Archive for the ‘social movements’ Category
This summer, Casey Oberlin finished her Ph.D. and she will soon join the sociology faculty of Grinnell College. Her dissertation is a fascinating study of the Creationism Museum in Kentucky. It’s hard to do proper service to such a rich work, but I’d like to summarize some key points for students of social movements and organizations.
Roughly speaking, one branch of the creationist movement has decided to drop conventional politics and instead spend their resources on a museum. This is an interesting issue – why would a museum be viewed as a viable movement strategy? A few key points from Casey’s work:
- This is an example of “bypassing” where movements decide that electoral politics is limited.
- This is an example of trying to encourage cultural change.
- This is a leveraging of existing academic and intellectual structures. They don’t reject science and academia, they dispute one specific issue (evolution).
- This is an example of factionalism and organizational learning, where current creationists have decided to break off and do it differently because of previous movement failure.
There is much, much more. A nuanced work.
Klaus Weber and I have a chapter in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Sociology, Social Theory, and Organization Studies, in which we discuss the history of the connection (or lack thereof) between social movement theory and organizational theory. In writing the chapter we wanted to go back to the roots of each theory and talk about missed opportunities for intellectual cross-fertilization. Both literatures are, after all, primarily concerned with group behavior, problems of collective action and coordination, and dynamics of stability and change. Why did it take so long for the two theoretical areas to engage one another? (I should note that social movement theory has for some time borrowed ideas from org. theory, but this doesn’t really amount to full engagement in my mind.)
We argue that in the early years of American sociology, social movements and formal organizations were viewed as very distinct phenomena – social movements are irrational and disruptive and formal organizations are rational and stability-inducing – and that this characterization prevented scholars from seeing potential empirical overlap.
Research on both social movements and formal organizations was thus sparked by an interest in how individual behaviour—embedded in traditional family and societal structures as well as self-interests—is transformed in collective contexts. However, the two emerging fields focused on rather different forms of transformation. Social movement theory evolved from a subfield that saw collective action as irrational, spontaneous, emotional, and emergent (Blumer, 1957; Smelser, 1963; Turner & Killian, 1957); whereas organizational theory was largely focused on the rational pursuit of collective goals within the walls of bureaucracy (Crozier, 1964; Gouldner, 1954; Weber, 1947). Moreover, early collective action research saw spontaneous crowd behaviour as disruptive of social order, while organization theorists saw formal organizations as sources of social domination and stability. To the eyes of sociologists at the time, social movements were typically ephemeral, deviant, and potentially destructive (Couch, 1968). Formal organizations, in contrast, were purposefully organized, stability-inducing, and functional. It is no surprise that collective behaviour and organizational scholars in the 1950s and 1960s saw few commonalities.
In doing research for the paper we uncovered a really fascinating quote from a 1959 Social Problems article by Lewis Yablonsky, a sociologist studying gangs as a form of social organization. (Interestingly, before becoming a sociologist, Yablonsky claimed to have grown up on the streets and became a proficient dice and card hustler. Naturally, once he became an academic he gravitated to the study of deviant behavior.) In the article, Yablonsky explicitly compares collective behavior, like crowds and mobs, and formal organizations.
At one extreme, we have a highly organized, cohesive, functioning collection of individuals as members of a sociological group. At the other extreme, we have a mob of individuals characterized by anonymity, disturbed leadership, motivated by emotion, and in some cases representing a destructive collectivity within the inclusive social system. (Yablonsky, 1959: 108)
Yablonsky, a keen observer of social life, came to the conclusion that there are many types of organizations that exist in the middle of this continuum. Yablonsky’s insight, although he meant it to apply specifically to gangs, has since become widely shared by both social movement and organizational scholars. Social movements are much more organized, routinized, and rational than previously thought, but they are still frequently characterized by intense emotions and contagion-like processes. Formal organizations are much less permanent and stable and more emotional than a previous generation of scholars believed, but it is the existence of routines and collective identity that allow them to resist environmental threats. The more we understand both phenomena, the more we recognize similarities. Pioneers in the field like Mayer Zald and John McCarthy realized this early on and helped make those connections. In more recent years, the bridge between the two fields has been developed more fully as organizational scholars have gone to social movement theory to re-conceptualize the organization as a political actor that is shaped by various ongoing kinds of collective action.
Our paper talks about how the two fields became friends and offers a few insights about where we think the fields are heading and what might be gained from further merging. Check it out if you’re interested.
