bias in social movement research
Earlier 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 see it is that movement research is shaped by the following biases:
- Survivor bias: We tend to focus only on movements that succeed in mobilizing.
- Success bias: We tend to focus only on movements that get what they want.
- Progressive bias: We tend to focus on movements that come from the left.
Of course, there are exceptions. For example, Rory McVeigh is a well known student of right wing populism and Kathleen Blee’s latest book looks at a random sample of Pittsburgh area movements.
But in general, the overall focus of movement scholarship reflects these tendencies. For every Ziad Munson who studies pro-life groups, we have five other scholars studying pro-choice groups. Collectively, movement scholars should supplement their individual case studies (including my own) with data sets like the NY Times/Doug McAdam/Stanford data set or Blee’s data that looks at larger samples.
Use the comments to discuss or praise research that works against these biases.
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