About the ASN

Welcome to the Anarchist Studies Network

The Anarchist Studies Network is a specialist group for the study of anarchism within the British Political Studies Association

The principal aim of this network is to coordinate and promote the re-investigation of anarchism as a political ideology

Convenor: Dr Ruth Kinna, Senior Lecturer in Modern Political Theory, Loughborough University

Treasurer: Dr Dave Berry, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary French and European History, Loughborough University

Secretary: Dr Alex Prichard, Research Officer, Department of European Studies and Modern Languages, University of Bath

= About the ASN =

What constitutes “anarchist studies,” and where did it come from?

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it, of an entire world order based on the tension between American and Soviet power, a number of intellectuals announced (once again) that the age of “ideologies” had ended; liberal democracy and capitalism had won, and no other political or economic options remained credible as contenders for the future. Energy had drained from most of the “New Social Movements” that had come to such prominence in the sixties and seventies; having since been institutionalized, accommodated within the system, environmentalism and the various forms of “identity politics” were no longer to be seen as radical challenges to the status quo, much less as forming part of a revolutionary “Movement.”

Two decades later, this cozy perception of the world is in shambles. Nearly a third of the world’s population lives in “failed states”; international systems of law and order are in serious disarray; strains on the planetary ecosystem are increasingly hard to ignore; the global marketplace lurches between “irrational exuberance” and crisis. The institutional managers of this world order now cannot meet without major police and military protection; everywhere they go, angry crowds appear. Many in these crowds speak not of a Movement, but of a “movement of movements,” that cannot be accommodated within the present order. It has become a common observation that, notwithstanding the novelty of this force, it cannot be understood without reference to another, older political tradition, one that had gone into an historical eclipse around the time of the Russian Revolution and the first victories of the women’s suffrage movement, that had long since become something less than a memory, a mere epithet: anarchism.

It is deeply ironic that there are now arguably more people outside of the academy than inside it who possess any intellectual context for this tradition; one is hard pressed to find a few scattered, often uninformed references to anarchism in the most advanced realms of scholarly discourse. Nonetheless, over the last two decades, academics have slowly begun to rediscover the historical significance of anarchism, which, as Benedict Anderson recently had to remind his fellow historians, was for a time “the main vehicle of global opposition to industrial capitalism, autocracy, latifundism, and imperialism.” Scholars have started to study the influence of anarchism on early Korean and Filipino national liberation struggles, movements for birth control from Barcelona to Boston, Latin American labor history, Jewish immigrant life, the development of modern sociology and geography, the French Resistance, debates over eugenics and Social Darwinism, modern art and Modern Schools, avant-garde film and popular music, revolutions from Mexico to China to Russia itself.

There has even been some interest in revisiting the theoretical documents left in the wake of anarchist movements, dusting off the old ideas in search of new perspectives. Far from having been anti-intellectual “primitive rebels,” anarchists produced a rich critical discourse on every facet of life and knowledge, from economics to linguistics, from social history to aesthetic theory, from urban planning to ontology — a counter-institutional archive that has barely begun to be investigated. Amid a widespread increase in doctoral theses and academic publications directly engaged with the anarchist archive, some researchers have begun to draw inspiration from it, to see their work as an extension of anarchist theory and practice. For a number of us, what we are calling “anarchist studies” no longer necessarily takes anarchism as its object of study but as a standpoint from which to study the world. Anarchist contributions to thought are making a reappearance in a number of fields, challenging established orthodoxies. Perhaps, against all odds, we are witnessing the emergence of a new anarchist paradigm in academia.

It is unlikely that this paradigm has a future unless steps are taken to foster its growth, to maintain a space for it within the existing institutional structures it inhabits while preventing it from being simply absorbed by those structures. Therefore, the Anarchist Studies Network seeks

1.) to build on the renewed interest in anarchist and anarchistic thought by facilitating and promoting the study of anarchism as modern political theory and practice, across scholarly disciplines, both within and outside the official academic sphere;

2.) to provide an interdisciplinary institutional forum bringing together graduate students, professional academics, and independent scholars across the world; and

3.) to provide a platform for the promotion of anarchism as a vital and viable analytical, conceptual, and pedagogical paradigm for the 21st century.

To these ends, the group has four specific aims and objectives:

a.) We plan to organise a seminar series to allow academics and graduate students to present their work to a more specialist audience.

b.) We also plan to organise an annual two-day conference on the legacy and work of individual anarchists, or on aspects of anarchist history, contemporary anarchist practice, or anarchism’s potential to contribute to ongoing political and economic change.

c.) This will clearly demand the coordination of broader and more long-term research projects and funding applications.

d.) Our basic aim is to reinvigorate the study of anarchism within academia by building links across subject areas, and to this end we will actively seek close relationships with other interested specialist groups in the PSA, BISA, APSA and ISA, as well as groups located outside the official sphere of academia, including those formed for activism and public intellectual life.