Patrick King: We want to start from a methodological standpoint, thinking about what kind of intervention Black Against Empire makes in terms of social movement theory, a field which can often seem divorced from a real understanding of political practice. There are two concepts that you and Waldo Martin deploy in your book that we’d like to discuss: one is what you call a “methodology of strategic traces” or a “strategic genealogy”; and the other is the focus given to the “insurgent practices” of different movements, organizations, and groups – in this case, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. What was your aim in using these two concepts to serve as guiding threads for the book and your sociological work in general, and how do they help us move beyond the often narrow frames of social movement theory?
Joshua Bloom: The big theoretical problem that was front and center going into the book was thinking about why and how people build power from below in some movements, and asking why is that so rare. The social movement literature and social movement theory provides a number of tools to think about those questions, but I was pretty dissatisfied with most of those tools. I felt like they erred on two sides of the structure/agency debate, a problem that the literature has tangled with for awhile, and I think there’s a broad consensus that pretty much none of the solutions are satisfactory.
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