An essay from Mobilizing Ideas, a production of The Center for the Study of Social Movements at the University of Notre Dame, editorial home of the journal Mobilization.
The increasing development of transnational ties and coalitions among social movement activists and organizations through the decades reveals how multilingualism can act as a vital and empowering resource for promoting sociopolitical change. Yet, the global hegemony of English also reveals how underlying power dynamics present dilemmas for progressive movements founded upon inclusive principles of multiculturalism and participatory democracy. Social movement scholarship also reflects this linguistic power dynamic and scholars should take heed. By providing more opportunities and venues for non-English speakers to participate in shaping academic debates and discussions new insights and theoretical perspectives are more likely to develop.
The ability of grassroots activists to speak multiple languages helps them to better reach out across borders, establish new allies, expand social networks and bolster visibility through mass media outlets. When Zapatista rebels launched their insurrection from the heart of Mayan territory in 1994, the capacity of leaders to integrate indigenous languages with Spanish and English allowed the movement to establish a broad base of support characterized by both transnational breadth and deep local roots. When North American and European television journalists descended upon Tunis and Cairo during the Arab Spring in 2008, the voice of protest which they captured was multilingual with Tunisian and Egyptian youths displaying banners and placards written in English and French as well as Arabic.
Embracing multilingualism in social movement scholarship does not only entail having English works translated into other languages such as Spanish or Mandarin and Arabic, but also ensuring that research published in other languages gets translated and made available in English....our understanding of transnational movements and protest from the Global South will only be richer.
Read the complete essay at Multilingual Protest and Scholarship