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September 13, 2004

"transnational youth activism"

On Saturday, I attended a meeting on “transnational youth activism” in New York City. The classic “transnational activists” are opponents of corporate capitalism who also distrust all hierarchical, disciplined organizations (such as nation states and unions). They build SPINs—“segmented, polycentric, ideologically integrated networks”—that are united by common values rather than by centralized leadership, rules, or market relations. Their tools include the Internet and open-source software projects as well as face-to-face meetings, co-ops, squats, and community-supported agriculture projects. As a matter of strategy, they choose to work in loose networks rather than organizations so that “there is no head to cut off.” At the same time, they see networks as morally superior to organizations.

We debated how far beyond the paradigm cases to go in conducting research. Should a research project be limited to the youthful left (mainly anarchists, pacifists, and radical Greens), who work internationally and adopt new social forms? Should the project also include various right-wing groups that are opposed to existing social institutions, that work internationally, and that form networks instead of top-down organizations? Should research on “transnational youth activism” even encompass various moderate young people who are perfectly happy with traditional institutions, such as the Catholic Church or UNESCO?

How you answer this question may depend on your own ideological opinions. However, I believe that there is an important empirical question, the answer to which would help decide the scope of any plausible research project. We know that there are radical leftists who are young, who work across national boundaries, and who use new social forms. But how many right-wingers also fit this description? Are there just a few skinheads, or is there a broad movement? And how many politically moderate, traditionalist people are involved in work that could be called “transnational youth activism”? If the answer is “hardly any,” then it’s appropriate to limit the research to the radical left—regardless of what one thinks of this movement. However, if there are transnational youth activists from across the whole political spectrum, then it seems necessary to study the full range in order to place each group in context.

I don't know how much transnational youth activism exists outside of the radical left, but I'd like to learn more about that.

Posted by peterlevine at September 13, 2004 12:03 AM

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