party in the street: why study failed movements?

This is the last post responding to Professor Amenta’s lengthy, supportive and critical take on Party in the Street. We earlier discussed whether it was wise to group Afghanistan and Iraq and if our explanation of the anti-Vietnam War movement was valid. In the review, he asks, if the antiwar movement of the 2000s failed, what is the point of studying it?

Short answer: Don’t select on the dependent variable.

Long answer: In the social sciences, we often exhibit a bias toward success. We like to talk about Apple and Google, but not that’s a bad thing, especially if you want to study the outcomes of social processes. Failures are just as important as successes in the social sciences. You need a random sample of events or a sample where you can model the bias. So, in movements, we shouldn’t study only those that succeed. We need comparisons. And detailed case studies of a movement are way to start.

Peace movements are a class of movements that are notoriously unsuccessful, as we note in the book. By studying one in detail, and comparing with others, we can develop a sense of why that might be the case and then ask about other movements. Note: If you want a highly meritorious study of a study that uses a random sample of successful and non-successful movement groups, see Kathleen Blee’s award winning Democracy in the Making.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

September 26, 2016 at 12:06 am

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  1. […] this week, we discussed the need to study failed movements, not just the successes. Here, I want to draw attention to the general issue of bias in social movement research. The way I […]


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