cleavage.
Solidarity, creates alliances between groups who share subordinate status despite their differences.
Relativization, underscores the socially constructed nature of existing forms of domination and the possibility of their reconstruction’. P202
These themes, Beuchler argues, only make sense in the ‘sequencing of grievances and ideology’. The grievance, issue, problem that people experience – within the KATARSIS case those that derive from the dynamics of social exclusion – performs the cause and reason for people to act together, but it is the ideological discourse about the causes of the grievances and their location in the wider social system that brings these themes into action and starts to create the symbolic laboratory. This process is the act of deviant mainstreaming.
To ground the deviant mainstreaming process in social experience and analysis requires an understanding of the social space the social movement occupies and the boundaries of this space. As can be seen from the two case studies expressed in tabulated form in this paper, the social space of social movements can have a physical expression in terms of resource ownership as in the case of the workers cooperative or the collective control given over the employment contract by a collective agreement as in the case of the trade union. The boundaries of this space can be recognised in geographic and physical location in the cooperative and in social practices in terms of substantive rights and collectively recognised processes as in the collective agreement. Space and boundaries are crucial to be able to identify where and to what extent deviant mainstreaming is taking place and what the trajectory is – toward expanding and deepening the challenge of the space or by expanding the boundaries to involve more people and activities.
With the building blocks of symbolic laboratories, space and boundaries it is possible to see how the concept of deviant mainstreaming could provide a bridge between a war of position and that of manoeuvre: reform and revolution. Grievances and their ideological analysis bring the social movement into being through the act of resistance in saying no and, consequently, either using direct action as a form of solving the grievances directly through self activity or collectively supporting demands on those with power to change their decisions and actions. Once a course of action has been agreed, whether it is a question of creating the future now – synchronically – and sustaining a challenging, alternative space and boundaries to solve the grievance as far as possible now; or, alternatively, at the same time collectively mobilising to have those with power to put a solution into operation – diachronically – they are both matters of the degree of contention and transgression. If the dominate social structures remain in place at the end of the process, although changed and weakened, both tactics result in a deviant mainstreaming outcome. Of course if the war of manoeuvre is entirely successful the mainstream is overthrown the deviants have won!
Transitional demands and action
In an earlier paper we have set out the politics of the case made in this section (Arthur et al 2008). This concluding section explores the importance of reaching some understanding through an ideological discourse of the dominating context that the social movement seeks change through transgression. For the very concepts of contention, transgression and transitional depend upon an understanding of the social context of the grievance and actions to have any meaning. In the case of KATARSIS case, for example, this would refer to the ‘dynamics of social exclusion’.
The extent of the challenge and whether deviant mainstreaming of a social movement can be said to be challenging at all depends on this understanding of the context. Transitional demands and actions are useful concept to make this connection. Bond (2007) following Albert (2006) refers to these as ‘non-reformist reforms’, echoing back to the earlier discussion. Transitional demands are those which related to current grievances and seem a legitimate solution but if won would create a direct challenge the power resources of those who dominate. So for example a successful defence of public services in the current economic crisis would ensure that state borrowing was used for distributive purposes and not for upholding the wealth and incomes of the already rich. Transitional actions have the same intention so in relation to climate change; cooperative development of renewable energy supplies would challenge the power of the monopoly position of oil companies. In this sense transitional demands and actions provide a way of evaluating the extent to which social movements have a trajectory to be challenging and contentious, but that trajectory depends on an understanding of the context and how it relates to the grievances experienced.
Within the context of the KATARSIS project and the emphasis on the deviant mainstreaming of social and creative strategies these can be seen to amount to forms of synchronic direct action: essentially where the future is being created now. As such they are transitional actions as opposed to transitional demands but using the space and boundaries concepts can be seen how they might challenge the context in terms of the dynamics of social exclusion. The scenario that this indicates is similar to the concept of the ‘frontier of control’ as developed by Goodrich (1975) in the early 1920s, interestingly as another reaction to the situation being experienced by the third international at the time and referred to at the start of this paper. Where Goodrich was referring to control in the workplace the idea can be recast within the KATARSIS framework as an overcoming of exclusion by a transitional direct action redistribution of power resources to the excluded through social and cultural strategies: the process of deviant mainstreaming. Similarly, the discussion within the third international referred to pre-revolutionary situations as ones where ‘dual power’ existed and considerations of deviant mainstreaming have an affinity to these type of concept but not necessarily implying that revolution is imminent.
How deviant mainstreaming in this may transgressively move the frontier of control toward the excluded could take the following trajectories:
The space that the social movement occupies could expand through extending and redistributing the power resources controlled by expanding the boundary – frontier – of control.
Space and boundaries can be expanded through solidarity networks and coordinated action with other social movements and trade unions.