ASQ has just published my online my review of Kathleen Blee’s Democracy in the Making. The book is an intensive study of the development of 97 activist groups in Pittsburgh. It’s a book that has earned its praise. Two key quotes from my review, on methods and the implications for political theory:
A number of empirical points about this book deserve mention. First, the diversity of the groups Blee studies is a nice counterpoint to the focus on highly professionalized groups that often dominates the literature on social movements.
We encounter many small groups run by a single person, in addition to groups that have attracted large followings. Second, Blee employs the language of sequences and turning points to organize the argument, which allows her to focus on specific events that have effects on further development, such as defining issues and setting group boundaries. Third, by identifying the turning points, Blee is able to discuss the paths not taken, which is an analytic strength of this work.
The implication for democratic theory is that the effectiveness of citizen action depends a great deal on what might be seen as innocuous choices made by activists. This is not obvious from other theories of political economy. Mancur Olson’s work, for example, argued that basic features of groups, such as their size, affect their influence. Blee’s work suggests a rather subtle link between culture and democratic decision making. The choice that activists make in defining their group relies on their cultural repertoire: when people define who is in the group, they will likely rely on the practices in their society. This, in turn, will affect how the group develops, which affects its ability to promote its agenda. Thus culture indirectly affects democracies through its influence on activist groups.
Mobilizing Ideas has a nice feature where they recommend summer reading:
- Phillip Ayoub on LBGT activism in Africa
- Catherine Corrigal-Brown on activism in British Columbia
- Paul-Brian McInerney on Soule’s corporate activism book
- Will Moore on policing
- Jo Reger on child abuse
- Deana Rohlinger on collective action fiction
- I wrote on dissidents in East Germany (the Glaeser book)
Check it out.
when hybrid organizational identities can help attract supporters – AJS paper by Heaney and Rojas now available online
How can social movements gain supporters? According to Michael T. Heaney and Fabio Rojas‘s hot-off-the-virtual-press Jan. 2014 AJS paper “Hybrid Activism: Social Movement Mobilization in a Multimovement Environment,” one way that social movement organizations can appeal to prospective members is to use a hybrid identity that can attracts individuals from a variety of social movement interests. While prior studies have argued that hybrid organizations are penalized by an “illegitimacy discount” for not having a clear identity, the authors argue that boundary-crossing works for some contexts such as social movements.
Here’s the abstract:
Social movement organizations often struggle to mobilize supporters
from allied movements in their efforts to achieve critical mass. The
authors argue that organizations with hybrid identities—those whose
organizational identities span the boundaries of two or more social
movements, issues, or identities—are vital to mobilizing these constituencies.
They use original data from their study of the post-9/11 U.S.
antiwar movement to show that individuals with past involvement in
nonantiwar movements are more likely to join hybrid organizations
than are individuals without involvement in nonantiwar movements.
In addition, they show that organizations with hybrid identities occupy
relatively more central positions in interorganizational cocontact networks within
the antiwarmovement and thus recruit significantly more
participants in demonstrations than do nonhybrid organizations. Contrary
to earlier research, they do not find that hybrid organizations are
subject to an illegitimacy discount; instead, they find that hybridization
can augment the ability of social movement organizations to mobilize
their supporters in multimovement environments.
Kudos to the authors for wearing-out-the-shoe (p)leather: Using survey data collected from antiwar movement demonstrators in several major US cities between 2007-2009, the authors identified which organizations protestors belonged to, and which organizations had recruited them to these demonstrations. After collecting online information about these organizations’ missions, a team of coders (followed by another team of coders for inter-rater reliability) then identified these organizations as belonging to one or more of 11 non–mutually exclusive categories: antiwar, peace, peace church, social justice, personal identity, partisan or ideological, education related, religious, environmental, labor union or labor related, and other. Using these categories, the authors identified organizations as hybrids if they spanned categories. As a validity check on this coding of organizational identities, the authors subsequently conducted interviews with organizational leaders.
Check out a preview here.
I had the pleasure of reading Paul-Brian McInerney’s book, From Social Movement to Moral Market, as it was being written. It’s a good book that expands on the new sociology of markets, which focuses on how ideas of worth and value influence firms and exchange. The main contribution of McInerney’s book is explaining how one specific movement, the Circuit Riders, innovated the field of IT for non-profits. This is a big area of the market and it raises a number of issues that are worth discussing.
At first, the Circuit Riders start off as a typical movement. A small cluster of nerds who have the dream of helping non-profits exploit new information technologies. Later, things get interesting as Microsoft jumps into the fray and creates a hybrid organization that bridges the IT consulting world and the idealistic nerd world. This creates a sort of situation of moral ambivalence where people question the role of various organizations in helping non-profits. Thus, movements create new spaces that have to be negotiated as markets mature and become institutionalized.
