Archive for the ‘social movements’ Category
On Friday, the Supreme Court rules that marriage should be available straight and gay couples in all 50 states. This represents the most important policy victory so far of the gay rights movement. How did it get there? Future scholars will no doubt write extensively on this issue, but it helps to start with political science 101: social change starts with the median voter. Courts, in general, do not create rights. Rather, courts tend to codify and formalize the political rights that people are already willing to accept.
The graph is taken from an article in the Gallup web site and it drives home this point about public opinion. Somewhere around 2011, the public tipped in favor of gay rights. Not surprisingly, courts and states became more likely to support gay rights after this point. The question is, why did public opinion tip? When I think about this question, I often start with the “repetition hypothesis” – repeat your point enough and your previously weird idea will become normal (i.e., you shift from non-doxa to doxa, for you Bourdieu nuts). Dorf and Tarrow discuss how gay rights groups thought about this process in this Law and Social Inquiry article. Basically, they anticipated conservative push back to their views on gay marriage and crafted their appeals with that in mind.
Bottom line: Lawyers and Supreme Courts are the end game. The battle is won and lost in the arena of public opinion.
Cracked is one of the best mainstream media sources for good social science analysis (no joke). From their article about why people hate protestors:
Wait For One Of Them To Break The Law, Then Talk Only About That…
This might literally be the oldest trick in the book. I’m thinking powerful people have been doing this to protesters and activists since the days when getting gored by a mammoth was a leading cause of death. It plays out like this:
A) A certain group has a complaint — they’re being discriminated against, had their benefits cut, whatever — but they are not the majority.
B) Because the majority is not affected, they are largely ignorant and uninterested in what is going on with the complainers. The news media does not cover their issue, because it’s bad for ratings.
C) To get the majority’s attention, the group with the complaint will gather in large numbers to chant and block traffic, etc. This forces the media to cover the demonstration (since huge, loud groups of people make for good photos and video) and cover the issue in the process (since part of covering the protest involves explaining what is being protested). In America we’ve seen this tactic used by everyone from impoverished war veterans, to women seeking the right to vote, to the protests about police violence you’re seeing all over the news right now.
D) To counter this, all you need to do is simply wait for a member of the activist group — any member — to commit a crime. Then the media will focus on the crime, because riots and broken glass make for even more exciting photos and videos than the demonstrations. The majority — who fears crime and instability above all else — will then hopefully associate the movement with violence from then on.
Convince The Powerful Majority That They’re The Oppressed Ones… Last year a billionaire investor said criticism of the rich today is equivalent to the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust. He’s not having a stroke; he’s under the influence of one of the most powerful techniques the system has in its arsenal. To get the majority to ignore complaints by any disadvantaged group, you simply insist that disadvantaged group has the real power and that the powerful majority is thus the underdog.
Mobilization should ask for reprint rights.
Over at Aeon Magazine, I have a short article on the question of whether protest works. Discussion of Gamson ’75 and more. A short clip:
Protest seems to be most effective when it is coupled with two things. First, there often needs to be an organized side of the movement. Movements succeed when some leader, or organization, appears who can help rally support, collect money, and make connections with insiders. While protest may jump start the process of social change, it still needs to be directed through institutions such as legislatures, courts, the educational system, and the for-profit sector. Outsiders need insiders, leadership makes the connection. Second, movements that succeed often have clearly stated goals that are consistent with our broader culture. There is a reason for the Civil Rights Movement’s success. The Civil Rights leadership worked tirelessly to connect Black equality with our Constitution and the desire to be a nation of free people. Thus, protest matters, but it has to work with other strategies and be suited to the problem.
Check it out.
The recent Political Science Quarterly carries my book review of Lisa Leitz’ Fighting for Peace: Fighting for Peace: Veterans and Military Families in the Anti-Iraq War Movement. My choice quote:
As a study of social psychology, Fighting for Peace is a strong contribution to the ever-growing literature on activist identity and biography. It is a fitting addition to the scholarly work stemming from James M. Jasper’s The Art of Moral Protest, which explains how life events can lead people into activism. But there is a broader, more subtle lesson that can be drawn from this study. Many of the veterans and military family members joined protest movements because they felt that the deployment of the U.S. armed forces violated an important but unwritten contract between the civilian world and the military. Specifically, many veterans and family members resented the extremely long terms of deployment. Typically, American soldiers might expect one or two tours of duty in a theater of war. However, this policy changed during the Iraq war, as soldiers were routinely required to serve three or four tours of duty or were called back to duty after leaving the armed services. Thus, the movement among veterans and military families was not merely a protest against war, or even a specific war. It was also a protest against a broken promise between those who had volunteered to defend their country and those who had the power to send them into harm’s way.
Buy the book.
If you are in the Chicago/Michigan/Northern Indiana area, then you should probably go to this weekend’s social movement conference at Notre Dame. Friday will be sessions by young scholars and Saturday will be a lecture by Sidney Tarrow, who will receive a lifetime achievement award. Check it out!
I got the following announcement from Arizona State about a conference on humanities and movements, diffusion, and culture – “Transforming Contagion.” Interesting stuff for those interested in cultural studies, history, and American studies. Here’s the link and a clip from the announcement:
Call for Papers
Symposium: “Transforming Contagion”
Location: Arizona State University’s West campus (Phoenix, AZ)
Date: Friday, October 23, 2015
We invite proposals for an exciting and provocative symposium on the topic of Transforming Contagion. This transdisciplinary and transhistorical symposium aims to explore contagion in its broadest sense by including perspectives about the spread, transmission, and modalities of contagion, and how contagion has been variously defined, imagined, and subjected to regulation and/or exploitation. By “contagion,” we do not necessarily mean only that which occurs in the body or within the framework of embodiment, but also contagions rooted in the literary, psychological, moral, educational, or political. We thus invite papers from any historical period or methodological approach that consider the complicated topic of contagion. Further, we invite papers that postulate how contagion itself might be transformed, deployed as a model for propagating revolutionary ideas, feelings, and beliefs, or utilized as a lens through which we can understand and critique our social and material world. We particularly invite papers that are radical, creative, feminist, boundary-smashing, intersectional, politically relevant, and wildly interdisciplinary.
Check it out.