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New book on social change topples ivory tower

by Stephanie Taylor

A new book takes a closer look at Halifax's social movements.
A new book takes a closer look at Halifax's social movements.

(K'JIPUKTUK) HALIFAX - A new book, “The Radical Imagination: Social Movement Research in the Age of Austerity”, by Dr. Alex Khasnabish and Dr. Max Haiven, examines the inner workings of radical social movements and questions what it is that inspires people to create change. 

“It’s a book that’s not a typical academic leftist treatise on what social movements should be,” Khasnabish, an associate professor in the departments of sociology and anthropology at Mount Saint Vincent University said in an interview Monday.

The book is based on four years of research with different Halifax-based activists and social justice groups as a part of the Radical Imagination Project

Since 2010, researchers have gathered information from numerous grassroots-led discussions that ranged in topic from the relationship between struggles against capitalism to struggles against other social inequalities, to how movements should best be organized. 

Because Halifax is “an important financial, political and industrial capital” in the Maritimes and has a concentrated social justice network, Khasnabish said it gave a perfect setting to study how movements work on a smaller city scale versus a larger global metropolis. 

He describes that Halifax’s social movements are in a rebuilding phase, and cites the 2007 Atlantica trade protests as one of the last major radical actions to sweep the city. 

For both authors, the idea to write a book about social change was to go beyond raising “academic capital”, and was aimed at providing actual help to activists in the community," Khasnabish says,

“We wanted to design a project that helped us mobilize the university as a space that contributed something significant to social movements,” he says. 

As it stands, the majority of research around social movements remains locked inside universities’ walls, unseen by the organizers and activists who are working to transform conditions of inequality and oppression, Khasnabish says. 

He believes “the book is accessible, but ambitious,” and says it is written as a conversation, rather than a lecture about social change. 

Readers should not expect to find the ‘seize the state, smash capitalism’ attitude often found in other political, economic and social writings, Khasnabish explains. Instead the book offers a roadmap of ideas and insights of how individuals can work together to build a radically democratic hopeful future.

The book’s title, “The Radical Imagination,” also points to a deeper chord the authors were trying to strike with audiences. 

“People love to use the term but almost never define it,” Khasnabish says, and describes that to him it means the "radical spark" that motivates people to take action -- no matter the physical circumstances. 

He says "inequality, oppression, exploitation are never enough to give rise to powerful social movements,” but there is something more to radical change that starts with how people and communities imagine their futures and tell the stories of their past. 

“We really wanted to think about the imagination in a social sense,” he says. 

The book, released last month in the UK, is set for a July launch in both Halifax and Winnipeg. 



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