Bevington and Dixon’s (2005) call to redress the relationship between social movements and social movement research in terms of providing assistance to them over and above academic and professional concerns is an attractive one, and should be seen as part of the recent movement in Anglo-American sociology toward public sociology: a ‘popular’ sociology that speaks to non-academic (but mainly activist) audiences outside the academy. However, regardless of the worthy aims of movement-relevant research, exposing social movements to the ‘open surveillance’ of the sociological gaze raises the possibility of providing useful information to opponents and enemies of that movement. This raises dilemmas that appealing to professional or movement-relevant ethics cannot resolve, as this paper’s interviews with Trotskyist activists testify. Therefore social movement researchers must pay heed to potential conflicts between the production of sociological knowledge and protecting the interests of the social movements they study.For those not familiar with Bevington and Dixon's paper, 'Movement-relevant Theory: Rethinking Social Movement Scholarship and Activism' (which will probably be nearly everyone), their argument - while certainly moves in the right direction - is symptomatic of the divergence between academia/sociology and any kind of political practice. But there's the legacy of neoliberalism in higher education and the (passing) dominance of postmodernism/poststructuralism for you.
The good news is this paper has had an impact and is oft-cited by the upcoming new generation of social movement researchers. But as my abstract hints and what my paper discusses in more depth is how movement-relevant research is an ethical minefield.