Archive for the ‘social movements’ Category
A few comments, in no order, about anarchism and OWS:
- OWS is probably the most important anarchist event in about 100 years of American history. Probably more important than the Battle of Seattle, in my view. You would really have to go back to the late 1800s when people really did fear anarchists.
- OWS represents a rebranding (sorry!!!) of American anarchism from black masks to (mostly) non-violent protest.
- It is an open question of how much anarchist identity penetrates the movement. It’s safe to say that anarchist egalitarian practices dominate, but does the average participant buy into a goal of a stateless society?
- Black bloc: OWS made anarchism come above ground. In my field work on the antiwar movement, I always found it a little disappointing that people resorted to the black bloc and often hid their identities. I am glad that OWS had allowed this movement to have a public face.
- Did OWS push distinctly anarchist ideas beyond organizational structure? Unclear to me.
- Question: Is OWS an distinctly American anarchism?
- Question: Will anarchism go underground again, or can OWS be used as a stepping stone to more fully integrate anarchism into American politics and culture?
Use the comments section.
On Saturday, Liberationtech tweeted the post I wrote about Occupy Wall Street and its organizational tactics. This led to a direct exchange between David “The Debt” Graeber and myself. The thread touched on an number of topics, but we seemed to get stuck on the issue of impression management.
One commenter, Brett Fujioka, pointed out that open structures, like OWS, allow kooks to associate themselves with the movement. He used the extreme (but real) example of when David Duke openly praised Occupy Wall Street. This could damage OWS’ reputation. Even though the example is skewed, one could point less extreme examples of where openness can lead to damaging the brand. For example, there was a series of Occupy events in Oakland that resulted in vandalism at city hall. Due to its open structure, it is not easy to dissociate oneself from such actions.
When I raised the issues of branding, David said that just by using the word he knew all he needed to know about me. I was impressed by his ability to treat a 140 character tweet like a zip file. Then he said he couldn’t believe he was even having this conversation. I said, “yet, here we are.” He then told me that this conversation was over… and then he tweeted me again. The Graebs lives up to his reputation.
Anyway, my overall point is that social movements vary a great deal in their internal organization. Despite what Dave-G said, some “real democratic” movements actually spent a great deal of time making sure they had the right image or brand. The civil rights movement was notoriously obsessed with image. Perhaps OWS is really a movement that eschews any connection at all with the mainstream. But lots of other successful and important movements rely on external help, which is one of the core lessons of modern movement research. And to do that, you have to be careful about how the outside world sees you.
UPDATE: W. Winecoff notes on twitter that “Occupy Wall Street” is a brand and “99%” is a slogan. Man, what we think of after the argument is over!
On an ideological level, the Civil Rights Movement and Occupy are clearly fellow travelers. They both are openly anti-racist and anti-inequality. However, there is an important sense in which the Occupy movement is an obvious rejection of the CRM: tactics and organization.
Roughly speaking, the CRM deployed “big organizations” in the pursuit of a clearly defined mission. The organizations were Black churches, political groups (e.g., the NAACP), and various labor and student groups. While there was no single leader, the CRM clearly has a leadership class that set the agenda and worked in a fairly top-down manner. It was also highly bureaucratic in that that they set a vast apparatus (the SCLC) to collect funds, conduct litigation, and distribute resources.
In contrast Occupy works on an explicitly decentralized plan. The movement strives to have a horizontal structure and leadership, in the traditional sense, is discouraged. There is no analog to the NAACP or CORE. It also has a very vague set of goals, at least in comparison to the CRM’s demands for voting rights and equality in housing and education. And they openly reject institutionalized politics, rather than engage in the way the CRM did with voting drives and occasional electioneering. Perhaps the only major overlap between Occupy and the CRM is the use of non-violence.
The split between Occupy and the CRM raises an important question: why is the most celebrated progressive movement of the present one that so obviously rejects the successful strategies of the past? Maybe it has to do with the collective memory of the CRM, where the typical Occupier sees the CRM as a failure in some way. Maybe it’s historical amnesia, an ignorance of progressive history. Or perhaps the goals of Occupy in some way are completely incompatible with the tactical and organizational innovations of 20th century left politics. It’s a questions that merits an answer.
