Social Movements that 'think': Knowledge-practices of the Rohingya Canadian social movement

Cowper-Smith, Yuriko Lili
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University of Guelph

The Rohingya Canadian social movement is becoming well known across the country. Its development is remarkable given the obstacles activists face: an extensive history of intergenerational state repression in Myanmar, the international community’s ambivalence about intervention, and resettlement challenges. Bearing in mind what prevailing social movement literature already posits about why and how social movements endure, scholarship has yet to fully appreciate how a small community of newcomers can create a social movement. Perhaps what needs further exploring — missing from dominant social movement theory — is a movement's intellectual activities. Social movement scholarship in political science seldom focuses on the 'thinking' aspect of movements, preferring to analyze what movements ‘do.’ One recent vein of research has conceptualized this activity through the term, 'knowledge-practices.' Knowledge-practices are processes in which knowledge is generated, modified, and mobilized (Casas-Cortes, Osterweil, & Powell, 2008). I adopt the knowledge-practices typology (della Porta & Pavan, 2017) to analyze a dataset derived from 70 interviews and two years of participant observation. The empirical evidence suggests that the Rohingya Canadian social movement has developed four types of knowledge-practices, or the 'in-house research' necessary to contend against the genocide in Myanmar and the refugee crisis in Bangladesh. It has established an ethos and political vision based on collective
responsibility, awareness and resolve. The movement has also figured out how to seize political opportunities and build coalitions with diverse sectors. Further, participants have presented policy options to the government. Finally, the movement has cultivated its transmission techniques based on affective solidarity to increase engagement. In other words, the movement is writing its 'how-to' manual for resolving the genocide and the refugee crisis. The implications of these findings are three-fold. First, movements can develop and articulate novel interpretations of the world, in this case, genocide in Myanmar and a humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh. Second, knowledge-practices are analytically important because they reflect the movement's inventive brainpower. Third, the typology of knowledge-practices is enhanced in four ways. I detail the type of foundational beliefs that guide the movement; the crosscutting sectors that make up the action network; the courage that political alternatives entail; and the role of affective solidarity in transmission techniques. These findings demonstrate that we need to continue to wrestle with the 'thinking' aspect of movements.

Rohingya, social movements, knowledge-practices, Canada