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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Social Movements, Institutions and Policy Outcomes

In light of the recent proliferation of mass mobilization events like Occupy/99%, immigrant rights, the Arab Spring, and the Ukrainian protests, many interested in social movements have turned their attention to protest participation. No doubt, this new wave of protest research has provided important theoretical insights on mobilization as well as methodological advancements.

However, scholars have also recently pointed to important organizational and institutional aspects of social movements and social change that should not be overlooked. In fact, the two recent Charles Tilly Book Award winners, Drew Halfmann and Kathleen Blee, address these very aspects of mobilization.

When I began studying the disability rights movement, it became apparent that understanding mobilization, social change and policy outcomes required looking beyond grassroots protest and other forms of direct action to understand America’s disability rights revolution. Indeed, the disability rights movement shines light on several important themes in political sociology, which my work seeks to address, including a current book project I am developing. Continue reading

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Ties and Their Turbulence

A funny thing happens on the way to understanding activists’ social bonds; when we interrogate them closely, they flutter away into a whirlwind of micro-sociological turbulence. This essay suggests the importance of theorizing that turbulence.

In recent decades, the most significant advances in conceptualizing social organization have come from network theory. Network theory integrates both the tug-and-pull of social turbulence and the possibility of agency. It offers a general, formal framework for conceptualizing structure, but also allows empirical and theoretical specificity (Emirbayer & Goodwin 1994:1418). The study of social movements has been at the forefront of those advances (Bearman 1993; Gould 1991), and we now know much more about the mechanisms through which networks influence larger patterns of mobilization (McAdam & Paulsen 1993; McAdam, Tarrow, & Tilly 2001; Diani & McAdam 2003). However, the mandate to identify mechanisms in social ties always references the broader explanatory level. It seeks inroads only into how ties “matter” and “work” to produce broader outcomes. Continue reading

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How Organizations (Might) Change Climate Policy

(Climate March Sept. 2014) [CC-BY-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

(Climate March Sept. 2014) [CC-BY-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

On September 21, an estimated 400,000 people assembled in New York City for the largest climate change protest march in U.S. history (and one of the largest single protest events since the anti-Iraq-invasion protests of 2003). How did Bill McKibben and his fellow organizers generate that kind of turnout? While the particular opportunity of an international climate summit at the UN, the extensive reach social media technologies, the wide viewing of the movie Disruption, and the presence of celebrities all probably helped, the central reason seems to be good, old-fashioned organizing.

The New York Times, reporting on preparations for the march, noted that the event was “organized by more than a dozen environmental, labor and social justice groups” which cultivated connections to “1,400 ‘partner organizations’… ranging from small groups to international coalitions” along with students who mobilized participants on “more than 300 college campuses.” Continue reading

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