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Identities and Social Change




Admission Requirements

Similarly-tagged 200- and 300-level courses.


Worldwide people have continuously formed alliances to achieve political and/or social goals. These collectives are often based on certain identity markers – categories that socially, culturally and emotionally relate people to each other. More recent waves of collective action, such as the Arab Spring or the Refugee Movement in Europe, need to be understood as an attempt to combine a politics of identity and difference with various forms of collective agency and action. Social Movements are formed on the basis of various identity claims and formations, such as religion, sexuality, ethnicity/race, gender, class or issues related to the connection and relation to land/property or influence. At the same time, however, these so-called social movements often question the mono-dimensional dominant narrative on identity formation putting forward various, and often multiple, struggles for recognition at the local and global level. Within the complex global interrelations of social, political, economic and cultural dynamics, social movements have become main actors to formulate a goal-oriented politics attempting social change.

In this course we will explore the formation, the inner workings and the role of social movements within global and local contexts. We will discuss the possibilities of collective agency and try to identify the challenges and shortcomings related to social action built on identity categories. For this endeavour students will choose one particular social movement to study in detail and depth. In groups of 4, students will be asked to engage with this particular movement throughout the course and will build up knowledge and understanding in relation to each week’s themes and topics. Groups are encouraged to engage actively with materials, documentations and, if possible, representatives of their chosen social movement.

Possible social movements to be investigated might include:

  • The refugee movement in Europe

  • The current student movement in Mexico

  • The LGBTI movement

  • The Zapatistas

  • The Occupy movement

  • The Women’s movement in India

  • The Gezi Park movement in Turkey

  • The Independence movement in Crimea

Other choices are possible and ideas are welcome.

Course Objectives

  • Students will be able to analyse social movements’ divergent claims for identity

  • Students will get to know the variety and diversity of social movements, both locally and globally

  • Students will be able to apply analyses of the politics of identity to contemporary social movements

  • Students will engage in-depth with the constitution, politics and struggles of one particular social movement

  • Students will be able to understand the diversity and complexity of embracing various identity claims


  • Literature, consisting of articles, book (chapters) and reports will be available electronically

  • Since students follow one particular social movement they will be required to engage with appropriate sources in relation to this movement.

Weekly Overview

  • Week 1:Collective agency: Understanding contemporary social movements

  • Week 2: The birth of a movement: collective identity formation and construction

  • Week 3: Local, national, global: political goals and aims

  • Week 4: Portrayal and representation: using (new) media

  • Week 5: Activism, mobilisation and violence: protest cultures

  • Week 6: Single-theme movements? The potential for intersectional approaches

  • Week 7: The NGOisation of social movements: the end of activism?