THE STEAMFUNK MOVEMENT
Defining what, exactly, a movement is can be problematic. It is not a political party or interest group, which are stable political entities that have regular access to political power and political elites; nor is it a mass fad or trend, which are unorganized, fleeting and without goals. Instead a movement is somewhere in between. Movements, then, can be thought of as organized, yet informal, social entities that are oriented towards a goal. These goals can be either aimed at a specific and narrow policy or be more broadly aimed at cultural change.
Four Stages of Movements
One of the earliest scholars to study movement processes was Herbert Blumer, who identified four stages of movements’ lifecycles. The four stages he described were: social ferment, popular excitement, formalization, and institutionalization. Since his early work, scholars have refined and renamed these stages but the underlying themes have remained relatively constant. Today, the four movement stages are known as:
Stage 1: Emergence
The first stage of the movement life cycle is known as the emergence, or, as described by Blumer, the social ferment. Within this stage, movements are very preliminary and there is little to no organization. This stage can be thought of as widespread discontent. Potential movement participants may be unhappy with some policy or some condition, but they have not taken any action in order to redress their grievances; or if they have, it is most likely individual action rather than collective action.
You might tell friends and family that you are dissatisfied with certain conditions or you may write a blog about it, but these actions are not necessarily strategic and certainly not collective.
Further, there may be an increase in media coverage of negative conditions or unpopular policies which contributes to the general sense of discontent.
Within the emergence stage, an organization and its members serve as agitators. Agitators raise consciousness around issues and help to develop the sense of discontent among the general population. An example of this stage would be the early 1950’s for the Civil Rights Movement.
There was, of course, among the Black population in the South, a general and long standing sense of discontent. Further, there were organizations, such as the NAACP, that provided agitation, but were not yet organizing the mass and continued actions that came to later characterize the Civil Rights Movement. It was not until after the Brown v. the Board of Education Supreme court decision (1954), which outlawed segregation in Public schools, and the arrest of Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to comply with segregation laws on city buses by giving up her bus seat to a white man, that the American Civil Rights Movement would proceed to the next stage – coalescence.
Stage 2: Coalescence
At this next stage in the life cycle, movements have overcome some obstacles which many never overcome. Often, social unrest or discontent passes without any organizing or widespread mobilization. Stage two, known as coalescence, or the popular stage, is characterized by a more clearly defined sense of discontent. It is no longer just a general sense of unease, but now a sense of what the unease is about and who or what is responsible.
At this stage, unrest is no longer covert, endemic, and esoteric; it is overt, epidemic, and exoteric. Discontent is no longer uncoordinated and individual; it becomes focalized and collective. This is the stage when individuals participating in the mass behavior of the preceding stage become aware of each other. At this point leadership emerges and strategies for success are worked out.
Also, at this stage mass demonstrations may occur in order to display the movement’s power and to make clear demands. Most importantly this is the stage at which the movement becomes more than just random upset individuals; at this point you are now organized and strategic in your outlook.
The American Civil Rights Movement again provides a good example. After the initial emergence, the movement began a series of high profile campaigns, which sought to highlight the plight of Blacks in the segregated South.
These campaigns included the Montgomery Bus Boycott and lunch counter sit-ins in which black students would sit down at segregated counters and wait to either be served or be dragged out by the police. These events galvanized support for the movement and brought to light the brutality to which white segregationists would resort in order to protect the status quo.
At this point too, prominent leaders of the movement begin to emerge, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After many years of successful, but hard fought campaigns and strong leadership, the movement became a more prominent political force.
Stage 3: Bureaucratization
The third stage is known as bureaucratization. This stage, defined by Blumer as formalization, is characterized by higher levels of organization and coalition-based strategies. Movements in this stage can no longer just rely on mass rallies or inspirational leaders to progress towards their goals and build constituencies; they must rely on trained staff to carry out the functions of organizations.
Many movements fail to bureaucratize in this way and end up fizzling out because it is difficult for members to sustain the emotional excitement necessary and because continued mobilization becomes too demanding for participants.
