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Overcoming 'Other-ness' : a comparative analysis of transnational activist collective identity formation among World Social Forum activists and HIV/AIDS healthworkers

  • Author(s): Kohler, Kristopher Michael
  • Kohler, Kristopher Michael
  • et al.
Abstract

Increasingly global problems, concerning various effects of the global economy and the absence of global democracy, require global solutions. Particular nation-states and international spaces (UN, ICC, WTO, etc.) are ill-equipped to remedy these issues. Consequently, in recent years global social justice movements have emerged to address these challenges. Social movement scholars have long held that collective identities are crucial to recruiting adherents, sustaining solidarity and social movement cohesion. Therefore, the study of the formation of transnational activist (TNA) collective identities is of enormous importance to understanding the dynamics of emerging global social justice movements. Nonetheless, social movement scholars have generally ignored the specific dynamics of the emotion-laden processes that impel this formation. This dissertation traces the emergence of TNA identities in two distinct spaces. First, through interviews and participant observation, I trace the emergence of TNA identities amongst activists gathered at the World Social Forum. Secondly, I track how international actors collaborating in emotional HIV/AIDS healthwork in Zambia make sense of their identities and follow the factors that impel actors towards more or less activism and/or more or less transnationalism. Comparing and contrasting potential activists and potential transnationalists, I find two emotion-laden processes drive further activism and transnationalism. First, transformative, often painfully emotional, "catalytic" experiences often drive potential activists in search of activist organizations and communities. Over time, they begin to immerse themselves in activist circles and increasingly adopt activist identities. Second, early exposure to "the international" often drives potential transnationalists to acquire an interest in diverse peoples and cultures. Over time, they seek out this diversity, continually adding to a repertoire of cultural competencies that allow them to act as cultural "bridges" or "translators". At the far end of these emotion-laden journeys, transnationalists conceive of themselves as inseparable and indivisible from the "Other". Furthermore, they often acquire transnational, relational ties and friendships that push them towards greater activism. Consequently, at the far end of these two continua, activist and transnational identities tend to reinforce each other. Lastly, my research suggests that transnational, transcultural "binding practices" will be essential in sustaining global social justice movements over time

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