Informit article: Social movements: Shadow structures of a new social order

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Like Arena, the sociology of social movements is fifty years old. As in social movement theory, the nature, structure, contexts, theoretical conflicts and consequences of social movement activity have been debated continuously in and by Arena. It would be difficult to do justice to the scope and intensity of Arena’s intellectual engagement with social movements and the questions provoked by both new and old forms of collective action. Any investigation, by definition, would be partial and highly selective. One could choose the nuclear-disarmament movement, the feminist movement, Indigenous activism, the politics of the green movement or any example of the various nationalist struggles with social movement aims – such as those in East Timor, West Papua and New Caledonia – that Arena has covered or uncovered, often having been at the forefront of debate over the last decades. This essay moves in a slightly different direction. In order to examine key aspects of Arena’s impact on our understanding of social movements, my comments will span contributions from the May 1968 events in Paris to the Occupy movement from 2011 on. Given the themes of beginnings and endings running through the publication over the last half a century (‘the end of students’, ‘the end of social movements’, ‘goodbye to the sixties’), this seems like an apt way forward. My aims are threefold: first, to trace some interpretive shifts in Arena in relation to the emergence of ‘the student’ as a new revolutionary subject; second, to try to capture something very distinctive about Arena’s publications – first ‘Arena’, the ‘Arena Journal and Arena Magazine’ – namely their blend of a transnational and an idiosyncratically Australian focus; and, third, to tentatively suggest that, like social movements themselves, Arena produces activist subjects through the processes of writing, interpretation, reading and related forms of cultural radicalism.

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