While attending a Burning Man-related event in NYC during the mid-2000s, I ran into a group of well-dressed “advocates” who satirically called themselves “Billionaires for Bush (or Gore).” Using personas like Ivy League Legacy (aka Melody Bales) and Phil T. Rich (Andrew Boyd), this troupe has deployed humor, irony, and satire to underscore the weakening of democracy by moneyed interests and the resultant growing inequality. According to the NYT, this group was one of many that were under surveillance by the New York Police Department (NYPD) during the months leading up to the the 2004 Republican National Convention in NYC.
Rutgers anthropologist Angelique Haugerud‘s (2013) No Billionaire Left Behind: Satirical Activism in America delves into this irrepressible and well-organized social movement group. The book kicks off slowly, with the obligatory carnival analysis that characterizes many academic studies of festivals and performance. Nonetheless, the book excels in contextualizing larger social issues, including the erosion of American safety net policies and the ascendency of the financial sector. Using interviews and observations, Haugerud reveals how this social movement group has secured an audience and media presence: building up a recognizable brand (“Billionaires for X” – or in the case of Mitt Romney, “Multi-Millionaires for Romney”), storytelling to rally the troops around co-optations of various political candidates’ messages, hustling for resources (i.e., bartering a canoe for 100 tuxedos to dress “Billionaires”), and using humor and impression management to deflect public stereotyping of demonstrators as militant, “angry,” and “smelly.” This book neatly captures the challenge of how to get social movement messages out via corporate media, which for the most part, have eschewed careful analysis of complex phenomena, while sidestepping barriers to free assembly and free speech. In addition, the book depicts the difficulties of coordinating local chapters whose members may have their own ideas about acceptable practices and messaging that could muddy the social movement brand.
Although Haugerud adopted the name of Billionaire persona, she didn’t fully immerse in Billionaire character, opting for a primary identity as a resident anthropologist who overtly took notes while at meetings and events. How she negotiated access isn’t entirely clear, although the troupe seemed to appreciate being the focus of an anthropological study. In all, this book offers a vivid depiction of the strategy and tactics of a contemporary social movement. Those who are involved in social movements will find the practices depicted useful for expanding the organizing toolkit.
One of the highlights, okay THE highlight, of my trip to Berkeley this week is that I was able to sit down and have a long chat with Neil Smelser. Much of our meeting was research oriented, as I’ve been working for some time on a paper about the Berkeley administration’s reactions to the FSM, and Smelser was involved in both that and the subsequent restoration of the campus to a normal state of affairs. But I couldn’t help but wander off topic and talk some sociology with him. I felt like such a fanboy. What a deep well of knowledge and insight!
During our conversation, I learned that Neil’s oral history was released this year by Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. Anyone interested in the intellectual history of the discipline of sociology ought to read this. The oral history is quite long – nearly 800 pages of Smelser talking about his experiences and views about everything from working with Parsons to seeing a transformation in the sociology department during the 1960s student movements. Jeffrey Alexander wrote the foreword to the history, extolling Smelser’s accomplishments as both a scholar and a contributor to the academic community. From Alexander, I learned about Smelser’s stunning early career accomplishments:
During his first year of graduate school, Smelser coauthored Economy and Society (1956), a major work of theoretical innovation with Talcott Parsons, the towering figure of mid-century sociology. Recounted here for the first time in detail, Smelser’s analytical contribution to that joint project triggered a fundamental advance in functionalist theorizing, an idea about societal interchanges that continues to be influential to this day. In the Ph.D. thesis that soon followed, Social Change in
the Industrial Revolution (1959), Smelser created a new approach to class conflict and historical change, anticipating future research on family and gender in a book that immediately became a contemporary, if controversial classic. Just three years later, Smelser’s Theory of Collective Behavior (1962) appeared, a gigantically ambitious, systematic theory of social movements and cultural change that played a central role in defining the field for decades to come. One year after came his pioneering Sociology of Economic Life (1963), a subtle and precocious essay that adumbrated the future sub-discipline of economic sociology. In less than a decade, and still two years short of his 35th birthday, Smelser had already published a life’s work of radically new sociological theory.
