Archive for the ‘social movements’ Category
Phil Rocco draws my attention to the following article in Business and Politics, by Patrick Bernhagen*, Neil J. Mitchell and Marianne Thissen-Smits which argues that global agreements about labor don’t really do much:
Business and public partnerships in socially responsible behavior have become a central pillar of global governance, but one that is unevenly developed in different countries. Despite the transnational character of business operations, national context is of theoretical as well as policy significance. To explain crosscountry variation in corporate commitment to social responsibility we investigate the political conditions that encourage firms to participate in the United Nations Global Compact. Drawing on a theory of corporate social responsibility as motivated by self-interest and external pressure, we examine the influence of external actors and the locally specific mobilization of bias. Analyzing participation levels in 145 countries, we find that a democratic regime and Global Compact participation by countervailing groups are associated with higher levels of business participation in the program. Contrary to earlier studies relying on smaller numbers of countries, we find no evidence that a country’s relationship with the UN or the domestic political strength of environmental interests account for cross-national variation in corporate engagement with the Global Compact.
Check it out.
Who should be held accountable for tragedies like the Bangladesh factory collapse that killed so many garment industry workers? Jerry Davis, writing in the Sunday New York Times, says that consumers need to recognize their blame in the global marketplace. Consumers demand cheap products, which forces companies to pressure their suppliers to cut costs at every corner. The loser is the laborer who makes the initial products in the supply chain.
Our willingness to buy garments sewn under dangerous conditions, chocolate made from cocoa picked by captive children, or cellphones and laptops containing “conflict minerals” from Congo create the demand that underwrites these tragedies….If we want to see fewer tragedies like the one in Bangladesh, we as consumers need to reward the companies that make the effort to verify their supply chains and shun those that do not. Make it unprofitable to be unsafe.
While I agree with Jerry, in principle, that consumers’ demand for low-cost items will inevitably lead to these sorts of problems, consumers are actually very inertial creatures. If we put all our hopes in changing the global marketplace in the wallets of people like Joe Schmoe from Brownsburg, Indiana, we’re not likely to see much change. Most changes in supply chain management begin with a few committed activists who are willing to go out and pressure the company through “naming and shaming” tactics. Public humiliation still seems to work.
This Spring 2013 issue of Sociological Quarterly is dedicated mainly to discussion of Occupy Wall Street. A nice mix of movement research veterans, younger folks, and activists:
- Frances Fox Piven on organization
- Rasmus Kleis Nielsen on the use of social media
- Richard Flacks discusses the future of OWS.
Required reading for movement scholars.
Yesterday’s WSJ featured an interesting (gated) front page article on growing support among some evangelical congregations for extending immigration rights to undocumented immigrants. Drawing on the Bible to justify “welcoming the stranger,” leaders have urged outreach efforts and political mobilization for overhauling immigration reform, even though these activities may alienate some congregants and politicians. According to the WSJ, one opposing politician has countered supporters’ assertions with the claim that “The Bible contains numerous passages that do not necessarily support amnesty and instead support the rule of law. The Scriptures clearly indicate that God charges civil authorities with preserving order, protecting citizens and punishing wrongdoers.” Clearly, groups and individuals are tapping logics of religion and the state to offer various rationales for the status quo versus change.
Sociologist Grace Yukich has conducted research on a similar movement for immigration rights among Catholic groups. Her forthcoming book One Family Under God: Religion and Immigration Politics in the New Sanctuary Movement (Oxford) examines how supporters simultaneously engage with a larger social movement at the grassroots level and reshape the composition of their flock. Check out more about Yukich’s work via her blog posts on Mobilizing Ideas and The Immanent Frame.
I will speaking on my research about the anti-Iraq War movement and its abatement during the Obama administration. Please email me if you want to meet personally on Thursday or Friday.
Over Eric Grollman’s blog, there is a nice essay on blogging, academia, and activism. Eric provides an interesting note about the differences between white graduate students and students of color:
In a 2009 sample of 1,473 doctoral students, African American and Latina/o doctoral students ranked as their number 1 and number 3 reason to attend graduate school, respectively, to “contribute to the advancement of minorities in the US”; “contribute to my community” was number 2 for Latina/os. The top three reasons for white doctoral students were to “grow intellectually,” “improve occupational mobility,” and “make a contribution to thefield.” All these years of feeling my work was urgently needed to make a difference, while my white colleagues were merely curious about the social world, now had confirmation.
