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Proposed research questions, theoretical frameworks, and methods

What can we surmise from this complex array of interconnected events and processes that have come to dominate the global transition into a new millennium? In pursuit of this question, and building on recent social science research in the superficially unconnected contexts of environmental policy uptake and protest in northern Namibia (Sullivan 2002a and b), and among participants in an ‘underground culture’ of anarchical ‘free party’ events held in various squatted premises in London and elsewhere (Sullivan 2001b, under review), I wish to address the following foci of research.

1. Subjectivity and political action

In what ways are anarchical political perspectives and actions influenced by, and/or emerge from, particular subjective experience/s? And to what extent might these contribute to a ‘non-place-based’ construction of shared experiential identities?

Conversely, to what extent are members of anarchical ‘disorganisations’ responding through protest action to ‘push’ factors that may culminate in social and economic exclusion?

Indeed, is it possible to disaggregate these processes, given that expressions of ‘alternative’ or autonomous constructions of ‘self’ in protests and other actions, however peaceful, are penalised and criminalised by states? In this sense it could be said that exclusion may emerge from, and be influenced by, assertions of difference defined against particular normative criteria (in governance as in other aspects of society) that, in terms of subjective experiences of ‘being human’, may have no overriding validity or legitimacy - other than their ability to be exerted via structures of power that are historically, culturally and contingently located.

In this primary area of the proposed research, I am influenced conceptually and philosophically by social theorists and philosophers such as Heidegger (1962 (1926)), Merleau-Ponty (1962) Lefebvre (1971), Foucault (e.g. 1990 (1961), 1977 (1975)), de Certeau (1984), Deleuze and Guattari (1988), Bey (1991) and Ingold (2000). My intention thus is to conduct empirical ethnographic work with ‘real people’ making ‘real choices’ within and in response to ‘real situations’ under the umbrella of the philosophical domain of phenomenology – defined here broadly as the social theory of subjective consciousness.

At this preliminary stage, the specific influences that I am interested in interrogating as significant in constructions of ‘the self’ and the role/s of this in guiding political intentionality, specifically in resistance to globalisation, relate to those that might be said to influence and perhaps challenge ‘conventional’ perceptions of mind:body and people:environment relationships. As such, the research will be further informed by ideas regarding the embodiment processes associated with both subjectivity, i.e. as knowledge and experience of the self, and intentionality, i.e. as actions emerging consciously from subjectivity (e.g. Csordas 1994; Weiss and Haber 1999; Crouch 2001).

Key areas of experience on which to focus might include, but not be limited to, the following:

· Perceptions of relationships with ‘Nature’/natural environment (cf. Ingold 2000), particularly regarding articulations of the place and rights of people vis à vis environment, and elucidation of experiential influences regarding such perceptions.

· Subjective experience of ‘altered states’, e.g. through dance movement and other body-oriented practices, participation in creative endeavours (visual art, performance, writing etc.), participation in non-doctrinal ritual, experiences influenced by psychoactives, etc.; and the possible translation of these subjective experiences into political stances and action. I draw here on a range of literature affirming the possible transformative possibilities of such subjective experiences (cf. Bourguignon 1973; Boadella 1988; Chodorow 1991; Jennings 1995).

· Personal histories and perceptions of exclusion from formal institutions/society.

Although I have worked extensively with quantitative social and ecological survey and analytical methods in the past (e.g. Sullivan 1999, 2000, in press), I propose in this research to draw on a range of qualitative approaches of which I also have experience. These would include participant observation in protest and other relevant circumstantial contexts, unstructured interviews, Internet/email communications, and recorded oral testimonies. Given the sensitive, individual and personal nature of the research foci as outlined above, I consider that these would be appropriate ways of both accessing and conveying depth regard the issues of interest and the research questions. The anonymity of participants and places involved with the research would be respected at all times, unless specifically requested otherwise.

My intention would be to further situate such material within a broader context defined and strengthened by the use of secondary and quantitative survey data, where relevant and available. I would hope in this regard to perhaps be able to draw on datasets compiled in research for the ESRC-funded Centre for Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, for example regarding voluntary unemployment (e.g. Burchardt and Le Grand 2002).

Nb. To avoid possible misinterpretation, I would like to emphasise that this research endeavour clearly would not be an a priori attempt to validate naively the views of participants in ‘anti-globalisation’ resistance events. Instead, the intention is to better understand, from a strong research and theoretical basis, the ways in which individuals arrive at the views that have made ‘anti-globalisation’ resistance the strong ‘draw’ that it patently has become, in a range of disaggregated and dissimilar circumstances. My view is that such research is essential in generating understanding regarding the whys and wherefores associated with emerging dissent to what CSGR identifies as the ‘normalising rationality’ of both the phenomena and knowledge of globalisation processes (CSGR website).

2. Communications technology and the ‘disorganisation’ of anti-globalisation actions

If globalisation might be considered a qualitatively different societal process resulting in part from the radical transformations in communications technology in the past few decades (e.g. summarised in Higgott and Reich 1998), then to what extent should the same consideration also be applied to the ways in which an ironically but increasingly global ‘anti-globalisation’ resistance effort is able to organise/’disorganise’ in a similarly qualitatively different manner to conventional democratic engagement? Famously, the high profile of the Zapatista movement of Chiapas, Mexico, is a result of the use of the Internet to proclaim the movement’s anti-capitalism/anti-neoliberalism messages worldwide - the Zapatistas’ website alone has received more than 3 million ‘hits’ (EZLN website). At the same time, this has made possible the appropriation of concerns and narratives held by this and a range of social movements of ‘the south’ by ‘anti-globalisation/anti-capitalism’ discourses in ‘the north’.

The potential significance of the Internet and mobile telecommunications technologies in providing a means for empowerment of civil society surely is reflected by current attempts to increase surveillance of civilian and private use of these technologies (as noted above). At the same time, these technologies have been critical in enabling ‘anti-globalisation’ activists to coordinate activities in specific protest events, in both converging at sites of protest, and in communicating with each other in attempts to thwart police constraint (as specifically advised prior to this year’s Mayday protest in London (Mayday 2002 website)).

Depending on time constraints, I would like to pursue some issues raised by the use of communications technology via ascertaining use of mobile ‘phones, websites, and so on as tools in resistance to globalisation, and by exploring possibilities for conducting some sort of network analysis of this usage. In methodological terms, this is a new area for me that will require further research, thought and development, although clearly it is an emerging area of academic interest in social studies of mobile technologies (e.g. Jordon n.d.). From my readings regarding the organization of complex systems (e.g. Kauffman 1993, 1995; Cilliers, 1998) I am interested in drawing on theoretical ideas regarding connectivity and distributed networks to explore and consolidate further the notion of an emerging non-geographically-located ‘anti-capitalist/anti-globalisation’ ‘culture’ that conversely is made possible by the global availability of communications technologies.

 

Populations and locales of research

From the above it should be clear that at present I am interested primarily in pursuing research with members/participants of anarchist and autonomous ‘groups’ in Europe, and particularly within the UK. However, I view the work as something of a multi-sited ethnography that draws on outside perceptions of such ‘groups’, within both public and private institutions, among other sections of civil society and, importantly, as portrayed in the conventional media. The work is multi-sited in a further sense, however, in that I am interested in the uptake of information from social movements in geographically distance locations by ‘northern’ anarchist and anti-globalisation protesters, and at the communications that take place between ‘groups’ that otherwise are rather separate in terms of locality, culture, history and economic opportunity.