The Syntax of Social Movements: Jam, Boxes and other Anti-Mafia Assemblages

Christina Jerne

This contribution calls attention to the values of assemblage thinking for the study of contentious economies. A syntactical perspective can make visible social arrangements that are otherwise difficult to represent in traditional social movement categories. With the help of a jar of jam, an object that has meaningful entanglements in anti-camorra activism in Campania (Italy), the article begins by empirically illustrating instances of mobilisation that disrupt relationships of mafia dependency. The focus lies on the force of composition, the syntax of contention. The second section moves on to explore the theoretical backdrop of the analysis, and does so by suggesting some possible points of dialogue between social movement studies and assemblage thinking. These are the themes of network, conflict and identity. In various ways, assemblage thinking might be seen as diametrically opposite to many movement theories. However, these traditions share many interests: both are essentially concerned with grasping how different orders come to be, what makes them last and what makes them fall apart. Despite these similarities, these two traditions have not spoken systematically to each other. As divergences in social movement studies have significantly revolved around hierarchies (i.e. do political opportunities, personal gains or culture matter most to movement development?), I conclude by suggesting that assemblage approaches might have something to offer: they shift the perspective from ‘what matters most’ to ‘how it comes to matter.’

Suggested citation

Jerne, C. (2018) “The syntax of social movements: jam, boxes and other anti-mafia assemblages” , Social Movement Studies, 17(3).