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date: 28 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores the utility of ethnographic approaches for understanding social movement activity. Drawing on a range of ethnographic examples from diverse geographic settings and disciplinary perspectives, we argue that ethnography is particularly useful for grasping the logic of activist practice. Despite its limited use in the mainstream social movements literature, we suggest that ethnography is well-suited to the study of everyday lived experience, the production of meaning and subjectivity, the embodied dimension of protest, and internal power differences and cultural-political struggles. Following a critical overview of the importance of ethnography for the study of social movement practices, we explore four modes of activist practice that ethnography can help illuminate: everyday cultural production, local-global networking, new media activism, and performative protest. We conclude with reflections on the strengths and limitations of engaged ethnographic research and the need for collaboration among social movement ethnographers from multiple disciplinary traditions and perspectives.

Keywords: ethnography, social movements, engaged methods, activist practice, cultural politics

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