Activism and the academy: Assembling knowledge for social justice

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This paper asks whether assemblage theory provides a useful way of thinking through the challenges of knowledge production for social justice in the context of the relationship between social movement activism and the academy. We begin by describing the problems associated with spatial metaphors that reinforce reified generalities whereby ‘horizontal’ social movements are opposed to hierarchical higher education (HE) institutions. We then give a brief account of DeLanda’s (2006) interpretation of the assemblage, focusing on the concepts of immanence and difference, actual and virtual and de- and re-territorialisation. Having described the problem and sketched out the theoretical context, we move on to consider the analytical value of assemblage theory, focusing on the merits of its materialist anti-essentialism. This leads on to a critical discussion of the ways in which speed and mobility are inscribed with normative value in some political readings of assemblage theory. We argue against the temptation to imbue any particular spatial or temporal mode with normative value. Instead, we suggest that an explicit recognition of time as a universal stake in social justice knowledge production helps us to move beyond discourses that reproduce reified oppositions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-532
Number of pages24
JournalEphemera: theory & politics in organisation
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


  • Social Justice
  • assemblage theory
  • social movement theory
  • Higher Education


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