This passage raises a number of different issues. For example, students of color often come from financially strapped backgrounds, so academia is a step up. In contrast, white students likely come from more comfortable backgrounds so mobility isn’t the issue.
The big issue, and one that captures Eric’s attention on his blog, is the divide between activism and academia, one that student’s of color don’t accept so much. Why do we “beat it out’ of graduate students? The answer, in my view, is that academia and activism are simply different things. Every activity has a bottom line. In politics, it’s votes. In business, it’s money. In religion, it’s souls. Activism is about promoting social change, which is a different bottom line than academia, which is knowledge generation.
And look around – academia is built for scholarship. We are cloistered on our campuses and in our laboratories. We pore over journals that few people read. Our main ritual is the seminar, not the protest. To be blunt, we simply don’t have the tools that you need for social change.
Social change is a wholly different creature. If you want to influence policy, you need money, or you need a bloc of voters, or you need to sue someone. You may need friends in the media. Or a few thousand friends to show up at a rally. The work of social change is about these activities, not pumping your CV with articles in the right journals.
I’ll conclude with a few comments about the relationship between activism and academia, which is the topic of my book on the Black Power movement and its impact on the academy. What I learned is that academia is about itself and that people who enter it are under great pressures to conform. Much in the same way that an executive is only rewarded for bringing in the next account, academics are rewarded for scholarship. The Black Power movement tried to change that dynamic and experienced very little success. The main reason is that people pay money to university for prestige, which follows research, not activism.
Does this mean that I think academia should abandon activism? Absolutely not! But my views do have consequences. First, most professors (and graduate students) will continue to be rewarded to research and teaching. Academic jobs that reward activism are rare. Second, understand that until one gets tenure, most of one’s time will be spent doing academic work. Third, if you are serious about social change, you will do things that get you no reward in the academy. Activism will be done because you care about it even though your boss won’t.
Academics do have a role in social change. And I don’t mean the Chomsky’s of the world who sit around and speechify about the man. Rather, I mean the academics whose work leads to tangible improvements. I think of people like Kenneth Clark, who helped litigate Brown and desegregate American schools. Or someone like Norman Borlaug, the biologist who helped the green revolution get off the ground by creating high yield crops that helped millions escape starvation. Academics do have a role in social change, but if you look at those who were successful you’ll see that they mastered their discipline and built a foundation of knowledge. In other words, professors who create social change aren’t the activists, they’re the ones who are really good professors and spent most of their time creating knowledge.
Pacific Standard had an article on where the antiwar movement went. They interviewed me, because of the 2011 article on how Obama chilled out the antiwar movement. A few clips:
About the same time I met the Egyptian protester, early 2011, University of Indiana sociologist Fabio Rojaswon headlines with a study that appeared to answer the question. Rojas found it curious that despite unpopular wars underway in at least two countries (Iraq, Afghanistan) or perhaps four (Pakistan, Yemen) or five (Somalia) or six (Libya), the U.S. had no meaningful anti-war movement. So with colleague Michael T. Heaney, Rojas had looked at attendance at anti-war rallies from 2004 onward. To his surprise, he found that attendance at public anti-war demonstrations had continued more strongly than generally assumed until 2008.
After President Obama took office in 2009, however, attendance in anti-war rallies crashed, even though Obama pursued many of the war policies from the Bush administration.
Initially, the cause seemed to be that the U.S. economy tanked then, and priorities turned elsewhere. But Rojas’ data also suggested that distraction wasn’t the whole story.
On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, my co-author, Michael Heaney, was asked to comment on the rise and decline of the antiwar movement. From The International:
Michael Heaney, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, reveals in his book manuscript in progress, that the anti-war movement came to a halt because a majority of US protests were inspired by anti-Bush and anti-Republican feelings.
According to Heaney, people felt less threatened when Obama entered office, even though he continued to pursue the war. “They were willing to trust their president, [they] thought he’d deal with it in the right way.”
This notion of trust may have prevented Obama’s supporters from seeing the truth. Heaney explains that, “Obama’s policies were very similar to Bush’s policies. Bush had started reducing troops; Bush signed the Status of Forces Agreement. Obama said he’d bring them home faster than he actually did.”
In a news release by the University of Michigan, Heaney says, “The antiwar movement should have been furious at Obama’s ‘betrayal’ and reinvigorated its protest activity. Instead, attendance at antiwar rallies declined precipitously and financial resources to the movement have dissipated.”
Check it out.
