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

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Disruption

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

2 Comments

Filed under Emerging Stars in Social Movement Research, Essay Dialogues

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

1 Comment

Filed under Emerging Stars in Social Movement Research, Essay Dialogues

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Disruption

Feminism, Culture, and Computational Sociology

Recent social movements research that has excited and motivated me groups around three themes: 1) community-level effects on movements (Reger 2012, McAdam and Boudet 2012), 2) the path-dependent nature of movements (Blee 2012), and 3) the application of computational methods to study social movements (Hanna 2013) and culture (Bail 2013). My research fits loosely at this junction: I use computational methods to study the structure and culture of local social movements over time.

To do so I, like many others, conceive of local movements as fields. I formalize fields in two ways: a social field consists of 1) a structure—a set of actors that are in some way related to one another (DiMaggio and Powell 1983), and 2) a culture—taken-for-granted assumptions that both enable and constrain action (Jepperson 1991). While network analysis is an established way to measure structure, quantifying culture has proven more difficult. Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Emerging Stars in Social Movement Research, Essay Dialogues, Uncategorized

Creating Connections

Research on collective action tends to focus on the formidable structural obstacles that disadvantaged people face when they challenge the status quo. These groups often lack resources, such as money and volunteer labor. They often face a political structure in which elites bar them access or unite against them. They may experience direct coercion; they may be economically dependent on the very thing they wish to challenge; or they may anticipate defeat before even starting (Gaventa 1982).

Yet even when these broader conditions change, expanding the number of committed activists is fraught with difficulty. Groups fighting to create change often struggle to garner sympathy from the community in which they work. Or they may gain sympathy but struggle to recruit others to join them in acting against a threat (Beyerlein and Hipp 2006; Oegema and Klandermans 1994). Favorable organizational and political conditions alone do not by themselves create a resonant connection between committed activists and potential participants.

Before potential participants join efforts for change, groups with resources must create social ties, share understandings, overcome symbolic boundaries, and build trust together. Continue reading

3 Comments

Filed under Emerging Stars in Social Movement Research, Essay Dialogues

Dynamics of Factional Politics during the Chinese Cultural Revolution

The Chinese Cultural Revolution presents an internecine mass conflict that boasts the largest political upheavals of the 20th century. Insurgent students and workers formed various revolutionary rebel organizations in the summer of 1966, and took over government offices in virtually every provincial-level unit in January 1967. Immediately afterwards, these insurgents broke into rival factions that violently fought with one another in schools, factories, and neighborhoods, leading to anarchy in large parts of China until late 1968. Even in the periphery rural areas where the reach of the state was limited because of the existence of the “honeycomb polity,” political impulses did not weaken. Village residents also extensively involved themselves in the local mass conflicts and many people were killed or wrongly persecuted in factional warfare. Conservative estimates based on official sources suggest that up to 1.5 million people died in these factional conflicts and related repression, and some 36 million suffered arrest, imprisonment, lengthy interrogation, and often torture.

The enduring explanatory puzzle of this intense factional politics lies in the mechanisms and processes of insurgents’ political choice. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Emerging Stars in Social Movement Research, Essay Dialogues