Iron fellows : commitment and activism in a poor people's movement
MetadataShow full item record
Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork, life history interviews, and an extensive review of secondary sources and databases, this dissertation studies the experiences of activists in the unemployed worker’s movement in Argentina, also known as the piqueteros. My goal is to explain three puzzles: (1) why some participants develop a strong commitment to their groups while others withdraw; (2) how the experience of mobilization relates to other aspects of activist’s lives; and (3) the ways in which these dynamics affected the overall trajectory of the movement. Addressing these empirical questions allows us to complement the current literature on social movement participation. Although there is a substantial body of research on the factors that contribute to a person’s engagement in contention, many more studies focus on the recruitment phase than on the long-term trajectories of activists. Consequently, we know a great deal about the conditions that make participation more likely, but we are less knowledgeable about the process by which people develop commitment (or not) to the organizations they have joined. I argue that answering this question requires us to engage in a broader debate concerning the sources of social action. In other words, in order to understand sustained activism we must first explore the ways in which partaking in an activity becomes an end in itself. Since the mechanisms that attach people to contentious politics are also present in other instances of collective life, we can draw clues from areas of sociology, beyond the limits of the field of social movement studies. In addition, this dissertation sheds light on relevant processes currently taking place in Latin America. The consolidation of democracy rule in the region during the last three decades coincided with a retrenchment of the welfare. This has led to large-scale protests and the development of new forms of collective action, of which the piqueteros are just one example. Exploring the experiences of rank-and-file members in these movements is essential to understand their potential as sources of social change, and thus their capacity to contribute to a stable and inclusive political regime.