Rethinking Strategic Action in Food Security Projects

Those of us who study—or attempt to organize—collective action in the 21st century know the process is fraught with obstacles. We tend to conceptualize these obstacles in terms of the high risks inherent with protest, such as arrest or violent state repression. Social protest continues to be a forceful, exciting means of creating social change.  But it’s a relatively rare one. In the United States, humbler forms of collective association—the nonprofit, the social movement group, the civic project—work quietly “behind the scenes” to run the engine of social progress, however progress is defined. And “obstacles” in these settings have different faces. Bureaucracy. Burnout. Limited resources.  Like the risks of protest, these obstacles constitute threats to success. And nobody likes threats, because nobody likes to fail, be they an activist occupying Wall Street or the executive director of a struggling nonprofit organization.

I propose that by studying how people respond to obstacles in the course of organizing for social change, we can enrich our theories about strategic action.   Continue reading

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Feminist Continuity within Institutions of Higher Education

Feminism in the U.S. has endured over dramatic changes in historical, political, and cultural contexts. Although existing scholarship on the modern women’s movement has highlighted variations in mobilizing structures and dynamics, we know little about the characteristics, identities, and tactical repertoires of feminist movements today. My research on young feminists expands the existing theories that have sought to understand social movement continuity (Taylor 1989) and the changing forms and sites of women’s movement mobilization (Ferree and Mueller 2004; Staggenborg and Taylor 2005; Taylor 1996; Reger 2012; Whittier 1996).

I ask larger questions regarding the incorporation of social movements within institutions, the complexities of collective identities given the prominence of coalitions and movement cross-over, the changing dynamics of movements over time, and the multiple dimensions through which context and “place” alter movement culture. Continue reading

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Disability Rights, International Development, and the Remaking of Civil Society

Over the past several years, I have been studying the interactions between the global  disability rights movement—all of the UN agencies, international NGOs, and transnational networks focused on advancing the human rights of persons with disabilities—and a small coalition of grassroots disabled persons associations in Nicaragua. While the international disability rights movement has thus far received scant scholarly attention, I believe it is a harbinger of things to come. In recent years, there has been a major shift in the practices of international development NGOs away from humanitarian assistance and concrete project implementation towards “being allies with people’s organizations and social movement in a collective struggle for change” (Chapman 2009, p. 167). Rather than providing food aid or digging wells, mainstream NGOs are now prioritizing increasing the “political knowledge” (Williams, 2007) of marginalized groups as the best way of addressing their vulnerability. This rights-based approach to development is based on a belief that local political advocacy can solve global poverty, albeit one community at a time, and a shift away from trying to spur market growth or build up governments to a new focus on remaking civil society. In short, it is development done by social movement, regardless of the level of economic development or governmental capacity of a specific country. 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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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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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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