The bigger picture is that McInerney’s book makes a strong case that movements are vital actors in society. Not only do they push for political change, but they are responsible for creating markets and organizations. I think research likes this makes the case that studies of social change should more consistently look for movement like actors across different social domains.
The American Historical Review published my book review of Black Against Empire by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin. BAE is the first book that gives a comprehensive account of the Black Panther Party. Oddly, nobody had ever sat down and just wrote the blow-by-blow history of the Panthers:
For the first time, one can read, in a single volume, a well-researched history that explains the origins of the Panthers in the context of Oakland neighborhood politics and the group’s transformation into a social service organization. For that reason alone, the book will become a classic in the growing black power scholarship.
Even though I was highly impressed, I felt that the book relies on a framing of Black Power history that contemporary historical and sociological writing is drawing us away from. A lot of early Black Power literature employed what one might called the “tragic hero” narrative – courageous activists created a powerful movement that was quickly undermined by factionalism and state suppression. As Carson Byrd and I argued in the Black Diaspora Review, that narrative only captures one dimension of the Panthers and the broader Black Power movement. Also, I think that some tough questions needed to be asked about the efficacy of the Panthers that Bloom and Martin fail to ask. Was the type of activism employed by the Panthers really an effective use of resources? My take away: excellent narrative and an important contribution, but there are still important debates about the Panthers that need to happen.
The website io9 has an article on the anti-D&D panic of the 1980s and the pro-gamer activists who fought them. From Annalee Newitz:
Thirty years ago, a war raged between the dorks who played Dungeons & Dragons, and the conservative parent groups who believed that gaming was debauched at best and Satanic at worst. Lives were ruined. People died. And now that war is over. I still can’t believe we won.
We heard rumors about how some kids weren’t allowed to play D&D. There was a pretty big evangelical Christian community where I grew up, and it wasn’t uncommon for other kids to point out that we were probably worshiping the devil. Which — I think one of my friends was a lawful evil cleric, so maybe there was some devil appreciation when a spell went right. But I classed these accusations in the same category as my friend’s evil cleric status. They were fantasies.
Still, unlike my fantasy of being a hot half-elf, the Christians actually had some control over our lives. My best friend got kicked out of Catholic school for playing D&D, which we counted as a win because it meant she could come to our shitty public school and play D&D with us. Outside our southern California town, however, D&D players weren’t getting off so easily. They were ostracized by their peers, kicked out of public schools, and sent to glorified reeducation camps by parents who feared their children were about to start sacrificing babies to Lolth the spider demon.
Fortunately, geeks won out – D&D is now just a hobby. There is also an archive site with anti-D&D literature. I actually know Newitz from way back. If I had known of here gamer side, I would have invited her to geek out!
This Wednesday, I will be a guest of the Department of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville. Along with Ibram X. Kendi, we will discuss the struggle for legitimacy in Africana Studies. The talk will be this coming Wednesday, March 26 at the Chao Auditorium at the University of Louisville at 5:30pm. I will be hanging out all day at Pan-African Studies, so if you want to meet, just email me.
The following is a review of W. Lance Bennett’s and Alexandra Segerberg’s The Logic of Connective Action: Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics. The review is slated to be published in AJS sometime later this year.
One of the most significant changes to social movements is activists’ use of digital technology and media –from texting to Facebook and Twitter. Arab Spring and the Occupy movement brought these technologies’ transformative potential to the public eye. Observers praised activists who relied on digital media to coordinate collective action, to resist authority, and to broadcast their claims to a global audience. Despite the important functions such media have played in movements, sociologists who study social movements have been slow to address their role in activism. Bennett’s and Segerberg’s book is a welcome introduction to the topic and should, I hope, convince more sociologists that our theories of movements should consider social media as a distinctive resource, one that transforms the way people engage in activism rather than simply augmenting traditional communications.
The authors make three main points. First, in contrast to traditional forms of collective action, digital media create a competing logic of connective action. This logic is derived from beliefs in individuality and distrust of hierarchy and authority, a desire to be inclusive, and the availability of open technologies. Second, with digital media people contribute to movements through personalized expression, rather than group actions that coalesce around collective identities. This high level of personalization allows individuals to connect in flexible ways, adapting movements to fit their own lifestyles, beliefs, and meaning. Ideology and shared identity take a backseat to individuality and expression. Third, communication becomes the basic form of organizing, replacing hierarchical structures and professional leaders. Bennett and Segerberg are careful to recognize that in many situations standard models of collective action exist side-by-side with connective action. Yet, their main intent is clearly to explore and uncover the dynamics of this new approach to organizing rather than explicitly compare the two.
