Dreams, ideals and hopes in collective action: The contribution of utopia as a new conceptual tool in the research on social movements
Political and Social Sciences European University Institute San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy
For this conference, I would like to present a paper on an often forgotten aspect of collective action, its imaginary dimension. Indeed, I would like to open the perspectives of social movement research by introducing a concept that has not been, to my knowledge, studied deeply: utopia.
According to me, utopia is both of form of discourse and a set of particular practices. Thus, to be called utopian, a discourse has to include, first, a rejection of the existing society, and second, if not a clear conception of what another world might look like, at least the idea that another society is possible and desirable. And, to be called utopian, practices need to be an attempt to create here and now at least some of the features of this utopian discourse, in the hope of a spread in the rest of society.
With the research I am currently undertaking for my PhD on utopia in social movements I try to observe if forms of utopia can be found in social movements and, if yes, what their impact on collective action is. Therefore I would like to take the opportunity of this conference to present some preliminary results.
In order to apprehend some aspects of collective action that are not fully understood with the current theories, I operationalized utopia as a conceptual tool by identifying a series of invariant elements - the utopemes - that compose its specific grammar. With this conceptual approach, utopia helps us think about the collective stories and imaginaries that trigger collective action, as well as the emotional work that is involved and the articulation between the discourses developed by activists and their practices.
In order to complete this research, I am focusing on political consumerism, which, according to me, includes a series of collective and individual actions with a collective goal that criticize and try to differentiate themselves from traditional consumerism by politicizing the act of buying in order to search and promote other types of consumption. My fieldwork consists of a comparison of moderate and radical groups in two countries: France and the United Kingdom.