My student* Karissa McKelvey has a co-authored a paper on the geography of Occupy Wall Street with Michael Conover, Claytion Davis, Emilio Ferrara, Fillipo Menczer, and Alessandro Flammini. Analyzing Twitter traffic data, The Geospatial Characteristics of a Social Movement Communication Network explores the clustering of OWS in specific urban areas. A nice use of social media and required reading for those interested in recent movement history.
* Actually, she’s Fil Menczer‘s student, but she’s so awesome I claim her as well since I’m her minor concentration adviser.
Going to Eastern Sociological Society (ESS) annual meeting in Boston on Thur., March 21 through Sun., March 24? Details about the ESS conference are available here.
Here’s a special plug for a “conversation” between senior scholars about organizations:
3:30-5pm, Fri., March 22, 2013
156.Organizations and Societal Resilience: How Organizing Practices Can Either Inhibit or Enable Sustainable Communities Conversation
Whittier Room (4th Flr)
Organizer:Katherine Chen, City University of New York
Presider: Katherine Chen, City University of New York
Discussants: George Ritzer, University of Maryland
Carmen Sirianni, Brandeis University
Here are several examples of other panels and presentations relevant to orgtheory:
Read the rest of this entry »
If you are a social movement researcher, you often want data from the media. But there are serious logistical problems, not to mention the regular problems one has when one tries to interpret media data. Obtaining media data is hard. You need a lot of resources to do any but the most basic analyses. Doug McAdam’s group had a large NSF grant to support a detailed coding of the NY Times. In my own research, I had a team of undegraduates work for a year to scour three major newspapers for reports of Black student protest events.
That era is now over. As long as the media your are interested in is digitized and accessible, you can compile a data set in days, if not hours. There are two general approaches. First, you can use search engines to generate lists of articles with key words. Then the human coders take their turn. Second, if you are merely counting words that clearly tag a concept (e.g., “the Tea Party”) then you can write (or pay someone to write) a program called a “web scraper” to load websites and extract the text you need. For older media, such as newspaper, say, pre-1990, this is hard. But if you have a question about a recent movement, then it’s orders of magnitude easier. I forsee an era where sociologists routinely partner with computer science geeks to generate powerful data sets cheaply and complete research in months, rather than years.
Over at the New Republic, Evgeny Morozov reviews Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age by Steven Johnson. The question is whether the Internet has a progressive effect or not. A few quick notes:
- The decentralized Internet seems to be a historical contingency. The Chinese Internet shows that it can be set up in ways that facilitate top down control.
- Movements often exploit new communication technologies (think mimeo’s in the 60s, fax in the 80s, or twitter in 2011) but eventually the Man will catch up.
- Except for some very specialized activism (e.g., Wikileaks), the Internet has not changed the overall structure of “brick and mortar” activism: use some social ties, make some orgs, do some protest, lobby some people.
What is the case for Internet as progressive force?
CUNY colleagues at the Murphy Institute have produced a downloadable report based on their survey and interviews of OWSers about the OWS social movement. Here’s a description of the report:
“Faculty members Ruth Milkman, Stephanie Luce, and Penny Lewis co-authored Changing the Subject: A Bottom-Up Account of Occupy Wall Street in New York City. The research team surveyed 729 protesters at a May 1, 2011 Occupy march and rally in New York City, and conducted extensive interviews with 25 people who were core activists in the movement. The survey used a methodology developed and widely deployed in Europe for the study of large protest demonstrations to obtain a representative sample of participants. This report provides the most systematic demographic snapshot available of the Occupy movement and also explores the reasons why it gained traction with the public, making the issue of economic inequality central in the nation’s political debate. The study also shows that the movement had a pre-history, with strong links to previous U.S. social movements, and a post-history, with activities continuing long after the eviction of the Park. While Occupy may have faded from daily headlines after the protesters’ eviction from Zuccotti Park, the issues it sparked and the activism it inspired remain very much alive.”
The report’s descriptions of OWS’s democratic organizational practices, as well as subsequent Occupy Sandy relief efforts, may be of particular interest to orgheads.
In addition, those in the NYC area might like to participate in this semester’s line-up of papers on OWS at the Politics and Protest workshop, organized by John Krinsky and Jim Jasper, at the Graduate Center. The workshop follows Chuck Tilly’s rules of etiquette.
