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Realism and Contingency: A Relational Realist Analysis of the UK Student Protests

Brock, TGJ and Carrigan, , M and Popora, D (2014) Realism and Contingency: A Relational Realist Analysis of the UK Student Protests. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 45 (3). 377–396. ISSN 1468-5914

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Abstract

This paper constitutes an extended response to Athanasia Chalari's paper The Causal Impact of Resistance, which suggests that one may derive from internal conversations a causal explanation of resistance. In the context of our engagements with critical realism and digital research into social movements, we review Chalari's main argument, before applying it to a concrete case: the student protests in London, 2010. Whilst our account is sympathetic to Chalari's focus on interiority, we critique the individualism that is implicit in her argument, arguing that it emerges because of an underlying neglect of the relational aspects of resistance. Instead, we offer a relational realist analysis that treats resistance as process within an ontologically stratified account of reality that is mindful of the contingency of political acts. Taking this route, we establish resistance as an emergent relation, generative of distinctive “relational goods” in the context of collective action, which we locate at different levels of reality, as we move from an analysis of individual to collective reflexivity. In doing so we offer a sympathetic critique of Chalari, building on the thought provoking arguments contained within it, whilst also making a contribution to the theorisation of social movements and the “relational turn” within realist social theory (Archer 2010, 2012).

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