Archive for the ‘social movements’ Category
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!
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.