So before the age of 35, Smelser had written major works in economic sociology, collective behavior and social movements, and industrial sociology. His first book with Parsons and his 1963 book laid the foundations for economic sociology. Smelser was appointed as the editor of the American Sociological Review in 1961, just 3 years after coming to Berkeley as an assistant professor. He was the youngest editor ever of that journal at 31. Just as remarkable, Smelser was given tenure just a year after arriving at Berkeley from graduate school. Here is his account of how that happened:
The European Group for Organizational Studies is hosting their annual colloquium next year in Rotterdam, Netherlands on July 3-5. Simone Schiller-Merkins, Philip Balsiger, and I are organizing a subtheme entitled, Movements, Markets, and Fields. For those of you who have never been to EGOS before, the format of the conference allows you to hang out with the same group of people in your subtheme for a couple of days, offering in-depth feedback on research projects in a concentrated area of study. EGOS gives you the intimacy of a small conference,while also facilitating interactions with a broader group of organizational scholars from a variety of disciplines. Here’s our Call for Papers:
Sub-theme 22: Movements, Markets and FieldsConvenors:Brayden King, Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management, USASimone Schiller-Merkens, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, Cologne, GermanyPhilip Balsiger, European University Institute, Florence, Italy
Over the past decade, scholars have paid increasing attention to movement activism targeting organizations and markets. Pioneering research has studied whether and how this activism matters for the emergence and change of industries, markets, and corporations. These studies have suggested a revised perspective on markets and organizations as fields of political conflict (King & Pearce, 2010). While the field concept has a long tradition in organization theory, scholars have only recently begun to think about fields as sites of continuous struggles over meaning, identities, and positions (Bourdieu, 2005; Beckert, 2010; Fligstein & McAdam, 2012). Fields take shape and evolve as a result of contentious interactions between different kinds of actors. In order to further advance this scholarship, this sub-theme is especially interested in papers that adopt a field approach to study the interactions between movements, organizations, and markets.
We invite papers that address the strategic interactions between (a) movements and firms, (b) between different kinds of social movement organizations, and (c) within firms and social movement organizations. With respect to interactions between movements and firms, we particularly welcome papers that address the counter-strategies used by organizations to react to movement demands, and the market transformations that eventually result from this. Possible research questions to be asked are:
- How do corporations react to movement activism? Why do firms sometimes comply with a movement’s demands, and at other times treat their demands as irrelevant?
- How do movement demands, targets, and tactics get transformed in the interactions between social movements and corporations?
- What consequences do firms’ counter-strategies have on field positions, identities, and market categories?
- How does the interaction between movements and corporations influence the processes, tools, and standards of valuation and evaluation on which markets are built?
Social movement organizations (SMOs) often target the same set of corporations. However, we know little about the interactions between them and the strategies with which they differentiate themselves. We therefore encourage papers that address questions such as:
- How do different types of SMOs interact in their mobilizing against corporations?
- When do SMOs coordinate their actions and when are they in conflict? What effects does this have on their outcomes on corporate targets?
- How do SMOs develop their repertoires of action and identities, in isolation from one another, in competition, or in cooperation with one another?
- Do (and if so, how) SMOs perpetuate differences in ideology over time in their collective mobilization against the same set of corporate targets?
- Regarding the identity and practices of SMOs, why do some of these organizations become specialists with a narrow repertoire of activities while others become jacks-of-all-trades?
Finally, organizations are also contested from within and can be seen themselves as fields of contested interactions between different kinds of actors. We therefore invite papers that look at issues surrounding the following questions:
- What forms does political conflict in firms take? What about political conflict and activism within SMOs?
- Under which conditions do activists within organizations achieve their aims?
- What role do extra-organizational factors play for the outcome of internal movement activism?
- How do firms retaliate against their employees for activism?
- What consequences do internal conflict and strategic interaction have on the development of organizational identities, goals, and values?
Please consider submitting your short paper to our session!
Last week, Brayden asserted that there is a split among movement researchers. Some still do case studies, while other are comparative.
I definitely believe that we’ve expanded. But is this really a split among researchers? I referee a lot of movement papers and the multi-movement papers are far outnumbered by single movement papers. Also, I have yet to see any systematic argument against the regular case study approach.
So, is there a split? What do you think?
This post is both intellectual and self-interested. Throughout my career, I have chosen to focus on specific movements and treat them like a “laboratory” for social change. My work on Black Studies uses Black Power as starting point for studying institutionalization. My more current work on the anti-Iraq War movement examines how parties interact with movements.
