Archive for the ‘social movements’ Category
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.
One of the responses to Party in the Street is that, in some way, we refuse to acknowledge the hypocrisy of activists. For example, Robin Hanson made the following observation on his blog, Overcoming Bias:
If they had framed their story more in terms of hypocrisy, they might have asked which media or interest groups tried to tell antiwar protesters the truth before Obama was elected, what reception they received, and why did other big media chose not to tell.
- I believe X is bad and I support people who do X.
- I believe X is bad but I think that my favorite person is better at dealing with X than the other guy.
#1 might be called “bad faith hypocrisy.” We know that our moral claims and actions are different. #2 is more subtle. One might call #2 hypocrisy, but that is misleading since hypocrisy seems to entail conscious contradiction of actions and moral claims. Instead, #2 might be called “misplaced trust.”
What evidence do we have that the antiwar movement declined due to misplaced trust than bad faith hypocrisy? To show that there is misplaced trust, all one needs to show is that activists supported their friend because of a plausible case that there were substantial differences that were acceptable in the moral frameworks of the peace activists. We review this evidence in detail (see chapter 2), but I’d suggest that the de-escalation of Iraq (negotiated under Bush, carried out under Obama) is the major piece of evidence that Obama did something that was consistent with their views. Perhaps the most important piece of evidence against my claim is the massive escalation of Afghanistan, but the Democratic position was always that this was good and the beef of many activists was with Iraq, not Afghanistan. i suspect that most activists simply think that a Democrat would do better and leave it at that.
My good friend and co-author Michael T. Heaney discussed Party in the Street with Caleb Brown of the Cato Institute. Nice summary of the major themes of the book.
People often ask if a political group is a “movement.” In what sense is Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter a movement? In the social sciences, protest movements are often defined by the following:
- A collective action (not a single person, or a group of people acting at once by coincidence)
- Aimed at structural change in society
- Using contentious or non-institutionalized means.
Then, yes, Occupy and Black Lives Matter (and the Tea Party and many others) are clearly protest movements. BLM is, I think, mainly defined by a desire to see a complete overhaul of how police interact with Black communities. And not in a reformist way either. They are willing to be disruptive.
Some people balk at this answer because they have other movements in mind, like the Civil Rights movement. The issue, I think, is that BLM is a very young movement that has not developed the infrastructure of other movements. The CRM took decades to evolve from the early days of the Niagra movement of 1905 to its height in the 1960s. Occupy and the Tea Party are atypical in that they popped up relatively quickly. Normally, movements take years to get off the ground. It is fair, then to say that BLM is a young movement, or an early stage movement, but it is definitely not a mature movement analogous to CRM in the 1960s. Bottom line: BLM is real, but it has a long way to go. Let’s see where it goes.
- Meghan Kallman, Brown University (essay)
- Rebecca Tarlau, Stanford University (essay)
- Alex Barnard, University of California-Berkeley (essay)
- Jaime Kucinskas, Hamilton College (essay)
- Kyle Dodson, University of California-Merced (essay)
- Erin Evans, University of California-Irvine (essay)
- Paul-Brian McInerney, University of Illinois-Chicago (essay)
- Ed Walker, University of California-Los Angeles (essay)
In the NY Times, UCLA sociologist and orgtheorist emeritus Ed Walker had an insightful column about the nature of modern activism. What does it mean when an interest group can just “rent” a bunch of people for a protest? From the column:
Many tech firms now recognize the organizing power of their user networks, and are weaponizing their apps to achieve political ends. Lyft embedded tools on its site to mobilize users in support of less restrictive regulations. Airbnb provided funding for the “Fair to Share” campaign in the Bay Area, which lobbies to allow short-term housing rentals, and is currently hiring “community organizers” to amplify the voices of home-sharing supporters. Amazon’s “Readers United” was an effort to gain customer backing during its acrimonious dispute with the publisher Hachette. Emails from eBay prodded users to fight online sales-tax legislation.
So it’s reasonable to ask whether there’s still a bright line between being a business and being a campaign organization, or between consumer and activist. Tech companies’ customers may think they are being served. But they are often the ones providing the service.
The whole column is required reading and illustrates the nebulous boundary between traditional politics and social movement politics. Self-recommending!
PS. “Uberi-zation” is such a weird word…
Last week, Bryan Caplan wrote two lengthy posts about Party in the Street (here and here). He focuses on a few issues: the differences between Republican and Democratic administrations on war policy and the exaggeration of differences by activists. Bryan also argues that the arguments typically made by peace activists aren’t those he would make. Rather than condemn specific politicians or make blanket statements about war, he focuses on the death of innocents and war’s unpredictability (e.g., it is hard to judge if wars work ex ante).
The commenters raised a number of questions and issues. Here are a few:
- Jacob Geller asks whether the collapse of the peace movement is spurious and could be attributed to other factors (e.g., the economy). Answer: There are multiple ways to assess this claim – the movement began its slide pre-recession (true), partisans are more likely to disappear than non-partisans during the recession (true), and the movement did not revive post-recession (true – e.g., few democrats have protested Obama’s war policies). Movements rise and fall for many reasons, but in this case, partisanship is almost certainly a factor.
- Michael suggested that there was a Democratic war policy difference in that Al Gore would not have fought Iraq. One can’t establish anything with certainty using counter factual history, but Frank Harvey suggested that President Gore would like have fought Iraq, given the long standing enmity and low level armed conflict between Iraq and the Clinton administration (including Gore).
- Also, a few people raised the issue of voting and if the antiwar issue was salient for Democrats. A few comments – one is that in data about activists, Democrats tended to view Obama’s management of war in better terms than non-partisans. Another point is that opinions on the war affected vote choice in multiple elections. The issue, though, isn’t whether Democrats were motivated by their attitudes on the Iraq War. The issue is how that is linked to movement participation and how that changes over time, given electoral events. All evidence suggests that the democratic party and the antiwar movement dissociated over time, leading to the peace movement’s collapse.
Thanks for the comments!