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A Graduate Faculty Student Senate Organized Lecture: Political Activist Ethnography and The Pedagogy of Confrontation

Friday, April 4, 2014 at 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm

Wolff Conference Room, Room D1103, Albert and Vera List Academic Center, 1103 6 East 16th Street, New York, NY 10003, Room D1103

In his important essay “Political Activist as Ethnographer” (1990), George Smith elaborated a series of methodological premises that have become foundational to the tradition of research from below. Among these premises, perhaps the most important concerns the means by which objects of investigation are selected. As Smith recounts, his research was directed by "ongoing confrontations with the authorities… ” By foregrounding confrontation in this manner, Smith made clear that his research object was neither the movement engaged in confrontation nor the regime they confronted as it appeared in official or objective accounts. In this way, Political Activist Ethnography distinguished itself both from social movement theory and from investigations of bureaucracies, institutions, and power pursued along the lines suggested by Weber, Mills, or Foucault.

In this presentation, social theorist and movement scholar AK Thompson explores how George Smith's observations concerning the pedagogical importance of confrontation might be used to clarify and extend social movement research capacities. In part, and in seeming opposition to Smiths' own assessment, Thompson demonstrates that such work requires that attention be paid to the particular conceptual dynamics inherent in movements themselves.

AK Thompson got kicked out of high school in 1992 for publishing an underground newspaper called The Agitator and has been an activist, writer, and social theorist ever since. Most recently a Visiting Research Scholar at the CUNY Graduate Center, Thompson's publications include Sociology for Changing the World: Social Movements / Social Research (2006) and Black Bloc, White Riot: Anti-Globalization and the Genealogy of Dissent (2010). Between 2005 and 2012, he served on the Editorial Board of Upping The Anti: A Journal of Theory and Action. Throughout, he has combined critical sociology, continental philosophy, and studies in visual culture to produce novel and counterintuitive analyses with implications for scholarly and community-based audiences alike.

This event is presented by The New School for Social Research's  Graduate Faculty Student Senate .

Event Type

Lectures and Panel Discussions


Students, Faculty, Staff


Humanity, Society, Social Justice, Education and Learning


All Orientation


The New School for Social Research





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