Stage 4: Decline
Finally, the last stage in the social movement life cycle is decline, or institutionalization. Although “decline” may sound negative, it should not necessarily be understood in negative terms. Movements may decline for several reasons. These are:
Repression occurs when authorities, or agents acting on behalf of the authorities, use measures (sometimes violent) to control or destroy a social movement. Governments will often pass laws outlawing specific movement activities or organizations, or justify attacks on movements by declaring them somehow dangerous to public order. This type of repression makes it exceedingly difficult for movements to carry out their activities and recruit new members.
Co-optation occurs when movement leaders come to associate with authorities or the movement’s targets more than with the movement’s constituents. For example, author Bro. B. is asked by the Super Secret Sword & Soul Society to work for the Sword and Sorcery Writers of America with the idea of Bro. B. being able to change things from the inside. Instead, Bro. B. becomes integrated into the organization and takes on its values, rather than maintaining the values of the Super Secret Sword & Soul Society. This is a case of the mask becoming the face.
Some movements actually decline because they are successful. The women’s suffrage movement was a national organization that achieved its goals and thus declined.
If the Read A Damned Book, Fool Foundation has the goal of increasing Black literacy in the United States to 100%, once every person of African descent in America is able to read, the Read A Damned Book, Fool Foundation will decline due to its success. More than likely, it will then reorganize into the Read A Damned Speculative Fiction Book, Fool as organizations that decline due to success usually find some other goal to achieve.
Failure of movements due to organizational or strategic failings is common for many organizations. When failure occurs at the organizational level, it is usually for two reasons: factionalism and encapsulation.
Movements with an open structure, in which everyone is encouraged to take part in the decision making process, the organization risks control by different factions that operate within the organization for the benefit of outside organizations. Then, as factionalism grows worse and repression continues, groups become increasingly insular, leading to encapsulation – the process in which a group of activists become isolated from the broader movement because they come to share many of the same habits and culture and their ideology becomes more similar to one another’s and at the same time more rigid. They become so dedicated to the movement that they fail to sympathize with those who do not make the movement the dominant aspect of their life.
Establishment with Mainstream
The fifth reason for decline is that an organization becomes established with the mainstream. That is, their goals or ideologies are adopted by the mainstream and there is no longer any need for a movement. This is a fear of many in the Steampunk movement. For my take on this, please read https://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/the-fear-of-mainstreaming-steampunk-put-on-your-fighting-trousers/.
Movements may not develop through the stages as described, or they may skip stages altogether. Generally, most movements do reach the stage of coalescence, since it is at that point that we begin to see behavior that we define as a social movement. Yet the movement may never grow beyond this second stage, and members may never develop into formal organizations. Some social movements consciously choose to reject bureaucratization for ideological reasons.
Steampunk is generally accepted as a subculture and a subculture – at its root – is a form of refusal. A subculture is a reaction to – and usually a rejection of – the present.
By creating a new culture that diverges from the dominant culture – through signs, signals, practices and expressions – a group, and the individuals therein, form a reaction to – and rejection of – that dominant culture. Thus all subcultures are movements.
Usually, the rejection of the present manifests as a nostalgia for the past – Victorian and Edwardian Eras, the American 1950’s, Medieval times or the Renaissance – or a forward thinking utopia or dystopia – futurism and cyberpunk, respectively.
Retrofutrism – a joining of the nostalgic and the futuristic – however, makes Steampunk a unique movement.
Steampunk’s elevation of creativity, imagination, elegance and innovation combined with its inclusivity creates a new model for building a movement.
One of the most defining aspects of Steampunk as a movement – and a revolutionary one, at that – is its rejection of conspicuous consumption and the countering of such consumption through a do-it-yourself attitude and the encouragement of discovery and invention.
The ways in which steampunk is defined by what it consumes rather than what it creates is meaningful, proactive and subversive in a consumer driven culture.
Steampunk – to many of those who are part of the movement – is a reconciliation of the past and present; utopian and dystopian; art and science; self and society.
Steampunks’ accepting of seemingly conflicting ideas is an indication that culturally, we are more capable of accepting contradictions, moving past them, and then imagining and implementing solutions to our issues.