A provocative study in the inaugural release of Sociological Science shows that online activists may be less active/less engaged than the activist community would hope. The vast majority of people who joined the Save Darfur Facebook campaign “recruited no one else into the Cause and contributed no money to it.” The authors of the study concluded that “Facebook conjured an illusion of activism rather than facilitating the real thing.”
One possibility is that this pattern reflects activism of all kinds. In any cause, whether it be online or offline, there are many joiners but few participators. The authors hint at this potential when noting that the Facebook campaign reflects the traditional collective action problem. Once people join a movement, they have little incentive to exert energy, resources, or time if they think others will do it instead.
But the other possibility is that there is something unique about social media activism that is demotivating. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, “The Nature of Slacktivism” investigates this possibility at the social psychological level. In a laboratory experiment, the authors of this study show that people who are assigned to join a public Facebook activist group are less likely to participate in the movement subsequently (stuffing envelopes) than are people who are assigned to a private Facebook activist group. The key difference between a public and a private group is that in the public group your friends can see that you joined. The authors claim that there are two functions that activism often serves for individuals: impression management (i.e., looking good in front of others) and value consistency (i.e., a desire to align your actions with your values). Social media activism satisfies individuals’ need for impression management; hence, the reason a number of people dropped out once they felt their friends noticed their efforts. Only people who are reminded about their pre-existing values will likely follow through with a deeper level of engagement.
The two studies together suggest that there may be a reality behind this idea that social media facilitates slacktivism. Of course, this isn’t to say that movements would be better off without social media. There are many positive informational benefits that social media create for movements. And other scholars have suggested that online activism is simply a different form of social movement altogether – one that deserves being studied on its own terms. But these studies should also make us skeptical when Internet evangelists declare that social media have released traditional movements from past constraints.
Social Movement Studies has a new issue out. The topic is networks. A few articles:
- Florence Passy and Gina-Andrea Monsch ask if networks matter.
- Rachel Stevenson and Nick Crossley exam elite IRA networks.
- Mark Tremayne adds to the literature on Twitter and Occupy.
The entire issue is recommended.
Zeynep Tufecki has an article in DML Central about the relationship between social media and movements. The argument is interesting. Before, to effectively communicate, you really had to get your act together. So they side of effect of communication was movement building. Now, you don’t need any hierarchy, organization, or leadership. Social media allows you to bypass that:
Forefronting affordances and capabilities, instead of focusing on platforms or tools, allow for analytic depth without getting tangled in the specifics of the technology. Paradoxically, it’s possible that the widespread use of digital tools facilitates capabilities in some domains, such as organization, logistics, and publicity, while simultaneously engendering hindrances to movement impacts on other domains, including those related to policy and electoral spheres.
For example, in the past, the capability to organize a large-scale march on Washington, or a bus boycott in Montgomery, required extensive organization, coordinating everything from car pools to laboriously publishing pamphlets to setting up many meetings that in turn determine organizational and logistical issues. Similarly, battling for visibility through broadcast media often required investing in institutions that became familiar with the workings of media and power.
In contrast, modern mobilizations often turn to social media for coordination, logistics, publicity and more. For example, four young people in their early twenties, with no military or logistics training, coordinated the setup of ten sizable field hospitals during the deadly, massive clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in 2011 using Twitter, spreadsheets and documents on the Internet (through Google Docs), along with cell phones to keep in touch with multiple points (Bear in mind that dozens of people were killed and thousands were treated at these field hospitals staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses, so this was not a minor operation to organize or supply). During the initial uprising of January/February 2011, Egyptian activists befuddled all censorship attempts and managed to get their own attractive narrative out to international media. Gezi protesters in Istanbul used social media to coordinate logistics for their spontaneous, massive gathering which, at some points, involved multi-day clashes with the police, and was partially accomplished by otherwise inexperienced, novice protesters who were also able to overcome the censorship of the pliant Turkish broadcast media. There are countless examples of how social media allows mobilizations to carry out fairly impressive feats with little prior infrastructure.
However, this lowering of coordination costs, a fact generally considered to empower protest mobilizations, may have the seemingly paradoxical effect of contributing to political weakness in the latter stages, by allowing movements to grow without building needed structures and strengths, including capacities for negotiation, representation, and mobilization. Movements may grow quickly beyond their developed organizational capacity, a weakness that becomes critical as soon as a form of action other than street protests or occupation of a public space becomes relevant.
Read the whole thing. Strongly recommended.
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.