The aim of the annual AF&PP Conference (Alternative Futures and Popular Protest Conference) is to explore the dynamics of popular movements, along with the ideas which animate their activists and supporters and which contribute to shaping their fate.
Reflecting the inherent cross-disciplinary nature of the issues, previous participants (from over 60 countries) have come from such specialisms as sociology, politics, cultural studies, social psychology, economics, history and geography. The Manchester conferences have also been notable for discovering a fruitful and friendly meeting ground between activism and academia.
Sociologists see social movements as consisting of networks of individuals, groups and organisations that are linked in many different ways. Networks in social movements are believed to have various functions. For example, they facilitate the circulation of resources, such as information and world views. Networks are also vital in mobilisation, as individuals’ contacts and links play an important part in the decision to get involved. They are the place where shared beliefs and practices are shaped and negotiated, so that common meanings can be assigned to events. However, evidence from a study of the organic food movement problematises the relationship between networks and collective identity. Organic farming can potentially empower farmers who are otherwise dependent on scientific experts and agrifood corporations in the conventional system of industrialised food production. To do so, the movement must mobilise conventional farmers into its networks. As individuals, these agents are already embedded in other networks and relationships. They bring with them interests, ideologies and identities that do not necessarily fit in the organic ‘frame’. Like many other contemporary social movements, therefore, the organic movement is made up of fluid, flexible networks, where members take on multiple allegiances, belonging also to other groups and associations. Such overlapping memberships can help the circulation between movements - and between movements and the wider community – of tactics, skills and other resources. However, they can also lead to conflicts of interests or power struggles and they necessitate the constant (re)negotiation of individual and collective identities. This paper will examine these processes within the Irish organic food movement.