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CFP: Becoming Rebels

Call for Papers

Special Issue of the Journal of Extreme Anthropology

Photo by Sima Ghaffarzadeh:

Becoming Rebels: From Everyday Acts of Protest to Radical Imaginaries and Societal Change
CFP_SI_JEA-7-2_Becoming Rebels
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Guest editors

Aina Landsverk Hagen, Research Professor, Oslo Metropolitan University,

Marianne Millstein, Senior Researcher, Oslo Metropolitan University

Benjamin Bowman, Senior Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University

What is activism in our times? How are current activist practices unfolding, transforming, and challenging our common perceptions of resistance, revolt, refusal, rebellion, or revolution? Amidst the urgencies that define this decade, be it climate emergency, mass migration, democracies under pressure or political polarization, people of all ages are also living ordinary lives. How do people transition into becoming rebels? How are their actions, from everyday acts of protest to large mobilizations aiming for radical societal change on a global scale, met by authorities or adversaries?

As a starting point, we understand activism “as acts that challenge the status quo and seek to reconfigure asymmetrical power relations” (Conner and Rosen 2016: 2). Historically, resistance was a central topic of anthropological literature before it suffered from a backlash in the 1990s (Comaroff 1985; Ong 1987; Scott 1985, 1990; Abu-Lughood 1990; Ortner 1995, 2016). The interlocutors engaging in rebellious acts were often “pathologized” and “exoticized” (Theodossopoulos 2014) and the ethnographic depictions of such practices were later criticized for their “theoretical slackness” (Rabinowitz 2014).

However, in the past decades there has been a resurgence of literature on global social justice movements, activism and resistance (Graeber 2004, 2007, 2009; Naisargi 2011), including more nuanced depictions of everyday acts of protest, like refusal (Weiss 2016; McGranahan 2016, 2018, Prasse-Freeman 2022), quiet encroachment (Bayat 2013), insurgent citizenship (Holston 2009), transnational activism (Juris & Khasnabish 2013) and discrete mobilization (Purenne et al. 2022). We also see how new groups are entering the domain of activism or taking on new topics of protest, like girl activists and subaltern activists (Taft 2011, Keller 2012, Clay 2012, Bowman 2020, Pickard et al. 2020). Activist’s own knowledge-generating practices have also become a key in recent anthropological work on radical social movements (Juris and Khasnabish 2013, Razsa 2015) as well as a renewed emphasis on personal experiences, emotions, vulnerability, affect, and identity in motivating activism (Laszczkowski 2019).

Our aim is to explore these multiple positions and forms, practices and processes of activism that arises as responses to contemporary societal, environmental, and political tensions. Living through a time of urgency, people are asserting themselves in new ways in response to everyday injustices and global inequalities. While the need for radical change or transformation is acknowledged, what this mean – how we imagine a different future and how we can get there – is deeply contested. We are curious of how new forms of activism are informed by and inform radical imaginaries of what is possible (Haiven & Khasnabish 2010), as radical and rebel identities are forged through multiple experiences of living with and through global crises.

Insurgent citizens are met with a range of different responses that may constrain political actions (Brown 2015). Boundaries of what is perceived to be acceptable resisting practices may shift, such as what is accepted – or not – as civil dissent in an environment of increased policing of protest (Bowman & Pickard 2021). Political regimes across the globe – including existing democracies – actively re-draw spaces of action by constraining political spaces and redefining actions as illegitimate and in some cases, illegal so that protest actions and activists are criminalized (Biekart et al in press; Brown 2015).

With this call we invite scholars in anthropology of activism, youth studies, environmental studies, art activism, citizenship, feminism, freedom of expression and censorship, and researchers working in neighboring disciplines such as cultural sociology, human geography, cultural studies, criminology, gender, queer, urban and area studies, to contribute with their perspectives on the multiplicities of acts of rebellion in everyday life.

Topics of interests include, but are not limited to, the following subjects:

  • Ethnographic analysis on the use of or experimentation with artistic practices, like political poetry, narratives, music, graphics, visuals etc. or emerging forms of arts-based activism influencing radical change or inspiring radical imaginaries

  • Ethnographic analysis on the politics of maneuvering in autocratic regimes, including strategies, practices and acts that challenge censorship or claims the right to freedom of expression and the right to assemble

  • Comparative and situational perspectives on topics or acts of protest that are deemed extreme in one place/time and not in another

  • Ethnographic analysis and/or theoretical development on the dialectic between identity and practice of activism, the nuances between opposition or disobedience, illegal acts or concerned acts, how activists vacillate, alternate or waver between different opinions or actions throughout processes of long-term resistance

  • Explorations of leaderless vs organized activism, and changing rebel status according to context (welfare state vs autocracy)

  • Investigations into transitions from “inside” to diasporic activist positions, transnational networks of activism, the challenges and positive drivers of diverse collaborations across geographical and cultural locations, global interconnections and exchange of activist strategies and practices between the global south and north

  • Ethnographies on the physical and sensuous surroundings of activist practices and processes, the materiality of rebel acts, the reorganizing, occupying or shuffling objects in space/place, the shifting attention of the physical/digital space of protest

  • Interdisciplinary explorations of the use of the city and urban space versus rural landscapes and nature as sites of demonstrations, sit-ins etc., to explore practices of activism and relation to space

  • Interdisciplinary work on digital activism, cyberfeminism, glitch feminism and other forms of online/digital or post-human interactions of protest

  • Explorations of the senses and embodiment in rebel practices and performances, investigating empirically the significance of fun, sound, noise, joy, and excitement in protest, anarchist projects and anti-structure establishment

  • Ethnographic analysis of the creative acts of activism, entrepreneurial activities, social movement-led innovations, unlikely collaborations, and coalitions, the ingenuity, bricolage, and spill-over effects of radical imaginaries to other parts of society

  • Work on newly emergent social movements, including protests concerning climate change, ethnic and religious minority identity work, transgender rights etc.

  • The construction of complex activist identities, the intergenerational or intersectional identities that comprise social movements of today, including women, girls, children, youth, young adults, LGBTQ, men, religious minorities etc.

  • Critical analysis of the effects and aftermaths of rebellion and revolution, especially the radical imaginaries that are needed in preparation for transition and institutionalizing after radical societal change

  • Ethnographic explorations of how poverty, deprivation and austerity work as trigger factors or tools for protest, or how the lack of means and inequality stifles protest or reduces/produces shifts in imagination of what is possible, what cannot be imagined

  • Investigations into the other side of activism, activism gone bad or rogue, the fringes of activism, those who are not considered significant political actors within/outside of social movements, the redrawing of boundaries and transgression

Interested contributors are encouraged to submit an abstract of 300 words and a short bio by March 10, 2023 to the guest editors:

Aina Landsverk Hagen,

Marianne Millstein,

Benjamin Bowman,

with CC to the Editor-in-Chief Tereza Østbø Kuldova:

Deadline for full submissions will be June 10, 2023. The issue 7(2) is scheduled for autumn/winter 2023.


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Bayat, A. (2013). Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East, Second Edition. Redwood City: Stanford University Press.

Biekart, K., T. Kontinen and M. Millstein (eds.) (in press): Civil society responses to changing civic spaces. EADI Global Development series, Palgrave Macmillan. Available June 2023 (Open Access)

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