By Sarah Maddison
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Additional info for Activist Wisdom: Practical Knowledge and Creative Tension in Social Movements
The internal world of the protester was not explored; it was behaviour and success that demanded explanation (Eyerman & Jamison 1991: 2). This scholarship left behind earlier attempts to examine the causes of protest. ‘Grievances’ and ‘social systems’ were rarely studied; rationalisation and mass society passed from debate. After the 1960s, Americans rarely asked ‘why’ social movements appeared. They focused, instead, on ‘how’ they came to prominence (Klandermans & Tarrow 1988: 9). There was a pragmatic cast to most research.
If the people evaded exact rules, then why pretend to formu- Practical knowledge ( 43 ) late them? If the crowd was strange and diverse, then why try to predict its moods? The labour activist possessed a different kind of knowledge: less systematic and generalised, more specific and applied. It was a sensibility, rather than a philosophy; a ‘feel’ for campaigning rather than an abstract standpoint. We might call this ‘practical knowledge’. what is practical knowledge? The term has been applied before in anthropology, political science, and intellectual history.
How was this partisanship most evident? Le Bon was not part of ‘the crowd’. He had no experience to draw from. He studied in fear; he observed in order to control. For him, knowledge was a weapon of discipline, a tool of order. If ‘psychology’ was the name, ‘domination’ was the game: The Crowd is a book digested by professors, politicians, superior and other folk. To these, the people is something to be understood in order to be subjugated (Ross 1910: 4). Bob Ross felt the scalpels of this new, mental science with a personal sting.