Collective identity

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Before people can act together they must have a certain degree of solidarity. In particular they should be able to assess the world in terms of 'them' and 'us'. Activists will have stronger solidarity when they share values that provide meaning and justification for their actions. Yet, a shared identity is based on more than simply these shared 'frames': shared culture, practices and traditions also shape a movement's identity and these evolve and change over time. In the case of the green movement its culture includes a commitment to non-hierarchical styles of organisation and an acceptance of the value of changing one's lifestyle to be consistent with political principles. These broad principles are not unique to green culture and have been part of the culture of other movements at least as far back as the nineteenth century (Calhoun, 1995). Feminism has challenged the divide between public and private life by showing how this division, in which women are seen as having primary responsibility for the private sphere, serves to exclude women from effective power. Like feminists, greens are expected to be able to try to organise their private lives in ways that are morally responsible and the practice of these ideas is not restricted to those who are publicly active in social movement politics. For instance, greens make a link between individual actions such as cutting car use, and global goals such as averting climate change.

Participation in the green movement involves changes in lifestyle, but it is not always clear what the most green action is. For example, in buying food greens will favour local and organic produce that has been produced in working conditions that conform to ethical standards and respect the welfare of animals. Since relatively little of the available food meets these criteria greens are often caught in moral dilemmas about which criterion is most important. In fact most questions of consumption produce similar dilemmas for greens. In what circumstances, if any, is it reasonable to use a car? Or, in circumstances of global inequality, what constitutes a reasonable standard of living for someone living in the affluent west? One UK Green Party activist I interviewed on this question said that he tried to limit his income to a level consistent with levels of global equality, but most find it hard to live to such standards and some argue that this level of consistency is not necessary since it places too much emphasis on individual responsibility. But for most, being a good green means trying to live as greens argue other people should. When it is impractical to do all that might be desirable in this respect, greens are likely to express regret, guilt or point to excuses for their failures. To do otherwise would be hypocritical. Thus for greens, practising what you preach requires political judgements to be made on issues that have traditionally been seen as personal choices.

This green culture is more variable than green ideology. Ideas about the nature of problems and broad principles about the desirable alternative society that constitute green ideology (see Chapter Three) are more easily translated than ways of speaking, lifestyle, and expectations about behaviour, which are sustained more by routine interaction in everyday situations. For instance, Faucher (1999) has noted important differences between the extent of lifestyle politics among activists in the green parties in Britain and France. In Britain, the question of what to eat was a political one. To be vegetarian was superior to being a meat eater. In France, vegetarianism was not necessarily accepted as superior and was much less widespread than in Britain. Many other differences separated activists in the two parties. The French were mostly astonished to be asked whether green politics was spiritual, the British mostly took this aspect of green politics for granted. Sentiments based on deep ecology were more or less non-existent in France, and in many other green parties in Europe, whereas they were relatively common in Britain (Faucher 1999: 54; Bennie et al. 1995). While both parties had a similar ideology and their policy programmes were also similar, the meaning given to concepts such as ecology was often different (more scientific in Britain, more political in France) and the question of what was reasonable in making personal life consistent with political principles also varied between the parties. The process of reconciling the personal and the political is socially constructed. It is through interaction with others in their movement or party that activists develop different practices and a sense of what counts as 'enough'. Although the activists studied by Faucher viewed those from the other party as ideological comrades with a shared political project, and the policies of both parties were very similar, their party cultures reflected national differences. Thus, while those from both green parties shared an identity, there were also differences between the cultural practices associated with the identity.

Alberto Melucci (1989, 1996) emphasises the need to be careful to avoid reifying the concept of movement identities. The identities shared by social movement actors are always heterogeneous and include significant internal conflicts. There are no clear boundaries to social movements because the collective identity of a movement is not fixed. What holds a group of actors together has to be continually reaffirmed and negotiated. For this reason, Melucci argues first, that the achievement of a collective identity is in itself a major achievement of a social movement and second, that we should not think of movements as necessarily unified actors. To do so would mean failing to do justice to the necessarily provisional and fluid process of collective action. An example of this is the way that network ties of different groups within the green movement link them with other groups. Ecological direct action groups such as Earth First! often work with anarchist groups that are not necessarily committed to ecological goals, and formally organised environmental movement organisations (EMOs) have ties with businesses that they seek to influence, despite the conflicts between much of the activity of business and the values of greens. Moreover, the nature of the common values linking the most radical and the most reformist wings of the movement, shifts as each is affected by its contacts with groups outside the movement as well as debates with other greens. Groups can have more than one identity and be 'in' more than one movement. When radical environmentalists join other anarchists and radicals in direct action protests against neo-liberalism, they are both greens and part of a newly emerging anti-capitalist movement, which is not wholly green.

While remedying injustices and a shared belief that the world can be made a better place are part of what motivates greens, not all motivations are cognitive. Emotion is perhaps the last taboo in the field of social movement studies. In the 1970s there was a reaction against the assumptions of mass society and collective behaviour theorists who treated movements as emotionally driven, and often therefore irrational (Smelser 1962). Social movement theory has recognised the role of expressive action (Rucht 1990) and the importance of emotion. The tendency, however, was to focus on the cognitive dimensions of action. Even actors pursuing expressive and symbolic actions that challenged dominant codes were seen as pursuing rational action. Also, as Goodwin et al. say, since 'science, not feeling is the dominant language of legitimation and persuasion in today's liberal societies' (2000: 81) it is hardly surprising that protesters themselves tend to be suspicious of emotionality. Protesters were incorrectly seen as more emotional and less rational than the authorities, despite the frequent evidence of emotional sentiments by authorities and other opponents of social movements.

