Archive for the ‘social movements’ Category
Seth Masket recently discussed the popularity of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement more generally. In general, the civil rights movement was deeply unpopular, even at its height. Polls showed that a majority approved of civil rights after the fact.
The point is well taken, but there is more to the story of public opinion and civil rights. Roughly speaking, public opinion was moving the direction of civil rights for decades, even if the general public didn’t quite approve of individual people or groups. It didn’t happen by itself. As Taeku Lee shows in Mobilizing Public Opinion, public opinion started to soften because of activism. A lot of local action caused civil rights to emerge on the agenda of elites at the state and federal levels.
Seth is right that for most people, the time is never right for protest. But that is not necessary for movements. You can accomplish a lot with a strongly motivated coalition of activists and elites. And if you push hard enough, public opinion will follow.
We continue our Q&A with Hahrie Han on her new Oxford University Press book, How Organizations Develop Activists.
Question 3. A crucial distinction in your book is mobilizing vs. organizing? What does that mean?
The highest engagement organizations in my study combined what I call “transformational organizing” with “transactional mobilizing.” The difference between mobilizing and organizing really comes down to the extent to which organizations invest in developing people’s skills, motivations, and such as they do the work. Mobilizers are focused more on breadth–getting more people to do more stuff–so they care only about the “transactional” outcomes: how many people wrote the letter? Organizers believe that they achieve breadth by building depth–how many people became more motivated or more skilled (“transformed”) as activists by being part of the letter writing campaign? So they design work that may be harder at first, but builds more depth over the long-term.
It might be easiest to describe the difference between “transformational organizing” and “transactional mobilizing” through some examples.
Let’s say an organization wants to generate a letter writing campaign to get letters to the editor published around a particular issue. Mobilizers would create letter templates and tools people could use to click a few buttons and send off a letter to their local paper. Organizers might ask people to compose their own letter, using trainings they provide. Or, organizers might match potential letter writers with a partner to compose a joint letter.
Mobilizers would have a few staff people organizing the entire campaign–those staff would create the templates, craft the messages asking people to write the letters, and coordinate any needed follow up. People themselves would not have to do anything more than click the buttons to indicate their willingness to write the letter. Organizers would set up the campaign so that staff people might design the trainings and the goals, but a distributed network of volunteers would be charged with generating letters in their local communities. Then, they would train and support those volunteers in getting those letters.
The organizations that had the highest levels of activism did both–they did organizing AND mobilizing to get both breadth and depth. It’s not that one is better than the other; it’s that organizations need both.
This week, we are having a Q&A with our recent guest blogger, Hahrie Han. She is a political scientist at Wellesley College and has a new book out on the topic of how organizations sustain the participation of their members called How Organizations Develop Activists. If you want, put any questions you may have in the comments.
Question 1. Can you summarize, for the readers of this blog, your new book’s main argument? How do you prove that?
The book begins by asking why some organizations are better than others at getting (and keeping) people involved in activism than others. All over the world, there are myriad organizations, campaigns, and movements trying to get people to do everything from signing petitions to showing up for meetings to participating in protest. Some are better than others. Why?
To answer this question, I wanted to look particularly at what the organization does. There are so many factors that affect an organization’s ability to engage activists that the organization itself cannot control. What about the things it can control? Do they matter? So I set up a study of two national organizations working in health and environmental politics that also had state and local chapters operating relatively autonomously. I created matched pairs of these local chapters that were working in the same kinds of communities, and attracted the same kinds of people to the organization. But, they differed in their ability to cultivate activism. By examining differences among organizations in each pair, I could see what the high-engagement organizations did differently. I also ran some field experiments to test the ideas that emerged.
I found that the core factor distinguishing the high-engagement organizations was the way they engaged people in activities that transformed their sense of individual and collective agency. Just like any other organization, these organizations wanted to get more people to do more stuff, but they did it in a way that cultivated their motivations, developed their skills, and built their capacity for further activism. Doing so meant that high-engagement organizations used distinct strategies for recruiting, engaging, and supporting volunteers, which I detail in the book. By combining this kind of transformational organizing with a hard-nosed focus on numbers, they were able to build the breadth and depth of activism they wanted.
This Friday, I will be a guest of the department of sociology at the University of Southern California. I’ll be giving a talk called “The Four Histories of Black Power: A Sociological Challenge to Black Power History” It’s about how social movement theory can be used to critique and re-articulate our understanding of Black Power. Come by and say hello!
the meditation movement and the challenge to the theory of fields or, why you should check out jaime kucinskas’ work
Mobilizing Ideas recently ran a post about emerging stars of social movement research. I was thrilled to see three folks with IU connections – Matt Baggeta of IU’s top ranked policy school, Casey Oberlin of Grinnell (IU grad), Jaime Kucinskas of Hamilton (another IU grad). I’ve already discussed Casey’s work on this blog, so let me take a moment to tell you why you should pay attention to Jaime’s work.
Jaime’s dissertation was a study of religious change. Specifically, the rise of meditation as a serious topic in academia and American popular culture. Basically, meditation has found its way into many areas of American social life – even the military! The reason Jaime finds this interesting is that it is a serious change in American spiritual life that happened without the process of conflict and resource mobilization as described in works like Fligstein and McAdam’s Theory of Fields.
Jaime points out that movements can have great impacts by bypassing the contentious politics route. She argues that American meditation is a top down, elite driven movement that does a lot of institutional work behind the scenes and uses the levers of elite institutions to subtly inject new religious practice into popular culture. Based on great field work and extensive interviews, it is a great case study with broad and deep implications. Check it out.
Vox ran an article asking how marijuana legalization came to have so much support. In speaking to German Lopez, I offered a tipping point theory and some thoughts about the low cost of information:
Rojas of Indiana University suggested the advancements of the movement could be a self-perpetuating cycle: As more states legalized medical marijuana, Americans saw that the risks of allowing medicinal use didn’t come to fruition as opponents warned. That reinforced support for medical marijuana, which then made politicians more comfortable with their own support for reform.
A similar cycle could be playing out with full legalization, Rojas explained. As voters see medical marijuana and legalization can happen without major hitches, they might be more likely to start supporting full legalization.
“People said, ‘Okay, now that someone else is throwing this out in public, it’s okay for me to vote for it or approve it,'” Rojas said. “That’s probably the main driving force: using the electoral system to push ideas that people may be afraid to think about or consider because they’re illegitimate — or at least they were.”
The rapid change in public opinion could have been helped along by the internet, which allows people to share stories about their own pot use, research about the issue, and states’ experiences with relaxed marijuana laws much more quickly.
“When I was a college student around 1990, other than hardcore political wonky types, … nobody really talk about drug legalization,” Rojas said. “Now, you can go on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, and people can share a news story. You get exposed to it constantly.”
Check it out.
Right now, pro-democracy protesters are in conflict with police in Hong Kong. I am not a China expert, so my knowledge is limited. A few questions for readers who know more than I do:
- What lessons have the Chinese state and activists learned from previous rounds of pro-democracy protest?
- Is this “internally generated?” Or have activists received training and support from outside China?
- Was this triggered by specific events, or is this a response to the slow assertion of mainland power in Hong Kong?
Use the comments!