One problem that persistently comes up during peer review is that people have problems with the selection of the movement. The complains often say (a) “Why study one movement?” or (b) “Your sample is too limited/has issues.” For example, I am currently having a paper reviewed that has a sample of nearly 700 activists drawn from the largest convention of social movement activists in recent years. The reaction from prior reviews? “Meh.” Here, I refer only to the sample, not criticism of the paper’s theoretical argument, which has been revised in subsequent versions.
The touchiness about the sample puzzles me because many of our most enduring works on social movements rely on samples of activists from a single organization or movement. For example, many of McAdam’s papers on Civil Rights movement participation often rely on extremely specific samples, like the paper with Paulsen that uses data from the Freedom Rides – a very specific phase of the Civil Rights movement. Snow et al. 1986′s article on framing uses a hand full of interview snippets from Christian activists to illustrate the function of framing within movements. Meyer and Whittier’s spill over paper uses illustrative cases from the women’s movement.
So, why the push back on the sample? A few hypotheses:
- That’s just sociology. We have inconsistent standards.
- The field has shifted. We no longer tolerate samples from one organization or movement. The norm is just different.
- Outsiderness. Perhaps, papers that analyze a sample of activists is just not what is expected from a movement paper, so people are hyper-critical.
Aside from being personally frustrated on this issue, I find it puzzling. If one really wants to understand activists and movements participation, then it would be normal to generate data from a sample drawn from, say, protests, or an organizational roster, or participants in a movement convention or conference. As long as your question is about internal comparisons, and not comparing participators with non-participators, then this seems obvious – at least to me.
This is a guest post by Karissa McKelvey. She is affiliated with the Complex Systems PhD program at Indiana University’s School of Informatics. She works on the intersection of social media and political mobilization and has co-authored papers on Occupy Wall Street and the More Tweets/More Votes phenomenon.
Why Data Science is just a fad, and the future of the academy
We expect students to write research papers as well as do statistics in R or STATA or Matlab on small datasets. Why don’t we expect them to deal with very very large datasets? We are told that “Data Science” is the answer to this “Big Data” problem.
I’d like to redefine Data Science: it is the act of gluing toolkits together to create a pipeline from raw data to information to knowledge.There are no innovations to be made in Data Science. The innovations to be made here are in Computer Science, Informatics, Statistics, Sociology, Visualization, Math, etc. — and they always will be.
Data Science is just engineering.
For those of you looking for a reason to head to Cuba and present your research, here’s your chance.
“Constructing Alternatives: How can we organize for alternative social, economic, and ecological balance?”
5th annual Latin American and European Meeting on Organization Studies, Havana, Cuba, April 2-5, 2014
“…the purpose of this 5th LAEMOS Colloquium is to share empirical and theoretical research on the dynamics of development, resistance, and innovation with the aim to promote alternative forms of organization in Latin American and European societies…Under the general theme of the meeting, the aim is to collect and connect a broad variety of studies, narratives and discourses on initiatives for alternative forms of development and innovation. We also welcome studies and reflections about the redefinition of boundaries, collaboration, and conflict among government, business, and civil society, in shaping social change, organizational (re-)configuration, and developmental action…
In particular, this is a Call for Papers for the following prospective sub-themes (but not limited to them):
The corporatization of politics and the politicization of corporations
The political economy of organizations
Sustainable and unsustainable tales of sustainability and social development
Alternative roles and forms of managerial action
Alternative spaces: communities, cities as models of collective agency
Transnational networks for protest and for change
Digital worlds, online forms of organization and action
Papers taking an interdisciplinary perspective on dynamics of change, innovation, power and resistance are particularly encouraged. Theoretical and empirical papers looking at alternative forms of social, economic, and ecological development from an organizational perspective are also of special interest. They may include studies that link micro level case analysis to macro level institutional and global forces, that investigate processes as well as structures, and that take a historical and contextual approach….
Subtheme Proposal: July 31, 2013
Abstract submission (1,000 words): 15 November, 2013
Notification of acceptance: 15 December, 2013
Submission of full paper (6,000 words): 5 March, 2014
You are welcome to submit a subtheme proposal at laemos2014 [at] gmail.com. For more information about the conference and frequent updates please check www.laemos.com.”
