Social Movements are like Mushrooms!

Friday, 6th April 2007 at 9:00 UTC 2 comments

Well, I’m going insane over my dissertation, and while the main aim is to get a nice piece of paper that says I’m worth something, I thought I’d share something from it (modified to make it more understandable, don’t worry!).  The dissertation deals with networking, both over the net and in the real world, between different movements for change, within the Alter-Globalisation Movement (aka Anti-Globalisation Movement) and beyond.

Today I’ve been working from “Complexity Theory and Social Movements”*, by Graeme Chesters and Ian Welsh (Chesters is my dissertation tutor, btw).  In the bit I want to share, they look at two key accusations thrown at the Alter-Globalisation Movement (AGM), for which they refer to both Milton Friedman (a capitalist) and to Alex Callinicos (a traditional Marxist).

Friedman often accuses the AGM of having no fixed vision of a desired future, instead being a mess of different view points without any shred of real, policy based unity.  Callinicos, on the other hand, argues that the aversion to becoming a political party is problematic.

The authors refute this by stating that neither person has considered the advantages of the AGM’s diverse, unpredictable and interlinked structure.  For one thing, creating a party with a single, clear program would reduce the ability to adjust to changing circumstances.

Its at this point they introduce the really wonderful, if tricky, concept of Rhizomatic Interlinking.  There are these mushrooms that grow in forests.  On the surface, you see lots of mushrooms, but in reality, if you dig down (and use a microscope), you’ll realise that its one big mushroom, made of thousands of thread-like connections, that transport nutrients between the mushrooms.

There’s actually some even cooler mushrooms which help redistribute nutrients between the trees in forests.  A test was done whereby scientists put scaffolding around a tree with black plastic sheeting over it.  It kept growing normally, because the mushroom network drew nutrients from surrounding trees and supplied the covered tree with all that it needed.  (I learnt that from John Jordan, who helped create Reclaim the Streets and the Clown Army).

Anyhow, the point is that the AGM is made up of disparate visible components, that look really separate. But when you look closely, they’re connected by ‘submerged networks’ of shared events, people and networks.  One person might be in several groups, transferring ideas, experiences and tactics.  A group might take part in an event where it encounters other groups, like a big summit mobilisation or a social forum.  People might leave one group and go to another, or come together informally for a single action, then disperse, taking the knowledge with them.

Just like the rhizome, its a mess of splitting up and reconnecting.  I guess its a bit like a river I sometimes get to see, called the River Test, in Hampshire (Google Map showing part of it, follow it downstream).  As the river runs its course, it separates into several different streams, often 5 separate streams wide.  The different bits keep separating and converging in different ways.  Movements are a bit like this; as time goes by, the networks of people reconfigure, and the knowledge (like the water) is split and re-connected, keeping everything fresh.

So there you have it, Social Movements are like the visible evidence of a large mushroom underground (we call this a submerged network, by the way).  Now, back to studying Timeless Time…


Entry filed under: Activism, Social Networking.

‘Deaf and Dumb’ folks need not apply… Monday Action: Oppose the BNP

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sophia  |  Friday, 6th April 2007 at 9:52 UTC

    You have basically blogged my explanation of rhizomatic interlinking haven’t you? Nicely done though.

  • 2. Graham Martin  |  Saturday, 7th April 2007 at 0:47 UTC

    Thanks. Though in reality, its the best explanation which describes both rhizomic interlinking and sub-terrainean networks. I’m fairly sure that its part of the Wikipedia explanation of rhizomes. Nothing else quite manages that. Plus I could just as easily have cited Mr Jordan, who explained the whole mushrooms connecting trees thing. This came up in the pub for no apparent reason, and it turned into a wonderful debate.


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