For those who study and teach about social movements and collective action, the last year has provided us with numerous cases. From OWS, environmental activism, the Arab Spring, and the Tea Party, we have compared and contrasted these cases, often seeking to find common themes across these, using existing theoretical frameworks to shed light on contemporary cases, or alternatively, use what’s going on out there as a way to reevaluate existing theories of social movements and collective action.
One important and emerging theme is the way in which people – from the public, to the media, to political elites – react to social movements. Scholars have shown how positive and negative reactions, especially by elites, have important consequences for subsequent mobilization. Of course, elite responses to protesters vary; by no means is government surveillance (as is the case with environmental groups in Canada) equivalent to the brutality faced by activists and bystanders in Syria. Yet, there is a common theme when it comes to elite framing of challenges as illegitimate and depicting challengers as radicals and terrorists. Continue reading
On her CNN Newsroom morning show (Feb 7), Kyra Phillips set up a segment about college courses on OWS saying that OWS “is not just in the streets but in the classrooms” and that “kids are writing papers about it.” She interviews Roosevelt University professor of political science, Jeff Edwards and a graduate student in his course, Ameshia Cross. Edwards, who is a social movement scholar, says it is worth having a course about the Occupy movement because it has changed the discourse of American politics and has “staying power.” It also appeals to students because it is “youth led.” Cross, his student, is reminded of a comment a professor once made when she was an undergraduate – that the new generation is not interested in social movements. The discussion then moved to a comparison of OWS with “classic” social movements. All agreed that the Occupy movement is comparable to the civil rights movement and women’s movement. As Cross says, the Occupy movement “lives up” to that kind of comparison. Phillips then asks Edwards whether a course on the OWS movement would be taught in 5 years. Edwards says yes. He suggests that effective movements last a long time, and presumably, the goals of the Occupy movement– no matter how loosely defined – will not be met any time soon and thus will have to play out over an extended period of time (see also The Occupy Movement Is Now Being Offered As A Political Science Course). Continue reading
In my first Mobilizing Ideas blog entry (Nov. 21), I focused on part-time or weekend activists in the Occupy movement. I noted that Occupy Seattle (OS) moved their camp to a local community college campus from their dowtown location. On Dec. 2, a county court ruled that camping on community college property is illegal and, in their emergency ruling, ordered the camp to be dismantled. The OS movement showcases competing elite viewpoints (elite in terms of the college community) as well as negative framing of the movement, particularly by the media, and the use of that framing in the decision by the college administration to evict Occupiers.
When it was announced that OS would set up its tents in a small square on the community college campus in late October, it seemed clear that the college, or at least many at the college, including faculty, were sympathetic and welcoming. Continue reading
- Part-Time Occupiers
With the Occupy movement expanding to numerous cities in the US and around the world, it has focused attention on the conventional ways scholars, activists and the public think about how and why people participate in collective action. Scholars of social movements have written on the ways in which
certain biographical characteristics such as one’s job and family and friendship ties can act as countervailing forces on participation. These characteristics play a part in determining how individuals view the costs and benefits of participation, particularly if there are high costs and/or risks associated with participation in collective action. However, a November 5th Associated Press article (Part-time participants help fill ‘Occupy’ ranks) discusses the so-called “part-time activist.” Mainly focusing on the involvement of college professors in the movement Continue reading