Full cfp available here.
For those of us who wish to consider the implications of recent worldwide events, three of anthropologist David Graeber‘s books offer a deeper understanding of relatively unfamiliar organizing practices and their relationship with democracy:
(1) Direct Action: An Ethnography (2009, AK Press)
(3) The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement (2013, Random House)
Fabio’s previous posts covered one of Graeber’s most famous books Debt. For those of us who teach and practice orgtheory, Graeber’s work on direct action and criticisms of bureaucracy offer much-needed insight into how collectivities can gel in taking action. In particular, his in-depth account of how groups make decisions by consensus offers rich examples that can help students and practitioners understand the steps involved, as well as the pitfalls and benefits of these alternatives to topdown orders. (Other examples in the research literature include Francesca Polletta’s research on SDS and my own work on Burning Man – see chapter 3 of Enabling Creative Chaos: The Organization Behind the Burning Man Event).
I’m happy to announce that the Organization Studies special issue on social movements, civil society, and corporations is finally being published. The online version of the issue is already here! What began as a small workshop in southern France in which scholars from all over the world (literally, we covered every continent except for Africa) got together to share their empirical research and talk about ideas has now turned into a published work. I’m very excited about the final product. The issue has an interesting set of articles from authors on both sides of the Atlantic and covering diverse empirical settings, from the 19th Century creation of the limited liability corporation in Britain to the astroturfing of an anti-corporate movement in modern day India. The studies illustrate various ways in which civil society penetrates corporate entities via social movement mobilization and how civil society, in turn, is being shaped by movement-corporate interactions. I won’t discuss each paper here, but if you’d like an overview, feel free to read the introduction to the special issue.
Thanks to the reviewers, many of whom are orgheads, and authors for your contributions to the issue.
According to the International Business Times, UK edition – a gathering of right wing extremist was chased off – by women in badger suits. The article explains:
A rally by extremists from the British National Party and the English Defence League was dwarfed by opposition campaigners staging rival protests in London on Saturday 1 June.
Shortly after lunch, a die-hard core of around 50 BNP and EDL supporters was confronted outside parliament by hundreds of activists from anti-extremist groups including Unite Against Fascism and Hope Not Hate.
But in the event, both groups were upstaged by agitators of a different stripe. Decked out from head to toe in black and white, the group that won the day were campaigning neither for race war nor ethnic equality, but an end to the government’s cull on badgers.
And it was the pro-badger campaigners who appeared to steal a march on the political activists.
Young women dressed in fake fur were seen chasing doughty nationalist supporters down London’s Whitehall as a large number of security forces in iridescent jackets looked on from police lines.
Led by Queen guitarist Brian May, protesters in fancy dress demanded an end to the government’s cull of badgers, brought in to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis.
No comment needed.
Consider this a sequel to Friday’s post about feminist politics.
1. One issue that repeatedly came up is what it means for the women’s movement to have “won.” For example, Eric thought that I was saying, or suggesting, that women had achieved complete equality with men. This speaks to the ambiguity of what I wrote. In general, there is no clear definition of what it means for a movement to have “won.” What we can do is consider differently goals and objectives and see what the movement managed to do. In my view, there’s a good argument for saying that the movement really did win.
- Voting rights: Women’s rights had a clear win with profound implications for American politics in general.
- Access to education: Once again, a clear win with huge implications. Remember, that as late as 1969, some Ivy League schools were still not admitting women into the same institution as men. Title IX, which requires equal resources for boys and girls in schools, is also a massive achievement.
- Birth control: You can thank a lot of women’s rights activists for legal access to birth control pills.
- Abortion: There’s a lot of heat, and people are still fighting, but Roe v. Wade has remained the law for 40 years and courts routinely overturn state bans on abortion. Also, as Ziad Munson’s book amply documents, the public has been slightly pro-abortion rights – for decades.
- The Professions: There is a long trend toward increased female participation in most professions. Some important professions, such as law, have huge cohorts of women.
- Civility: Nearly three decades ago, my mother got into a slap fight with a male co-worker because he grabbed her in the rear. And people at work didn’t seem to care. Now, there’s all kinds of legal and social pressures for civility at work.
