understanding how protest works: mizzou edition
There is a lot of writing on the resignations at Mizzou. Much has to do with race, others with college sports. In this post, I want to briefly touch on what social movement theory has to say about the effectiveness of the Concerned Student 1950 protest, which culminated when the Mizzou football team boycotted their game.
- Leverage: A lot of college protest is ineffective because it does not impose any real costs on administrators. For example, there were many Occupy Wall Street camps at colleges a few years back. My opinion is that the movement did not succeed for a number of reasons, one being that OWS did not actually force any real costs on their target. In contrast, strategically chosen boycotts can be highly effective. It has been reported that Mizzou gives up about a million dollars per forfeited game.
- Broad social support: The protest was the not the strategy of a single person, but of a wide range of people on campus. For example, the football players were able to recruit both black and white players. That does a lot to undermine the target of protest.
- Authority erosion: College protest often works when student activists successfully erode the authority of the leadership by challenging their ability to have others recognize their authority. While many made fun of the safe space at Mizzou’s campus, it is an effective disruption of the leadership’s ability to direct others on campus.
Bottom line: There is a lot to be learned about the mechanics of protest from the Mizzou boycott. Social movement scholars should use college protest as an opportunity to study how movements succeed and fail.
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