Knowledge for Changing the World: Activism and the Transformation of Theory

Drawing on work for Sociology for Changing the World: Social Movements/Social Movements undertaken with Caelie Frampton, AK Thomson, and Kate Tilleczek this paper extends the insights developed there about learning from social movements and activism to reflect on the epistemological and ontological challenges and transformations of social theory brought about by social activism. Developing a sustained critique of positivism and reification in mainstream forms of social theorizing that most often produce knowledge to contain and regulate progressive social movements this paper argues for a rupture with ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’ theories and for a shift in social standpoint to locate ourselves in the world of activism and transforming the social worlds we find ourselves in. This produces a theorizing grounded in social experience and the mapping of the social relations of struggle that can allow us to facilitate social transformation. Theory and practice are brought together and we theorize about the world as we learn more effectively how to transform it. The paper will specifically address the transformative character of feminism, autonomist marxism, and the theorizing articulated by the Zapatistas.

Paper related to the conference.