Emerging Stars in Social Movement Research

Each spring, in conjunction with the John D. McCarthy Award celebration, the Center for the Study of Social Movements at Notre Dame hosts the Young Scholars in Social Movements conference. Conference participants come from around the world and include some of the brightest graduate students and assistant professors studying activism, social movements, and political conflict. Our team of Contributing Editors—the folks who write the blog’s Daily Disruption posts—is primarily drawn from this pool of talented young scholars. We are taking the next several weeks to shine the spotlight on these emerging stars and on their research.  New ideas often (perhaps usually) come from younger generations. So, in many ways, these posts represent where the field is headed and should be interesting to anyone seeking to better understand processes of activism and social change.

Many thanks to the Contributing Editors listed below—for allowing us to feature their work in the coming weeks, and for their contributions to the Daily Disruption. We plan to post a new essay from these authors every few days during the months of October and November, so check back often. Continue reading

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Movements and Institutionalization

Before I started graduate school in my early 30s, I was an activist and organizer through my late teens and 20s. There were some problems that drove me towards wanting to know more, empirically, about the movements in which I invested so much of my youth.

Here are a few of them:

I noticed that the groups I worked with had to deal with state intervention, but had little knowledge about how to respond to that intervention. (Interventions like police repression and brutality, passage of laws that were harmful to the movement’s goals, or even the contradictions involved with getting a permit for mass march.) I noticed that we planned our protests deliberately to get media attention, despite not understanding when or why our protests got the kinds of coverage we wanted. I noticed that a lot of organizations and activists cooperated with politicians on policy reforms, despite not understanding the long-term effects of those policies. I also noticed activists didn’t understand the long-term consequences of more disruptive or militant tactics they used. All of these questions continue to percolate in my thoughts, and in my work. Continue reading

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The Battle over Mong Kok

This guest essay is written by Dr. Doron Shultziner, an interdisciplinary scholar who studies non-violent struggles for democratic progress, and Kirby Hung, a participant in the umbrella movement in Hong Kong.

The main tent in Mong Kok that was later removed by the police.

The main tent in Mong Kok that was later removed by the police.

Since late September, a historic movement is taking place in Hong Kong which became part of China in 1997. Following a long-awaited period and delays, the Chinese government announced its political reform to allow universal suffrage to Hong Kong citizens but only for 2-3 candidates who will be selected by a pro-Beijing council of 1,200 members. Angry students started a class boycott, which culminated in the storming of the main government building in downtown Hong Kong. Police use of teargas and pepper spray against students who used umbrellas to protect themselves backfired into a huge demonstration of about 100,000 citizens. Several weeks have passed since that event climax and the umbrella movement maintains its momentum.

In this context, a battle of great significance has been taking place in Monk Kok, the second largest protest site of the umbrella movement for democracy in Hong Kong. In a surprise move between 5-9am on Friday (October 17) morning, police forces cleared protesters, tents, and barricades from the busy intersection of Nathan Road and Argyle Street, in what seemed a major setback to the movement. Yet, since Friday evening protesters regained parts of the street in what appears to be a major watershed of the struggle.  Continue reading

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Picturing and Packaging Protest: Newsmedia coverage and its implications for social movement scholarship

When the folks at Mobilizing Ideas asked us Daily Disrupters to write about our research I knew this would be a challenge.

Here’s the challenge: In today’s media environment you get one sentence.images

If your first sentence is good, then readers might move on to your second sentence. If not, then, game over.

I know this because of the research that I do.

I study Indigenous resistance. Since the 1980s, Indigenous peoples have engaged in widespread resistance to Canadian state and settler-colonialism. Continue reading

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Social Movement Dynamics at the Group Level

Throughout my academic career, my area of focus has been the social movement group. Social movement groups (SMGs) are a key mechanism to connect individuals to each other and get them informed and mobilized on important social issues. Sociologists of social movements have often found that political conversion on an issue occurs concurrently with activism, not prior to activism. This was certainly my own experience as an activist. As such, I tend to see the social movement group as representing the promise of democracy and civic engagement in our society: it is a vehicle through which individuals are connected to each other and plugged into citizen action in our society.

Yet, on the other hand, SMGs are also subject to all the internal dynamics that occur in any social group, making them interesting laboratories to study broader social processes. Continue reading

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Conversing with Theory, Thinking Globally

Can social movement scholarship benefit from conversing with two theories currently prominent in sociology, pragmatism and (the Bourdieusian version of) field theory, approached from a global point of view? I venture to answer in the affirmative and offer a few reasons for proposing this answer.

According to the pragmatist approach, as outlined in Dewey’s The Public and its Problems (1954 [1927]), the public and the state are co-constituted because of practical concerns, namely the need to address an issue that affects or is of concern to a group of people. An issue that has collective consequences can thus give rise to a public (potentially) affected by (or interested in) these consequences as long as the public perceives them or recognizes itself as a public.

This definition implies that the size of the public depends on the impact reach of the issue. Continue reading

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ISIS’s Mobilization Tactics

How can we interpret the emergence of ISIS/ISIL from a movement perspective?  Students and colleagues keep asking me and my answer remains unclear due to the limited publicly available information on the movement. Much of the available information has been posted by ISIS itself or has been reported by journalists’ accounts (e.g. an overview from the New York Times). The footage their organization has released shows how they are committing brutal and violent acts and sharing them publicly via social media as a key mobilization tactic.

What we know from previous sociological research on militant and orthodox religious movements may lend insights in interpreting how ISIS has emerged and gained power.  Continue reading

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