Fear, anxiety and simplistic thinking hinder the development of complex and nuanced ideas necessary for moving forward and resolving contemporary difficulties. In short, Steampunk meets our need for a more comprehensive, holistic way of forming culture. Where other movements are rigid, Steampunk is fluid.
Unlike other movements, the practitioners of Steampunk often belong to multiple communities and movements simultaneously without any conflict or tension. It is this pluralistic tendency that keeps Steampunk from stagnating and ensures its continued growth and development. Your participation in multiple groups and the possession of multiple skill sets is seen as an asset, not a lack of commitment to the group.
The social and intellectual model of Steampunk transcends and rejects the idea that one must be “true”, “pure” or faithful to a subculture in order to be a part of it. Thus, Steampunk is highly unlikely to fall into the Decline Stage that most movements fall victim to, as Steampunk’s pluralism effectively counters repression, co-optation, factionalism and encapsulation. The only factors left in the Decline Stage, then are success and establishment with the mainstream. Since Steampunk has no set, finite goals, success will not represent the decline of the movement either.
For why establishment with the mainstream will not bring about Steampunk’s decline, please check out https://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/the-fear-of-mainstreaming-steampunk-put-on-your-fighting-trousers/.
Steamfunk is narrowly defined as “a person, style of dress or subgenre of fiction that seeks to bring together elements of blaxploitation films and merge it with that of Steampunk fiction”. A broader definition is “a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction”.
For an example of writing in the narrow definition, please read the short story Nandi: https://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/nandi-a-steamfunk-tale/. For an example of writing in the broader definition, please read Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises: https://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/black-caesar-the-stone-ship-rises/, or The Hand of Sa-Seti: https://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/the-hand-of-sa-seti-a-short-story-of-steampunk-and-sword-soul-by-balogun/.
Let us examine Steamfunk and how a movement within a movement was born.
Emergence: Steamfunk was born when several authors of African descent who took a liking to – or, in the cases of a few, even loved – the literary and aesthetic aspects of Steampunk, noticed that there was a deficit of stories by and about Black heroes and she-roes in the movement and – as individuals – they decided they would write Steampunk stories from a Black perspective. Some were also dissatisfied that most Steampunk ignored the “darker” aspects of the Victorian Era, such as colonialism, sexism, classism, racism – and chattel slavery and wanted to write about those aspects in their expressions of Steampunk. Some of those authors include Maurice Broaddus (Pimp My Airship), Milton Davis (The Delivery), Valjeanne Jeffers (The Switch), and Balogun Ojetade (Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman).
Coalescence: On the website, www.blacksciencefictionsociety.com, a discussion of Steampunk came up and the aforementioned authors agreed that we should put together an anthology. Author and publisher Milton Davis, who had published the definitive Sword & Soul anthology, Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology, decided to bring thought into action and put out the call for submissions to the Steamfunk Anthology. Author and Steampunk, Balogun Ojetade (yours truly) was brought in to work with Milton Davis as co-editor and the campaign of raising the awareness of the Black expression of Steampunk, which we call Steamfunk, began.
Bureaucratization: The formal organization of the Steamfunk Movement began when – inspired by Milton Davis, organizer of the Atlanta-based Black Speculative Fiction Café – Balogun Ojetade put together a panel on Black Speculative Fiction, with the idea of it leading to an organization that educated people on the richness of work in Black fantasy and science fiction and provided access to said works. For more on this panel discussion, please read: https://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/state-of-black-sci-fi-2012-my-favorite-black-sci-fi-event-is-happily-natural-days-black-speculative-fiction-panel/ and to view the video recording of the panel discussion in its entirety, please visit: https://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/black-speculative-fiction/.
One of the panelists, Alicia McCalla – librarian and author of the incredible teen dystopian novel, Breaking Free – reached out to other authors and artists of Black speculative work to participate in the State of Black Science Fiction 2012 blog tour. This blog tour led to the formation of a formal organization – State of Black Science Fiction – based in Atlanta, GA, the hub of Black speculative fiction. Steamfunk, Sword and Soul, teen dystopian and young adult fantasy have grown to be the major foci of the group, which educates youth and adults on the history, need for – and benefits of – Black writers and readers in these genres.
Decline: Ain’t gonna happen. Why not? Because it is Steampunk, after all.