Monday, September 13, 2010

Concluding analyses of the Anarchist Yellow Pages (AYP)

[The conclusions section from a paper published in Humanity & Society, co-authored with Matthew Lee.]

This research has explored an organizational-level data source of international anarchist organizations. There are no other comparable datasets for the anarchist social movement, and perhaps few as unique as this one, with as much variation by type. Thus, although we do not consider the attitudes or actions of individual anarchists, nor macro-scale goals and strategies of the anarchist movement writ large, our analysis offers many original insights. We began by providing an overview of the geographic distribution of anarchist organizations. We then used political opportunities theory to explore the population ecology of anarchist organizations in a restricted number of countries for which a sufficient number of cases were available.

We found that general anarchist organizations constitute the largest single category of organizations. Yet, when categories are grouped together, physical spaces outrank both class and media organizations. Organizations tend to be found in North America and Europe, and, unsurprisingly, in major urban cities in those countries. Germany and Italy are dominated by physical spaces, France and Spain by class organizations, and the US and Canada by media organizations. The number of comparable anarchist organizations has also grown since an earlier version of the AYP in 1997, increasing over 40 percent in size. This growth could be indicative of an evolution in social movement politics that could have long-term consequences, or could be a temporal “protest cycle” (Tarrow 1998) that may presently be peaking and could recede in upcoming years.

Political opportunities are associated with the geographic distribution and density of anarchist organizations across countries and therefore may plausibly represent an important environmental force for the “natural selection” of such organizations. Countries with a greater per capita rate of anarchist organizations are significantly related not only to all manner of rights, but also to the democratic nature of the polity. In each case, there is a greater density of organizations in countries with more rights and a more democratic political system. Instead of anarchist organizing coinciding with a formally closed society, the opposite appears true--at least as measured by the AYP. Ironically, anarchists appear to prosper more in those countries that appear to be supportive of radical dissent and thus where revolutionary change to an autocracy would seem less necessary. Yet, anarchists are not satisfied with merely an “equal opportunity” society, but rather seek equality of outcomes, and are especially concerned with building a society that lacks a hierarchical and centralized authority or bureaucracy. So, even though these findings seem problematic for an anti-state movement like anarchism, such patterns make sense given the literature on political opportunities and the radical demands of anarchists that require continually expanding freedom and some protection from repression.

One of the central criticisms of the population ecology approach to understanding organizations is that it ignores the power of organizations to shape the environment. For example, one influential critique disputes the notion that the biological theory of natural selection is appropriate for explaining whether certain kinds of organizations are “negatively selected” (killed) or “positively selected” by the environments in which they are located (Perrow 1986:209). The argument is that many corporate organizations are so powerful that they actually control and reshape the environment, rather than the other way around. In this view, the population ecology perspective plays a “mystifying” role by “removing much of the power, conflict, disruption, and social class variables from the analysis of social processes” and substituting “vague natural forces,” almost implying that “God does the negative and positive selecting” (Perrow 1986:213). However, the population ecology model would seem well-suited in the case of anarchist organizations because none of these have anywhere near the power or resources of a giant corporation like General Motors or British Petroleum. Anarchist organizations are often small by design, given the preference for decentralized action, and totally disconnected from the power structures that corporations use to control their environments. The striking variations that we have found across countries with respect to the relationship between political opportunities and the existence of types of anarchist organizations suggests to us that anarchist organizations are shaped by ecological constraints in ways that participants may not expect or consider. If the anarchist movement is to grow internationally, future efforts at organizing will have to pay more explicit attention to such concerns.

This paper offered an initial foundation on which other studies can be built. With the global picture in mind, future researchers may wish to investigate a broader range of ecological conditions in a smaller number of countries as they impact the presence or absence of types of anarchist organizations. Cross-national case studies could reveal the historical development of the movements and provide clues as to particular geographically specific characteristics and emphasis. Our exploratory findings suggest strategic locations for such research, as well as specific political factors that should be examined.

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