Archive for the ‘social movements’ Category
Jamile Lartey of the Guardian wrote an article addressing campus protest at Harvard and what students of social movements have to say current activists (see my post earlier this week):
For 80 years the family crest of the brutal slaveholder Isaac Royall Jr served as the official seal of the prestigious Harvard Law School.
Royall, whose endowment founded HLS in 1817, once instructed that 77 enslaved Africans be burned alive at the stake for an insurrection on his family’s Antigua sugar plantation.
In March, student protesters at Harvard notched a decisive victory in their fight to “decolonize” their campus, when administrators announced they would retire the Royall family seal, citing “the prospect that its imagery might evoke associations with slavery”.
Two months later, many of the students who pushed for the change say the decision is bittersweet. The removal of the seal sends a message, they say, but it doesn’t do enough to address the currents of racism on campus.
The article has a nice overview of current protest. Lartey also discusses From Black Power to Black Studies in some detail:
In his book From Black Power to Black Studies he chronicles how black activism and demands in the late 1960s led to the creation of new academic departments and disciplines like black studies, and later Chicano and women’s studies that exist to this day.
“Students are so into the adrenaline of protests and screaming at people but then you have to know when there’s an opening, when do we have a moment to actually get something reasonable in. You have to be prepared with something that will really work in the context of that institution,” Rojas said. “Social movements do not win by merely being expressive, they have to have a plan.” This, Rojas said, is different from simply having demands.
Rojas cited the protests at San Francisco State College in 1968 as an example of the tenacity and organization required to effect meaningful change. A coalition of students of color demanded the school open a black studies department along with more ambitions demands like free tuition for all students of color. Students forced the issue with a “guerrilla campaign”, which included mass rallies spawning hundreds of arrests, physical intimidation and even small-scale bombings. They also threatened a strike. Ultimately administrators and students arrived at a compromise.
These demands were considered radical in 1968, but compared with the standard of some of last autumn’s student protests, they are comparatively mild. Students at the University of North Carolina, for example, demanded the “elimination of tuition and fees for all students” and the defunding and disarming of campus police.
Will today’s student protesters marshal the same leverage, patience and intensity to force these kinds of concessions? “Students can make change to these institutions,” Clayborne said. “It comes from small groups of committed people coming together and building it.”
I recently had a long discussion with a journalist about the current state of black student activism and we spent a lot of time thinking about what can be learned from the past. I started with two major points:
- Have specific and achievable demands. One of the big lessons of movement research is that you need to present ideas that make sense within the institutional context of the protest. Hire more minority faculty? Achievable. End all micro-aggression? Not achievable.
- Clearly link protest tactics to outcomes. A lot of protest is highly expressive and it is not clear how it is linked to some concrete social change. One of the brilliant tactics employed by the students at Missouri was having football players boycott an NCAA game. The penalty was $1 million per game. The protest mattered.
Then, we got into more subtle issues:
- When possible, student activists should be deeply involved in activism off campus. In my study of the Third World Strike, I was deeply impressed with how much help campus activists got not only from “protest groups” (like the Oakland based Black Panthers) but also from religious leaders, attorneys, and politicians.
- Learn to cultivate alliances with institutional insiders. In my book on Black student protest and Black studies, I discuss numerous instances where students relied on deans, consultants, and lawyers to help push their case.
- Know when to fight and when to compromise. Assuming that one has a well planned protest, there may be a point when you can get something. Social change is not about eternal fighting, it’s also about knowing when to claim a victory and get something.
Feel free to use the comments to discuss more lessons from research for activists.
I am currently working on a piece that closely reads the emerging theory of fields and the (non?) synthesis of movement research and organizations. At present, I am interested in the following theoretical questions.
- Is the theory presented in Theory of Fields the current standard? Lots of people have taken aim at ToF (including myself) but few people have offered alternatives. Is that accurate?
- What is the difference between Theory of Fields and Dynamics of Contention?
- What are the distinctive predictions of ToF/DoC?
A few brief responses:
- Even though ToF/DoC were thoroughly critiques, I think a lot of research can safely be described using the ToF/DoC framework. For example, if we look at recent issues of Mobilization, we see that many articles focus on “fields of organization” and topics that fit into the broad category of “state-challenger dynamics.” We also see some applications of the less appreciated parts of ToF, such as social skill theory, when we look at activist repertoires and political skill. In contrast, a lot of the critics of the ToF/DoC axis have yet to offer a systematic alternative.
- After reading ToF and DoC very closely, it is clear that ToF is an expansion and generalization of DoC. The main piece of evidence is that each book presents a diagram illustrating the basic unit of analysis – the incumbent/challenger episode of contention. In each book, the conflict cycle is almost identical. In ToF, it is Fgure 1.1. on page 20. In DoC , it is Fure 2.1 on page 45. The main difference is that (a) ToF situates the incumbent-challenger conflict episode within any field, not just the state and (b) ToF has some additional theory about distinctive fields and organizations (e.g., the state and accreditors/regulators within fields).
- On one level, ToF/DoC might be viewed more as a useful language than a theory with predictions – you can describe the anatomy of any conflict in ToF/DoC terms. On another level, ToF/DoC does make implicit predictions. The idea is that fields are structured patterns of relations, resources, and identities. Thus, any serious change should really focus on disruptions of that system, which, on the average, will be contentious.
Add your comments on field theory, ToF/DoC, and institutionalism in the comments.
Bryaden recently appeared on the Freakonomics podcast to discuss the effectiveness of boycotts. Click here to listen.
Reason magazine was gracious to feature Party in the Street in its December issue. A few clips from an extensive review of the book:
Party in the Street is a deceptively cheery title for an autopsy. In this book, the social scientists Michael T. Heaney and Fabio Rojas dissect the remnants of “the second most significant antiwar movement in American history” after Vietnam—the post-9/11 effort to restrain the American war machine.
In the years after the September 11 attacks, Heaney and Rojas write, peace activism became “truly a mass movement”: From 2001 through 2006, there were at least six anti-war demonstrations that drew more than 100,000 protestors, “including the largest internationally coordinated protest in all of human history” in February 2003.
The authors brought teams of researchers to most of the largest national protests from 2004 to 2010, and gathered reams of survey data from more than 10,000 respondents. Early on, they noticed substantial overlap between anti-war agitation and affiliation with the Democratic Party. That “party-movement synergy” helped the war opposition to expand dramatically during the administration of George W. Bush. It also, eventually, contained the cause of its undoing under Barack Obama. “Once the fuel of partisanship was in short supply,” Heaney and Rojas note, “it was difficult for the antiwar movement to sustain itself on a mass level.”
What lessons can be learned from the collapse of the post-9/11 anti-war movement? Party in the Street‘s final chapter offers some “strategies for social movements” at a time of heightened partisanship. They won’t do much to cheer would-be reformers of any stripe. “In an era of partisan polarization, social movements risk experiencing severe fluctuations in support concomitant with variations in partisan success,” Heaney and Rojas write.
It’s a risk that seems nearly unavoidable. Resisting party loyalty is no guarantee that a movement will achieve its goals. The Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 was so wary of being co-opted by political parties that Occupiers repulsed MoveOn’s attempts at solidarity and shouted down Green Party candidate Jill Stein at one encampment. Yet “antipartisanship had the effect of drastically narrowing Occupy’s supportive coalition,” the authors note.
Check it out.
Mobilizing Ideas, the social movement blog, is hosting a series called “Informing Activists.” In this series, hosted by Arizona’s Jennifer Earl and Thomas Elliot, social movement scholar present their ideas to young activists. Check it out!
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.