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Popular Intellectuals and Social Movements

Protest: Popular Intellectuals and Social Movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (Nineteenth-Twentieth Centuries)

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Publié le lundi 24 février 2003 par Natalie Petiteau


International Review of Social History Supplement 2004 Submission of abstracts and articles: Please submit abstracts for proposed articles before 1 May 2003. Confine the abstracts to 400 - 800 words, stating clearly the definition of the problem(s)


International Review of Social History Supplement 2004
Submission of abstracts and articles:
Please submit abstracts for proposed articles before 1 May 2003.
Confine the abstracts to 400 - 800 words, stating clearly the definition of the problem(s) that will be dealt with, the sources to be used, and an outline of the main argument to develop in the article. You will receive a response by 31 May 2003. A first draft of the article should be ready for the Editorial Committee by 1 October 2003; the final version must be completed by 1 December 2003. Please, state clearly your name, postal address and e-mail address when submitting your proposal. Instructions for Contributors with information on the IRSH style can be found at

Proposals should be sent to:

Michiel Baud
Centre of Latin American Studies (CEDLA)
University of Amsterdam
Keizersgracht 395-397
1016 EK Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Fax +31 20 625 5127

Rosanne Rutten
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
University of Amsterdam
OZ Achterburgwal 185
1012 DK Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Fax +31 20 525 3010

The International Review of Social History invites proposals for articles on popular intellectuals and social movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Its Supplement 12 (to be published in December 2004) will be devoted to this theme. The editors welcome case studies and comparative analyses, with a focus on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The volume aims to widen the geographic and historical scope of current debates on this theme, and seeks to contribute to a comparative perspective across time and continents.

Framing protest: Popular Intellectuals and Social Movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America (Nineteenth-Twentieth Centuries)

A valuable concept in social-movement studies is the "framing" of collective action, i.e., the process by which activists and others
(re)interpret a social situation as unjust, define victims and perpetrators, identify causes, translate local grievances into
broader claims, and set out a course of action. Such collective action frames are produced in the process of contention but, once developed and proven successful, they may become "modular", available for adoption and adaptation by activists across the globe. The work of formulating ideas that inspire action is crucial in mobilizing supporters, convincing allies, and legitimizing claims vis-à-vis the state and other authorities.

Those who develop and broadcast such activist frames may be called popular intellectuals, ranging from "peasant intellectuals", working-class writers, and village teachers, to activist clergy, town-based journalists, ethnic writers, and cosmopolitan intelligentsia. They are either part of a social movement, or loosely connected to it. They all combine ideological work with political initiative.

Since the cultural turn in labor history and social-movement studies, the old conceptual dichotomy between "intellectuals" (urban, educated, vanguard) and "masses" is replaced by a much more fluid concept of "framing specialists" who may be found among all sectors of society - among ordinary people (recalling Gramsci's "organic intellectuals") as well as others. These framing specialists are particularly active in developing, borrowing, adapting, and reworking interpretive frames that promote collective action and that define collective interests and identities, rights and claims. We refer to these specialists as "popular intellectuals". They should be viewed as firmly embedded in social networks -e.g., ties with their communities, (fellow) activists, adversaries, peer and rival intellectuals, and the state-which influence their cultural work and its social effects.

This special issue of the IRSH will explore the social dynamics of this cultural work in different societies in three continents. We invite contributors to discuss the role of popular intellectuals in the framing of protest and popular demands, with an explicit focus on their interaction with relevant others. Two types of interactions will be of particular interest:
(1) the interplay between popular intellectuals, (other) activists, and the state;
(2) the interactions and cultural brokerage that take place between a wide range of framing specialists in the course of contentious episodes.

The focus on non-western societies will enrich current debates in the field, contribute to comparative analyses, and inform a broad public of social historians on fascinating new research on the topic. The focus on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries will facilitate comparisons across continents, since it covers the worldwide development of capitalist relations and socialist experiments, the emergence and global spread of the modern (nation) state and, consequently, of national social movements, and the development of new political discourses (liberal, religious-nationalist, socialist, ethnic-nationalist, among others) with a global reach, but with infinite local variations.

We suggest the following questions as starters:

- Who are the people who venture in this ideological work, for whom do they speak, and how do their views relate to those of the people they claim to represent? This question relates to older discussions about the (often tense) relations between intellectual "vanguards" who claim to speak in behalf of a certain class, "organic intellectuals" who claim to speak from within a certain class, and the people they both say they represent. What is at stake is the definition of collective interests, identities, and claims.

- How do these people connect to other activist actors and their discourses, within wider spheres of contentious politics that link local intellectuals to national and international networks (and, for instance, to international ideologies of socialism, human rights ethnic nationalism). How do these interactions affect the ideological frames they develop and adopt, with what effect on the process and outcome of collective actions? What was the historical interplay between ideology and social action and how did this lead to "cycles of learning" by which social movements develop new strategies and ideas?

- Since many popular protests target state authorities and try to appeal to state-supported notions of rights and justice, how does the state react to, and influence, the work of framing protest?

It might be useful to distinguish at least two types of popular intellectuals that are relevant to the volume:

1) Activists of lower-class background: Intellectuals in their own right, they build on local worldviews and explanatory frames, but they may also adopt, manipulate, and appropriate discourses and frames imported from elsewhere. For instance, they may use rhetorical and ideological instruments provided by middle-class intellectuals and politicians which legitimize their political projects vis-à-vis state authorities or powerful allies. In the process, they may gain access to strategic social and political networks, to powerful (new) ideologies, and to political arenas in which their claims are projected as legitimate.

2) Urban intellectuals of middle-class or elite backgrounds who claim to act in behalf of disadvantaged groups: They define specific issues as "social problems" to be solved, provide ideological frames to match, and often succeed in making these issues (and solutions) politically acceptable or salonfähig. As self-proclaimed intermediaries between the state and certain disadvantaged groups, they may seek to translate the latter's claims into a language that connects to official state discourse - such as "citizen rights", nationhood, and social equality. They may contribute, in diverse ways, to the contentious process of converting "entitlements" into state-backed "rights", even though they often lack actual knowledge about the people and communities they claim to support.

Interactions and cultural brokerage among popular intellectuals may be explored along the following lines:

- What happens when these different types of intellectuals interact, within the broader field of contention that includes their potential following as well as the state? How and why do lower-class activists change their views (in case they do so), adopt new ideas selectively, integrate them with existing ones, and develop new patterns of collective action in the process? On their part, how do urban middle-class intellectuals try to integrate popular demands and perspectives, if at all, in their efforts to transform society?

- If we consider the networks of communication that channel the "flows of meaning" between local, national, and global fields, how do both types of intellectuals function as possible "nodal points" in these networks, connecting various clusters of meaning and developing their own interpretations?

This issue of the IRSH aims to deepen our understanding of the processes by which popular demands are articulated, and intends to add a comparative analysis across continents. The editors welcome case studies and comparative discussions that deal with societies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, as well as articles that compare western and non-western cases. We welcome, in particular, articles that connect case-analyses with more general insights that help illuminate the field.

For a more extensive discussion of the theme of this IRSH Supplement, see the position paper at:


  • jeudi 01 mai 2003


  • Michiel Baud
    courriel : baud [at] cedla [dot] uva [dot] nl
  • Rosanne Rutten
    courriel : rrutten [at] pscw [dot] uva [dot] nl

Source de l'information

  • Fabrice Bensimon
    courriel : fbensimon [at] free [dot] fr

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