Archive for the ‘social movements’ Category
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.
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.