Class, Culture, SocioGram
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Non-movements and social change

Asef Bayat’s (2010) concept of social non-movement refers to those practices that individuals do to survive forms of marginalization. These are acts of resistance that are often not deliberate, and are not done as part of organized groups. Bayat fleshes out this term further through the notion of “quiet encroachment of the ordinary,” in which ordinary people conduct a sustained and prolonged appropriation of city spaces simply by doing what they do to survive. In establishing informal settlements on land they do not own, for instance, individuals who otherwise cannot afford land in the city are now able to live and work in it. 

Taking Bayat’s notion a step further, the middle classes also engage in social non-movements in sharing real news on injustices online, donating to organized movements, or supporting small businesses that were set up to cope with pandemic losses. In these pandemic times, students who resist formal schooling – which some see to be an unfair practice especially if they are required to have gadgets, pay full tuition fees, and use their own resources –  and opt instead to take up free online courses or watch informative YouTube videos, are also engaging in non-movements. Such are acts of resistance to a government or to formal institutions perceived as unable to provide for its members, leaving them to fend for themselves. Individuals do not need to be part of an organized mobilization or protest to be able to deal with marginalization. Sometimes, all it takes is for the middle and upper classes to live conscientiously. 

The above poster is how Bianca Symaco, a sophomore college student, illustrates the concept of social non-movements.

Social non-movements are thus ways to cope with oppression in its many forms. While people undertake these acts as individuals and not as part of an organized group, these practices can lead to social change as well. For instance, “encroaching” on private lands can eventually secure informal settlers their tenure, or at least, some housing rights. Women doing whatever they want with their bodies or dressing however they choose can lead, and has led, to the recognition of choice. Perhaps what we do to cope with the pandemic can also lead to change for the better.

Reference: Bayat, Asef. 2010. Life as Politics, How Ordinary People Change the Middle East. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press

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