Networked social movements and radicalisation: yellow vests’ cross-ideological horizon for underrepresented groups

Published on February 13, 2023, in the Journal of Contemporary European Studies

This paper questions the opportunities that Yellow Vests as a Networked Social Movement (NETSM) created for politically underrepresented groups. Without a clear authority structure and a formal organisation, NETSMs challenge traditional leadership understandings. Nonetheless, their ability to determine precision in setting goals, demands, and strategies is disputed in the NETSM literature. Considering both aspects, the paper evaluates Yellow Vests’ success in bridging two underrepresented groups inclined to radicalisation. The study rests on 77 interviews with young-adult French citizens who support Radical Right movements (n=40) or self-identify as Muslim in the public sphere of Paris and Lyon (n=37). I argue that Yellow Vests’ baseline arguments (e.g., against the pension reform and tax hikes) were precise enough to be shared by our interlocutors. Meanwhile, our interlocutors left the group boundaries sufficiently imprecise so that the movement could reach beyond their parochial identities. Bringing the two features together, the movement opened up new (e.g., class-based) radicalisation possibilities other than those relying on the Islamist and nativist vocabularies. After analysing this combination of precision and imprecision in the context of several unresolved problems, I conclude that the movement’s vulnerability emanates from its failure to refine the combination that initially symbolised a shared future imagination.

The article is available under a Gold Open Access Licence.