IDS working papers;276

Mobilising citizens : social movements and the politics of knowledge

Published on 1 January 2007

This paper reflects comparatively on a series of case studies of citizen mobilisation
in both north and south, arguing that the politics of knowledge are now
central. The cases focus on issues ranging from genetically-modified crops, vaccines,
HIV/AIDS and occupational health, to struggles around water, housing,
labour rights and the environment. In different ways, each has asked: who
mobilises and who does not, how and why? How are activist networks constituted,
involving what forms of identity, representation and processes of inclusion
and exclusion? What forms of knowledge – including values, perceptions
and experiences – frame these movements and how do citizens and ‘experts’
interact? What resources and spaces are important in mobilisation processes?
The paper offers a synthesis of some of the major theoretical perspectives, lines
of argument and issues emerging the case studies’ responses to these questions.
In the first part, it engages social movement theory with theories of citizenship.
It draws out four overlapping perspectives on processes of mobilisation which
are all important to understanding the cases, and which point towards an
understanding of ‘mobilising citizens’ as knowledgeable actors engaged in a
dynamic, networked politics across local and global sites. In the second part, the
paper explores three key emergent themes: knowledge and power; cultures,
styles and practices of activism, and the increasing array and complexity of arenas
in which citizens press their claims, including legal spaces and the media.
We argue that if contemporary processes of mobilisation and their implications
for citizenship are to be understood there is a need to expand and enrich
debates about social movements from a diversity of literatures. Today’s dynamics
of public controversy, debates about risk, and the forms of mobilisation and protest arising requires putting the politics of knowledge centre-stage in our
attempts to recast democratic theory and notions of citizenship, especially in
today’s global context.

Keywords: citizenship, knowledge, mobilisation, social movement, identity,

Cite this publication

Leach, M. & I. Scoones (2007) Mobilising citizens : social movements and the politics of knowledge. Working paper series, 276. Brighton: IDS.

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