Are you a cultural sociologist who needs a dissertation idea? Here’s one emerging from our discussion of movements and “mainstream culture”:
A big issue in cultural sociology is boundary work – the effort people expend in sorting people and things into classificatory schema. See Mary Douglas and Michel Lamont. Here’s the question: how do movements fit into the political schema of their society? How would you measure the boundary of “legitimate” political actions? How can you tell if a movement is accepting or rejecting the schema? How is that acceptance or rejection related to the movement’s history and identity?
Tim Carmody of The Verge has written a nice remembrance of the recently deceased Aaron Swartz. Carmody talks about Aaron’s ideals and his ability to turn beliefs into action. It’s a nice tribute and one that made me think about my own ideals and commitments. I especially liked this section from the essay.
I also keep thinking about a point Aaron’s father made during his eulogy for his son in Chicago, and that Thoughtworks’ Roy Singham reprised in New York. Over and over again, we’ve seen technology companies, whether startups or giants, push the boundaries of the law for their own gain. We celebrate it. We call it “disruption.” The existing commercial powers largely understand its motivations and can deal with it using tools commercial powers understand: civil lawsuits, ad campaigns, market pressure, private agreements, buyouts, and payoffs.
Aaron didn’t play that game. After he sold Reddit, he couldn’t be bought. In fact, he was spending his own money, and his valuable time, on campaigns for the public good, and helping others to do the same. He was a realist about the government, media companies, and Silicon Valley. His experience with all of them made him grow up too soon. But he also never stopped being that not-even-teenager who believed in the utopian possibilities latent in the World Wide Web. He never stopped believing in the power of small groups of people who were willing to devote their attention to small problems and nagging details in order to create the greatest good for the greatest number. Aaron played in that space without resolving its tensions.
That’s a nice description of the kind of mentality that a dedicated activist must have if he or she is to endure the failures they’re likely to experience when pushing against the boundaries of authority and the status quo. Nevertheless, Aaron’s life is a reminder of just how difficult that struggle can be.
Last week, I asked if it was true that left social movements were counter-cultural. A lot of the debate seems to revolve over whether there is a mainstream culture or average voter. For example, David S. Meyer wrote in a comment:
The average opinion isn’t the average person’s opinion, and I’m always wary when reading about the American public as a singular noun. On abortion, for example, I’m sure you can choreograph a majority around the safe, legal, rare principle you articulate, but not a huge majority.
A few responses to David and the other folks who wrote other comments. The issue isn’t whether there is or is not a single mainstream culture. Rather, it’s whether movements accept or reject what most people believe is mainstream culture.
For example, if most people believe that “serious people” wear a coat and tie to work, then a movement that shows up to lobby Congress in Birkenstocks and tied-dye shirts will be at a disadvantage, even if the modal person may in fact wear these items. Returning to David’s example, maybe it is the case that there is a more widespread distrust of abortion than one may suspect. But since the average voter (and yes, the modal voter) believes in some form of legal abortion, a movement that thumbs its nose at the majority is at risk. Just ask Richard Mourdock.
I’m agnostic on whether left movements are intrinsically counter cultural, but movements definitely can be counter-cultural (or not) and they suffer, or benefit, from that position.
Francesca Polletta has a really nice essay in Contemporary Sociology in which she reviews several new-ish books about participatory democracy and how its practiced in different organizational settings. One of the books she takes up in the essay is by our co-blogger Katherine Chen and another is by former guest blogger, Daniel Kreiss. In her essay Polletta makes the point that participatory democracy as a mechanism for collective governance has gone mainstream. A variety of actors now use participatory democracy in their organizational forms, from online activism to political campaigns to for-profit business. Although the practices used to implement participatory democratic processes vary across settings, they all embrace the principle that “decisions [should be] made by the people affected by them.” It is typically associated with nonhierarchical leadership and collective deliberation.
The essay is well worth reading. One of the issues that comes up whenever we talk about participatory democracy is its sustainability as a governance mechanism. Can an organization grow and maintain its participatory processes? The political theorist Roberto Michels thought that the answer was no. He argued that as radical political organizations grew in scale and scope they faced internal pressures toward bureaucratization and oligarchy. The inevitable outcome of the oligarchization process was that once radical organizations became captured by careerists with a more conservative agenda. Organizational scholars have assumed that these internal pressures are overpowering.
Although Polletta doesn’t address Michel’s hypothesis directly in her essay, she suggests that some organizations are learning to deal with these internal pressures. Experience and learning from others has helped organizations develop better processes and ways of dealing with pressures to bureaucratize.
