Gabriela Quevedo presents her paper '‘Now smells like revolution': migrants' activism, subjectivities, and agency in contemporary London' in Parallel session V(E) of the conference Examining Migration Dynamics: Networks and Beyond, 24-26 Sept 2013
Over the last sixty years London has transformed itself into a service based city where global economic forces have developed an expanding low-paid economy that relies heavily on migrant labour (Sassen, 1991; quoted in Evans et al., 2005). These historic and social processes have been the fertile ground of new forms of political, social and cultural mobilisation often led by migrants. It is within this setting that my doctoral research seeks to illuminate empirically the links between migrant's activism -as it comes into being- and the question of agency and social change.
Using ethnographic data from my engagement with the 3cosas campaign at the University of London, I argue that the epistemological premises of feminism, and in particular the notions of subjectivity and reflexivity can be instrumental to develop a deeper understanding of how migrants in London have become authentic pioneers in the resurgence of radicalised and somewhat unconventional forms of union activism (Seidman, 2011).
I take a ‘carnal' approach to ethnography (Wacquant, 2005) that is grounded in my personal engagement as an activist in the left wing London scene for more than three years. Departing from Bourdieu's concept of ‘habitus' as methodological focus (Bourdieu, 1990), together with Touraine's theory of ‘the subject' (Touraine, 1995), this paper hopes to provide some insights into the question of how activism ‘occurs', and the entangled articulations between the migrants' sense of self in relation to their current positions (material and symbolic), and the marks of their unique histories. This approach moves on from mono-causal understandings of collective action and seeks to expand the traditional remit of current anthropological research by adopting a dialogic, bottom up methodology to explain migrants' mobilisation (Pèro and Solomos, 2010).