The social movement could act as an inspiration for others facing the same grievances to take similar action – starting off chain reactions of the development contentious space. Crossley (1999) has referred to this a creating ‘working utopias’.
Collectively the expansion in the size and numbers of contentious space could be seen as incremental radicalism. Not necessarily a sudden generalisation such as in an uprising or general strike, but a systematic expansion of the frontier of control squeezing the power resources of those who dominate the mainstream.
However, essential to this contentious and transgressive expansion of the frontier of control is that both actors and observers are able to see that the outcomes have a modifying impact on the context and can be seen as transitional actions. In this way a link can be established across the reform – revolution; synchronic – diachronic dichotomy described at the start of the paper with similarity of outcomes being achieved, albeit over a longer time frame: essentially building the future in the present through a process of deviant mainstreaming.
It is useful to compare the differing contexts and processes of trade union and social movements such as cooperatives to explore how both can have transgressive and transitional impacts through deviant mainstreaming, but the processes require different strategies. Trade unions are organisations of opposition to the employers. Their very existence is predicated on the collective organisation and mobilisation of their members to defend or extend rights at work. Taking up and acting on members’ grievances is what justifies the existence of trade unions to their members and their wider political involvement. The context is set by the extent of the employers’ intention to increase the rate of exploitation. Trade unions are the lead ‘ideal typical’ example of a social movement organisation that is dependant on collective mobilisation within the assumptions of RMT. Trade unions tend to be more interested in transitional demands on the employers or government to act – right to work; nationalisation instead of closure, than in transitional actions, with a steam of grievances sustaining the demands.
Other social movement vary away from this ideal type by degree. Cooperatives for example may have started as direct action response to a grievance such as a closure and threatened job loss. Other social movements often come into existence on the basis of single issue campaigns. However, once the initial grievance has been addressed to some degree, the initial justification to engage in deviant mainstreaming through being transgressive and transitional declines and the social movement’s space and boundaries can be incorporated into the mainstream. Once the initial grievance has been responded to it is down to the visions, aims, objectives and strategies of the social movement and to the extent to which it believes there is a continuing need to be in contention and to engage with a process of deviant mainstreaming. Unlike the trade union, the process of contention is not constantly required by the experience of the members: in these type of social movements it will flow from the debates within the social movement about the extent to which the members wish to sustain an alternative space and boundary and whether they wish to carry that forward to into transitional demands and actions. In short: the ideological discourse is crucial for social movements to identify grievances and the extent they wish to be in contention. Workers cooperatives can choose for example, whether to act like a capitalist business or to use resources to increase jobs, address issues such as climate change and fair trade and this choice depends more critically on issues of governance , democracy, ideology and leadership than is the case in trade unions where there is little choice but to be contentious.
Despite these differences in social context and processes, trade unions and social movements both can be seen to be adopting the processes of deviant mainstreaming if they have the strategic trajectory to remain in contention through defence and if and when possible develop the trajectory toward being transgressive through the practice of transitional demands or actions. Whether the social movements remain in contention, transgressive or otherwise, will depend on their understanding of the social context and this, inter alia, also provides a method for other activists and researchers to asses their transgressive potential and the extent of their deviant mainstreaming.
Transitional demands and actions directly take their meaning from the understanding of the social context that is held by the social movement and will be the justification and driving force for the process of deviant mainstreaming. In this way deviant mainstreaming is a concept that provides support to all forms of resistance, making a connection across the historic dichotomy of the war of position and manoeuvre by shifting the analytical focus from types of activity to whether the social movement has the trajectory to be transgressive through transitional demands or actions and the degree to which it has sufficient power to take these forward.
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|Deviant Mainstreaming Feature||Trade Union Collective Bargaining||Workers Cooperative|
1. Power resource as capital
a. Recognition; legal; allies.
b. Withdraw labour
c. Collective v individual; solidarity; democracy.
d. Grievances; solidarity; alternative offered.
a. Ownership & history; legal; allies.
b. Market position & marketing.
c. Members; ownership; democracy; solidarity.
d. Alternative vision & purpose; grievances solved
|2. Space||Collective agreement; TU democracy.||Ownership; coop democracy; contracts.|
|3. Boundaries||Collective v employer control; membership density.||Legal ownership; market penetration; membership density.|
a. Maintenance / contained
a. Defend agreements; sustain membership.
b. Identify new objectives; win new members & support; generalise.
c. Force employers to accept new objectives, thereby expand space and boundaries; grow solidarity with other TUs etc.
a. Sustain existence; market; involvement
b. Identify new objectives; expand market & members; generalise.
c. Implement new objectives; grow size & market space & boundaries; grow solidarity with other coops etc.
|5. Transitional = Transgressive?||Demands & Actions||Actions & Demands|