In other ways, the women’s rights movement experienced some big failures:
- The ERA: This is probably considered the movement’s biggest policy failure. But I still give a lot of credit because (a) Congress approved it and (b) they got 35 (!) states to ratify it. In other words, a majority of Americans went for the ERA. That’s amazing success, compared to most movements.
- Redressing work related discrimination claims: Even though gender based discrimination is not legal, it is notoriously hard to prove. See, for example, the debate recently on this blog.
- Division of household labor: This is probably the only major feminist policy objective where the movement has gotten nothing, or nearly nothing. As far as I understand the literature on the topic, men still do relatively little house work and child care compared to women and this hasn’t budged very much.
If you believe this sketch, then it’s fair to say that feminism has scored a lot of big and long lasting victories as well as some big losses. But overall, I’d score this match as “Feminism 3, Anti-feminists 1.” Schafly won against the ERA, but we’re still living in a world of cheap birth control, legal abortion, legal divorce, and women who both raise families and have successful careers. Sure, you could come up with a standard saying that feminism didn’t win, but most movements would be envious of these hard won victories.
2. The radical flank and the feminist brand: The other issue that seemed to get comments was the issue of whether more radical elements of feminism existed (they do), whether these were invented or exaggerated by conservative opponents (once again, yes). But the larger issue for me is branding and how the radical flank affects a movement’s image.
There is ample evidence that the *average* woman does not embrace the feminist label, even when they agree with the policies. This has been found in studies conducted by popular media as well as academic research. My hypothesis, which may be wrong, is that the radical flank has managed to de-legitimize the feminist brand. I have not seen any direct tests of this hypothesis, but here’s a thought experiment. If you were to take a random sample of Americans and ask them to write a sentence or two about what they think feminism is, what do you think they would write? Try this out on your class of Soc 100 freshmen and tell me the answer.
A friend recently linked to an article in the Daily Mail by Rebecca Walker, daughter of Alice Walker. Rebecca Walker describes her contentious relationship with her mother. A lot of it is simply competitiveness, a mother who must out do the daughter. It is also easy for successful people to ignore their family, but Rebacca places a lot of the blame on feminist ideology. For example:
According to the strident feminist ideology of the Seventies, women were sisters first, and my mother chose to see me as a sister rather than a daughter. From the age of 13, I spent days at a time alone while my mother retreated to her writing studio - some 100 miles away. I was left with money to buy my own meals and lived on a diet of fast food.
Then I meet women in their 40s who are devastated because they spent two decades working on a PhD or becoming a partner in a law firm, and they missed out on having a family. Thanks to the feminist movement, they discounted their biological clocks. They’ve missed the opportunity and they’re bereft.
Feminism has betrayed an entire generation of women into childlessness. It is devastating.
This article reminds me of a question that a number of sociologists have considered: Why is feminism being rejected as a political identity? After reading Walker’s essay, I now better appreciate the contours of feminist thought. First,there is the stuff that Walker doesn’t talk about. A lot of feminism and women’s right’s theory addresses the issue of status and equality. On this side of things, feminists clearly won. Women have the right to vote, they occupy positions of leadership, and they have access to nearly all professions. An important legacy of feminism, but not mentioned.
Walker’s essay instead focuses on another feature of feminist theory: the attack on traditionally feminine traits, motherhood, and domesticity. I am not referring to the argument that women should have the option to work outside the home. Rather, there is a stronger argument saying that motherhood and domesticity is inherently bad. Rebecca Walker’s essay is an insightful illustration of this. Rather than admitting that her daughter is simply different and that she enjoys family life, Alice Walker views domestic life, including her own and her daughter’s, as a betrayal of women’s rights.
Once you disentangle these two sides of feminism, things are a little less puzzling. After winning the battle on rights and equality, people quickly took these things for granted. They forgot who fought for things like the right to go to attend the same colleges as men, or easy access to birth control. Instead, the average person probably focuses on the more sensational features of feminist thought such as the view that motherhood is slavery.
I’ll end on a scholarly and tactical note about social movements. The trajectory of post-70s feminism is interesting because it shows how a successful group can lose influence by shifting focus from demands that have wide appeal to demands that have little appeal. The lesson is that if you win battle, it is often smarter to retrench than to overextend.
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.