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Home arrow Sociology arrow Bourdieu and Social Movements: Ideological Struggles in the British Anti-Capitalist Movement

The anti-capitalist movement field

The BACMF is a sub-field of the wider AGM field. It is configured by interaction between an array of organizations and networks with the same or similar political objectives that use different political methods, and whose activists do not always cooperate with each other. In short, the activists are not a homogeneous collective. Rather, the individual agents, institutions, organizations and various networks and collectives:

stand in structured relations to one another and their actions mutually interfere with one another and interpenetrate, giving rise to an irreducible dynamic of interaction. Each responds and reacts to the actions of the others (or the effects of those actions), generating, in turn, situations, opportunities and provocations to which the others must respond. And as they do this they lure other agents and groups into the fray, indicating by their actions that 'this is where the action is'; that is to say, their actions and interactions create perceived opportunities for other groups and generate a general framework of meaning which suffices to incite other groups into action. (Crossley, 2002b: 674)

As such, anarchist and socialist players in this game, struggle over symbolic dominance and ideological control of this field. Throughout the 1990s, anarchist anti-capitalist groups such as Earth First! and Reclaim the Streets were the dominant agents in this space. Their dominance was challenged by new entrants - the socialist anti-capitalists. The very fact that new socialist organizations such as Globalise Resistance, Stop the War Coalition and the Socialist Alliance emerged demonstrates the appeal this space has to those who became involved. Although I argue that the anti-capitalist movement field is a sub-field of the wider AGM field, the boundaries between them are not fixed. Furthermore, other activists wanting to claim symbolic recognition may enter the sub-field and possibly change the dynamics. It is also the case that such fields are influenced by political activities as part of the wider 'cycle of contention', which maybe ongoing (Tarrow, 2011). Similarly, as Plows (2004) has stated, protest knowledge and skills including action repertoires of previous generations of activists are diffused down to current activists. It is certainly the case that British anti-capitalist anarchist activists were part of the cycle of contention against neoliberalism during the 1990s, during both encuentros (in Mexico and Spain) and the UK road protest movement (Plows, 2004; Wall, 1999, 2005). The action repertoires that these activists possess and subsequently bring to the field are iterative and help shape the field itself. They are embodied forms of cultural capital that may be applied as and when necessary. Over time, repertoires build, adapt and transform such that these skills form part of the movement's habits. Whittier (1995) explains how skills, knowledge and ideologies are passed on from one generation to another:

Political generations are rooted in shared structural circumstances and formative experiences. Through interaction in social movement contexts, participants transform their shared experiences, structural constraints, and opportunities into the enduring system of beliefs, actions and relationships that is collective history. (1995: 247-8)

I would argue that it is these enduring systems of beliefs and illusio (belief in the game) that perpetuate the political game-playing between these activists. They know what is at stake and are politically invested in the roles that they play within their collectives. During the ensuing episodes of conflict and competition, various forms of capital were acquired and utilized to the advantage of these activists. The entry of newly formed socialist organizations threatened the dominant status (symbolic capital) of anarchist occupants, especially as the socialists started to build up their cultural, social and symbolic capital. I turn now to an application of the field concept in order to further our understanding of conflict and symbolic struggles between anarchists and socialists who are part of the same 'anti-capitalist movement field'.

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