Last semester, an undergraduate student wrote an essay about the Vietnam war movement. She asked why the movement itself was relatively unpopular even though the public was becoming disillusioned with the war. In other words, the antiwar movement won on policy, but lost on politics. Why?
Her hypothesis was that the antiwar movement became strongly associated with the counterculture. This is an important point. In my research on movements – mainly movements of the left for the most part – I have found that activists tend to have a very tense relationship with mainstream American culture at best. They think that conventional politics and bourgeois culture are to be mistrusted.
This leads to an issue that I’ve been thinking about – is left politics inherently counter cultural? Maybe not. The Civil Rights movement was obsessed with adherence to the social norms of the day. Participants were urged to be polite, look proper, and learn how to work within and against mainstream institutions. Nowadays, most left movements seem to have a hostile relationship to mainstream culture. Occupy Wall Street was a grungy DIY movement. The antiwar movement of the 2000s followed in the steps of the anti-globalization movement in working outside conventional channels. For anyone interested in social change, it is worth thinking about this link and if it is a necessary development, or merely an affectation of a current generation of activists.
I have a book review out on the book Rethinking the American Antiwar Movement by Simon Hall on the H-Diplo list. I focus on how we know that the movement actually caused the end of the Vietnam war in any significant way:
This leads to a major theme in research on antiwar movements. In an essay in The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements (2005), Sam Marullo and David S. Meyer argue that peace movements face an uphill struggle. There are many incentives for states to wage war, while there are few restraints. Once it is clear that a nation-state is moving toward war, it may be too late for a movement. Passions are strong and leaders do not wish to look weak. For these reasons, antiwar movements are reactionary and face massive obstacles.
Overall, I raise questions about the types of evidence that historians tend to produce. Check it out.
The deadline for the ASA annual meeting submission is upon us. This year the online submission due date for the conference is January 9. That’s right, you have 6 days left until your submissions are due! Here’s a link to the call for papers and to the online submission system.
I’d like to call your attention to one of the sessions for the Collective Behavior and Social Movements section. The session topic – Social Movements, Corporations, and Consumption – is one that many of you may be working on and so I’d encourage you to submit. Although the session is sponsored by the CBSM section, I imagine that some of you working in economic or political sociology might have an interest in this as well. Deana Rohlinger and I are organizing the session. I’m pasting the description below:
Social Movements, Corporations, and Consumption. In a global economy, multinational corporations are omnipresent in the lives of individuals. Corporations provide services, objects for consumption, and leverage their substantial presence in the affairs of government and civil society, making them potential sites of political contestation. This session will include papers that examine the push and pull between corporations and the social movements that seek to alter their practices and policies. In addition, we seek papers that look more closely at the relationship between social movements and consumer society – one potential pathway through which activists might influence corporate outcomes. Corporations try to establish trust with consumers and other stakeholders by holding themselves up as socially responsible organizations begging several questions: How do social movements challenge and effectively change “responsible” authorities (ones that are not necessarily political)? Can corporate marketing strategies like GAP Red undermine movements? What role does reputation (of either the corporation or the movement) play in this dynamic? How do movements mediate the relationship between corporate reputation-building and consumer audiences?
In a comment, August noted that the Democratic party historically has been responsible for a whole lotta wars, so there is no reason to believe that the Democratic party is the natural home of the antiwar crowd. Until Iraq ’03, the GOP hadn’t initiated a major war since 1898, when the McKinley administration fought Spain and followed up with a 10 year colonial war in the Philippines. Until Bush II, GOP wars were small (Lebanon ’56, Iraq ’91, Somalia ’93) or the GOP brought big wars to an end (Korea, Vietnam). Nixon expanded an already massive war, making him sort of an exception.
So why is the antiwar movement associated in the imagination with the Democratic party? Why the shift to the Democratic party in the 1960s? A simple hypothesis: Counter culture. The GOP has consistently been the party of the bourgeoisie and the puritans. Right now, antiwar activists are counter-cultural in their personal style and political rhetoric. Therefore, you can’t have them in the same room with the puritans. Call it long hair dynamics. If one groups fails to honor the norms of another group, then policy doesn’t matter.
