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How do people become activists: Professor Perez presents on the sociology colloquium series

Marcos E. Perez, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Washington and Lee University, presented his research in the lecture “Proletarian Lives: Traditional Values and Progressive Mobilization” on Oct. 13. The presentation is a part of the Sociology Department’s colloquium series.

Perez started the lecture by mentioning that people usually participate in social movements either regularly or never. This interesting phenomenon drew Perez’s attention and made him think about why people become activists.

Perez explained that his choice to focus on Argentina is due not only to his background but also to the unemployment rate in Argentina increasing since its social movement in the 1980s.

While doing ethnographic fieldwork regularly from 2011 to 2014, Perez interviewed 133 individuals from nine organizations and traced their changing attitudes toward social movements.

According to Perez’s observation, some participants were reluctant to be a part of activist practices because they felt “embarrassed or ashamed.” However, as they became more engaged in activism, participants said that they then [sook in and sook in] and finally become part of it.

Referring to a famous theory in sociology that “words are carried by the wind,” Perez explained that one’s behavior does not always match one’s beliefs.

In particular, he points out that rather than having a clear political goal, participants involved in protests use it as a way to reinforce their “working class ethos.”

For example, Jazmin, one participant Perez interviewed, explained that people who don’t protest “Are people who don’t like to do things, they don’t like to get up early, they don’t like to do work. I like it.” 

“These activities preserve and romanticize a working-class lifestyle. Specifically, the life of being needed. In other words, it is better for them to be a worker than to be a ‘bum’.” Perez explained.

Perez pointed out that the honoring of working-class identity and the yearning to establish a moral code is not limited to Argentina but can be seen in other countries in post-industrial times. With the lack of employment opportunities due to the long-term socioeconomic transformations, protests help them develop daily routines and protect these routines. 

“They see the group for political protest as a family and define the place they gather as comfortable and safe,” Perez stated.

He concluded that “there is no necessary link between working-class decline and political radicalization” because people in the working class do not tend to establish extreme values, for they are seeking meanings of life and wanting them to be actualized. Activism is a surrogate assembly line which helps to reconstruct, develop, [and]protect daily routines and common working-class life disturbed by unemployment.”

For people interested in knowing more about Perez’s research, he can be reached through email and Twitter.


~ Kristen Shen`24



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