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It has become commonplace in the sociology of mobilization and social movements to note that “identity” is an important aspect of the construction of movements. Although this was a crucial move, and collective identity has become one of the key concepts in analyzing social movements, the use of “identity” has been problematized on different fronts.
Methodologically, utilizing notions of collective and personal identity, researchers either explicitly or implicitly operationalize identity with the formation of “I” and “We-narratives,” thus effectively merging actors’ categories of practice, and sociologists’ categories of analysis. Building on the theoretical work of Laurent Thévenot and the notion of plurality of the person in a complex world, this paper focuses on patterns of collective engagement. The pragmatist approach directs us to look at different dimensions of creating commonality on a scale from the most intimate affinities to individual interests and to public expressions of collectivity.
By paying attention to the patterning of actors and actions in narratives we go beyond the emphasis on “personal” and “collective” narration forms, and argue that emphasizing the plurality of forms people engage in gives us a more detailed account of the interplay of the person and the collective in the complex social world that carries the label “social movement”. The theoretical argument we present is grounded on a study comparing narratives of climate activists in Finland and Malawi. Opting for such a “comparison of edges” allows us to show how participation in movement organizations can be mediated by very different forms commonality.
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