Last week, we discussed the role of social media and movements, where I suggested that we needed to think more about how “open spaces” such as Facebook or Twitter might facilitate protest. Huggie Rao sent me a new ASQ paper co-authored by Sunasir Dutta about the role of free spaces in movements. The data is from an 1857 mutiny in India and argues that religious festivals create temporary free spaces:
Free spaces are arenas insulated from the control of elites in organizations and societies. A basic question is whether they incubate challenges to authority. We suggest that free spaces foster collective empowerment when they assemble large numbers of people, arouse intense emotion, trigger collective identities, and enable individuals to engage in costly collective action. We analyze challenges to authority that invite repression: mutinies of regiments in the East India Company’s Bengal Native Army in India in 1857. We take advantage of an exogenous source of variation in the availability of free spaces—religious festivals. We predict that mutinies are most likely to occur at or right after a religious festival and find that the hazard of mutiny declines with time since a festival. We expect community ties to offer alternate avenues of mobilization, such as when regiments were stationed close to the towns and villages from which they were recruited. Moreover, festivals are likely to be more potent instantiations of free spaces when regiments were exposed to an oppositional identity, such as a Christian mission. Yet even free spaces have a limited ability to trigger collective action, such as when the political opportunity structure is adverse and prospective participants are deterred by greater chances of failure. These predictions are supported by analyses of daily event-history data of mutinies in 1857, suggesting that free spaces are an organizational weapon of the weak and not a substitute for dissent.
Last week, I gave a brief talk at ARNOVA, the academic association of non-profit scholars. Our friend, Katherine Chen, asked me to speak about Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, and other recent movements.
My talk focused on a few simple points that deserve further thought:
- First, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) represents a rejection of traditional progressive organizing. Throughout the 20th century, a lot of left social movements have worked through big organizations – unions, NAACP, the National Women’s Party, etc.
- Second, the Tea Party represents the first major conservative movement in American history to happen completely within the Republican party. Tea Party sympathizers are overwhelmingly Republican, Tea Party orgs were started by GOP PACS.
- Third, the Arab Spring represents a sort of melding on for-profit and non-profit spaces. Facebook and twitter aren’t just electronic message boards. It’s a “place” where activism was planned in a space of relative safety. And remember, Facebook is a for-profit group.
Add your own view on the link between recent movements and the non-profit form in the comments.
This is the last installment of this Fall’s book forum on Andreas Glaeser’s Political Epistemics. I usually reserve the last installment of the book forum for criticisms and conjectures. This will be no exception. I’ll focus on the limits of the sociology of understanding as it pertains to explaining revolutions.
As you may remember from earlier parts of the book forum, the theoretical mission of Political Epistemics is to develop a “sociology of understanding,” which is a thick description of how people make sense of their social worlds. Glaeser used interview data and archival materials to explain how people developed their identity in East Germany and how that identity eroded in the 1980s to such an extent that the Stasi refused to repress anti-socialists movements in 1989.
What I like about the sociology of understanding is that it effectively undermines Western theories of socialist collapse. It wasn’t about folks reading Hayek. It was about East Germans using socialist ideas to formulate a critique of the whole system. The internal criticism was like tugging at a loose thread.
Now, what I take issue with is the incompleteness of this explanation. It doesn’t really tap into other elements of the socialist system and its eventual collapse. For example, you don’t really get a sense of the extreme violence involved in maintaining East European socialism. This system was imposed by political conquest. It was also supported by periodic mass repression (e.g., Hungary ’56, Prague ’68). East European nations did not treat dissidents well and many were violently treated. I’m a bit surprised that Glaeser didn’t delve into the violence that permeated the entire system.
Another issue is that by itself the sociology of understanding doesn’t explain the timing of the collapse. Why in 1989? Didn’t people question socialism before then? They did and there were uprisings as well. Heck, even Emma Goldman observed in the early 1920s that people weren’t thrilled with what was happening in the Soviet Union.
The key issue is that there was a generational turnover in the elite of the Soviet state and they were willing to let social change occur. This created a chain of protests first in the Baltic region, then Russia itself and then East Europe. As usual, various factions tried to repress these movements but the key elite group - the secret police – refused to do so. Thus, Glaeser doesn’t really, in my view, replace conventional views of revolution that link elite support of protest to success. Rather, he provides an account for why the elite might defect from the state. This fits neatly within current theories of revolution.
Finally, let me add that what I’d like to see is additional work by other scholars. I’d like to see the sociology of understanding applied to other groups, not just the elites. How did, say, farmers in the Ukraine construct their experience of communism? What was it about the Baltic states or those souls in 1956 Hungary that made them come out in the street? I’d love to find out.
Movement gurus: Best research on how movements demobilize after a policy victory? I knew we have some on civil rights post-1964. Other good articles/books? My own work focuses on electoral victories (e.g., antiwarriors demobilized after Obama won). How about policy victories?
