Collective action does not take place in the void, but in an environment that is materially and symbolically structured by many factors, among which the role of the past has been traditionally overlooked. Social movements are not born of immaculate conceptions, but they are often the outcome of long chains of continuity and abeyance. Furthermore, activists can rarely ignore the traces of the past that populate the public sphere and the geographic and cultural setting in which they are situated. To the contrary, the strategic choices of which social and political mobilisation is made are often rooted in a temporality that goes way beyond the short lifespan of a wave of mobilisation. Movements’ outcomes and consequences tend to objectify and persist, influencing collective action years and decades after the end of a cycle of protest. Memory, both in the form of explicit representations of the past and through routines and habits that are so deeply embedded in the movement culture to become invisible, plays a significant role in the shaping the identity and the choices of social movements.
This lecture analyses the relationship between social movements and collective memories: how do social movements participate in the building of public memory? And how does public memory, and in particular the media’s representation of a contentious past, influence strategic choices in contemporary movements?Lorenzo Zamponi is assistant professor of sociology at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Florence (Italy), where he is part of the COSMOS (Centre on Social Movement Studies) research team. He holds a Ph.D. in Political and Social Sciences from the European University Institute. He has worked on research projects on student movements, youth political participation, the economic crisis and solidarity with refugees. His research interests include memory, contentious politics and media analysis. He is author of two monographs (Social Movements, Memory and Media: Narrative in Action in the Italian and Spanish Student Movements (Palgrave 2018) and, with Lorenzo Bosi, Resistere alla crisi. I percorsi dell’azione sociale diretta (Il Mulino 2019). He has also authored several book chapters and peer reviewed articles in international journals, focusing mainly on the recent wave of anti-austerity protest in Europe, on the cultural elements of social mobilization, and on the emergence of non-protest based forms of collective action.