It is because of this pejorative legacy that importance of emotion tended to be downplayed in recent social movement theory. More recently Kevin Hetherington (1998) has used Raymond Williams's (1989) concept of 'a structure of feeling' to try to capture the emotional bond of solidarity often found in new kinds of elective communities. Hetherington focuses on the rituals and 'ethic of aesthetics' through which participants in movements communicate their allegiances towards each other. Often this 'libidinal economy' (Goodwin et al. 2000) of friendship, solidarity or love shapes the dynamics of a group. The jealousies and tensions between activists affect turnover and levels of commitment. Shared emotional feelings towards outsiders are also a major factor in explaining motivation. Moral outrage towards opponents, pride in collective identities, a sense of shame at the indignity of a tarnished identity, are all part of the emotional fabric of movements.

Action outside political institutions

The second feature of the definition of social movements is that they operate at least partly outside political institutions. They act outside the political institutions because they perceive them to be closed to their ideas or because political institutions are inappropriate avenues for change. Protest is an important part of this extra-institutional activity. According to one tradition in social movement theory the protest activity of social movements is essentially a means of making claims on the public authorities. This may be for rights, such as the right to vote, or to strike, or it may be in opposition to specific projects such as preventing the construction of a nuclear power station. Social movements are therefore conceived of as 'outsiders' using protest to try to force those with power to listen. According to McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly:

A social movement is a sustained interaction between mighty people and others lacking might: a continuing challenge to existing power-holders in the name of a population whose interlocuters declare it to be unjustly suffering harm or threatened with such harm.

This definition excludes collective bargaining by well-established and powerful social groups but also collective withdrawal or 'opting-out' by marginal groups. As Seel notes (1999: 53), it therefore excludes collective challenges to cultural norms -and thus actions that many greens see as political. Some commentators therefore prefer to exclude protest from the definition of social movements. However, protest is really what we think of as characteristic of social movements, and too much is lost if protest is not part of the definition of a social movement. One solution is to broaden the category of protest beyond claims-making directed at power-holders. If a protest by a social movement is defined as collective action outside political institutions which includes the expression of a dissenting political argument that challenges the dominant forms of power, and not restricted only to action directed at the state or a specific opponent, this may yet include some of the 'cultural' actions that should be part of such a definition.

One of the justifiable criticisms of the over-emphasis on protest is that it presents a picture of what social movements do which suggests that all other aspects of the movement are a form of preparation for action directed against the state. It also lays too much emphasis on the negative and reactive dimension of social movements. The development of a common identity and a culture can seem as if it is merely a stage that must be passed before the full maturity of 'political' (state-oriented) action is reached. But, if the concept of political action is defined more broadly, action directed at the state becomes one of a range of protests. For instance, when green activists in Manchester dressed as aliens and acted as if they were tourists visiting Earth to see the curious sight of Christmas shoppers buying more and more goods in pursuit of happiness (Purkis 2000), they were making a political argument. To buy more and more goods which people don't really need and may not want, mainly because it is expected, helps to sustain the over-production and exploitation which creates ecological crisis and social injustice. Their action was not about a particular change in policy, nor was it illegal, but it was certainly political. It was also confrontational. The activists challenged the legitimacy of what the shoppers and shop staff were doing through parody (Melucci 1996).

Protest can be defined then, to include all collective action that is directed at an audience outside the group, involves confrontation, and is intended to express or advance the group's politics. On this basis an illegal action that involves arrests and confrontation with the police is not necessarily more 'political' because it involves conflict with the state. This broader conception of protest goes some way towards reconciling the traditional 'political' conception of protest (as a form of claims-making oriented towards the state) with those, such as Melucci (1996: 37) who have argued that newer forms of collective action tend to be increasingly symbolic and based upon non-negotiable demands.

Not all green protest is intended as a form of claim directed at the state. An example is Reclaim the Streets parties. In these the focus of protest is the specific place where the party is held. The aim is to directly reclaim that place as a social space (rather than simply as a through route for cars) and thus also to transform the people who use that place. More ambiguous are the cases of radical communes and alternative 'intentional' communities. Because the attempt to realise an alternative lifestyle is a fundamental part of the political practice of many greens, although few live in communes, they are important and valued symbols of green utopian politics. (Sargisson 2000). As Sargisson argues, in transgressing contemporary norms such communities are inherently political. Where they share an identity with other greens, take part in protests and are linked with other greens by networked ties and challenge dominant forms of power, they are part of the green movement. However, unlike protest camps, not all alternative communities are established to confront existing forms of power directly. It seems better then to see such alternative communities as part of the network of the green counter-culture which is political, but does not in itself constitute an act of protest.

It is also important to point out that not all protest is carried out by social movements. Protest by homeowners worried about the effect of new developments on their property prices, or by leaders of major political parties using protest as a political tactic against a rival party, are not social movement protests because they are not rooted in a movement challenging dominant forms of power. As protest has become an increasingly normal form of action used by many institutionalised groups and by many different sectors of society (Meyer and Tarrow 1998), and often does not involve the creation of uncertainty through disruption, it is increasingly the radical ideological dimension of protest by social movements that makes it distinctive.

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