Immigrant Agency and Social Movements in the Age of Devolution

Colloquium | April 3 | 12-1:30 p.m. | Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, Multicultural Community Center (MCC), Room 220

 Greg Prieto, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of San Diego

 Center for Research on Social Change, Department of Ethnic Studies, Center for Latino Policy Research, Division of Equity and Inclusion

Mexican immigrants who are most affected by the deportation regime are also the least available to resist it. Under what conditions are these unexpected activists moved to participate in collective mobilization? Their primary strategy to mitigate the risks of dispossession, deportation, and economic uncertainty is to avoid the unfamiliar and insulate oneself within the home and among family. This “shell,” a habituated response to the insecurities of immigrant life, functions both as a form of protection from these risks and as an encumbrance upon their availability for collective action. The experience of the shell also incubates a latent oppositional consciousness that recognizes the unfairness of their social status as necessary, but unwanted laborers. While the shell may be a deterrent to social movement participation, it also sows the seeds of resistance. Social movement scholars have recently focused on the role of threat in pressing these unlikely challengers into action. Though scholars typically conceptualize threat as an element of political opportunity, in this talk I examine the way community organizers leverage threat in the interactional process of community organizing for immigrant rights. Drawing on three years of participant observation and over 60 interviews with un/documented Mexican immigrants, I observed organizers amplify threat in the minds of immigrants by undermining their default strategy for managing risk: the shell. Stressing immigrants’ urgent responsibility to act on their own behalf, community members responded variously to the overtures of community organizers. Volunteerism at school, English language acquisition, close calls with immigration enforcement, and personal relationships to the organizers led to participation, while a more recent arrival and isolation depressed participation. Born of the quotidian experience of legal and economic precarity, the immigrant activism that emerges seeks to inhabit, rather than transform, normative institutions of work and family.


 Free and open to the public. Register online by April 1

 catered lunch, 510-642-0813

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