As the first anniversary of OWS passes, we’re starting to see publications by researchers that both describe and attempt to assess the potential impact of such organizing efforts in the US and elsewhere. One is Todd Gitlin‘s Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street. Those who have kept up with OWS won’t be surprised by such nuggets as Denver OWS’s election of a border collie to meet the mayor who insisted on working with a leader from a “leaderless” movement. Nonetheless, most readers will benefit from Gitlin’s contextualization of OWS’s organizing practices. For instance, chapter 4 discusses the human microphone‘s appearance in the antiglobalization movement, and chapter 6 covers other antecedents such as the Wobblies and SDS.
The longterm impact of such movements may be evident in participants’ expansion of their organizing toolkits with less familiar practices. However, as I reminded my students yesterday during a discussion of Wal-Mart’s workplace practices and their own experiences in the retail work and the service sector, such moments of action are often lost from history, even from academic accounts. Given the many gloomy studies of how organizations don’t serve larger interests, the absence of alternative examples can reinforce a sense that the status quo is inevitable, that alternative paths are not possible, or that taking action is fraught with overwhelming pitfalls that disenchant participants.
Have recommendations for readings on alternative organizing practices for change? Put them in the comments.
Mobilizing Ideas provides a fantastic forum to talk about the latest trends in the world of activism and social movement scholarship. This month’s essay dialogue is extra special to me though since the topic is Mayer Zald’s contribution to the study of social movements and organizational theory. Contributors to the dialogue are Lis Clemens, Jerry Davis, Jackie Smith, Sarah Soule, and myself. The essays touch on Mayer’s direct influence on the field as well as future directions for research about movements and organizations.
Feel free to stop by and contribute to the conversation!
My paper with Mae McDonnell about the relationship between CSR, reputation, and activist targeting has been spotlighted on the Harvard Law School Forum. The paper shows that contrary to conventional wisdom, firms that have positive reputations and that do a lot of socially responsible actions are not less likely to become targets of anti-corporate activists. Just the opposite is true. Companies that have built positive reputations and that engage in a lot of CSR activities are actually more likely to become the focus of activist campaigns. Why is that? Well, because social movement activists thrive on media attention – that’s how they shape the public agenda and put pressure on companies to change their behaviors – and high reputation companies that are known for doing good are more likely to attract media attention when activists expose their less-than-virtuous practices. Thus, developing a positive reputation has a big downside.
Reputation, in this sense, has become an important liability for firms. Once a firm develops a positive reputation, they are obligated to maintain it. From the activist perspective, there is much to gain by forcing firms to defend their reputations. Not only do they generate more attention to their cause by targeting high reputation firms (King 2011), but the net social impact is also positive. As these firms do more prosocial activities to renovate their image after the boycott, they subsequently dedicate more resources and strategic focus on CSR. A virtuous circle, at least from the perspective of the activist, follows. More CSR practices leads to an improved (or at least maintained) reputation, which causes the firm to continue to be a target of activism, the consequence of which is more commitment to CSR. From the point of view of the company, however, having a good reputation can be a “double edged sword” or at least a potential liability when facing activists who seek the public limelight (Rhee and Haunschild 2006).
You can download the complete paper now on SSRN.
A few weeks ago, we got into a debate over the frequency of social protest (see the comments to this post). How many people have joined a movement? A few answer:
- olderwoman correctly points out that the GSS has a protest question, whose answer varies wildly from 5% to 30%.
- Neal Caren’s research group published an article in the ASR using a range of data sets. The supplementary table is here. Depending on question wording, 10-20%.
- Catherine Corrigal-Brown’s Book, Patterns or Protest, analyzes data from a longitudinal survey of political participation called The Student-Parent Socialization Study (ICPSR 07286-v3), which followed people in the 1960s to the 1990s. That survey asks a detailed series of questions on movement participation, which yield some higher numbers, around 30% in a given year. See pp. 27-28.
Bottom line: Protest is not rare, but it isn’t done by the average person. I suspect the number depends on year and word question affects, as well as definition of protest, which may include fairly common types of contention (e.g., NIMBY and union organizing).
We’ve invited Gar Alperovitz, professor of political economy at the University of Maryland, to write about his ”real utopia” session with Steve Dubb that will take place at the upcoming ASA conference (details below).
Our session, “A Pluralist Commonwealth and a Community-Sustaining Economy,” aims to prompt broader discussion of what we see as a central question of our times: “If you don’t like capitalism and you don’t like traditional socialism, what do you want?” For too long those seeking to “change the system” have been taunted by the famous Margaret Thatcher line, “There is no alternative.” We think it is time to begin to systematically think through the building blocks of what a systemic alternative that moves beyond the old options of state capitalism and corporate capitalism might look like in the real world.
Based on ongoing research on various forms of emerging democratic ownership being done at the Democracy Collaborative, the paper also suggests some practical paths that we believe can help move in the proposed direction. We hope our panel and the paper spark an intellectually rigorous, fun, and engaging discussion of these topics.
The essay is posted at the Real Utopia website, and the session will take place Friday, August 17, 8:30am-10:10am. We welcome those of you get up early morning on Friday to join us!
Ed Walker, UCLA sociologist and former ogtheory guest blogger, has written an op-ed for the New York Times about corporate grass-roots lobbying. Those of you who follow Ed’s work will know that he has identified a trend among corporations that sponsor grass-roots mobilization to persuade the public and government regulators to promote corporate-friendly policies. His op-ed likens this active lobbying effort to more tacit forms of citizen support for corporations, such as the recent “buycott” of Chick-Fil-A by consumers who approved of the company’s president’s stance on same-sex marriage.
Ed notes that political outspokenness by corporations is more common (and are more successful) than we might suspect:
I estimate that 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies use grass-roots-mobilization consultants. Many are independent agencies founded by former political campaign professionals searching for revenue during electoral off years, deploying their voter outreach skills to help companies win. Others are branches of large public-relations conglomerates. Businesses hire these consultants most often when facing protest or controversy, and highly regulated industries appear to be some of the heaviest users of their services.
Today, for instance, anyone turning on a TV or radio might easily face ads from the American Petroleum Institute’s Vote4Energy campaign or the natural gas industry’s mobilization to defend the controversial drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing. The Durbin Amendment’s cap on debit card fees prompted Visa and Bank of America to support a grass-roots campaign through the Electronic Payments Coalition. Tobacco firms are behind Citizens for Tobacco Rights, just as they supported the National Smokers’ Alliance two decades ago. Pro-tobacco campaigns often fail, but not always: in California, tobacco-related groups spent almost $47 million to defeat a June ballot measure that would have imposed new cigarette taxes to pay for cancer research.
For those of you interested in the research from which these findings come, here is a link to Ed’s 2009 ASR paper. Here are the posts that Ed wrote as a guest blogger on orgtheory before he became famous in the pages of the NY Times.
I’ve got a short article in Go Teach, the official magazine of the Future Educators of America. The topic is whether college students should protest. The essay is aimed at high schoolers. First, I try to demystify protest:
The protests themselves are fairly routine events, unfolding like a play. People are told to gather at some place that has a symbolic or strategic importance. At Indiana University, where I teach, an Occupy student group showed up at the business school because they were fighting corporate greed. Once people show up, they often hold up signs or other props that express their issue. Then, near the end of the rally, there are often speakers who come and rally the protestors.
Near the end:
Protest is like everything else in life. Most of the time, protest doesn’t matter. Just as most companies go out of business, protest often goes unnoticed and unrecorded except in the student newspaper. College protesters, in particular, are in a weak position. Students graduate and seek jobs, and they may not be around for the long term. As students, they have little authority or influence over the administration or faculty.
But that doesn’t mean that protest is pointless. Once in a while, college protests do have an impact. Sometimes, they have a massive impact. College protest often spills out into the rest of society. America would be worse off if students from the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina hadn’t sat down at Greensboro lunch counter in 1960. The conservative student protesters of the 1960s, the Young Americans for Freedom, became the Republican Party activists of the 1980s.
Protest isn’t for everyone. A recent study by Catherine Corrigal-Brown of the University of Western Ontario shows that only about one third of Americans have ever participated in a protest movement. Most Americans don’t attend rallies or marches. Voting is a much more common way to register one’s opinion. But still, that doesn’t mean that protest should be avoided. Rather, protest is a choice that reflects how we see ourselves and the opportunities available to us. Sometimes, stirring up trouble is the most effective way to the make the world a better place.
Check it out.
Class warfare sports, accidentally effective social movements, New Yorker Traps, and bullshit California weekend activities
Over at Crooked Timber, I present a dispassionate and self-evidently objective analysis of social organization and classification in Olympic Sports. Go there for the full analysis, but here’s the figure: