Great Books for Summer Reading 2016

Every summer we have a tradition of offering readers a healthy selection of great books for your summer reading lists. We invite contributors to choose their favorite social movements/protest-related book of the past couple years, whether scholarly, activist, or fiction, and write a short review. In past years, the selection of books has been diverse, and we hope to offer something of interest to everyone.

Many thanks to our contributors.

Christian Davenport, University of Michigan (essay)
March by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

Erin Evans, University of California-Irvine (essay)
Culture and Activism: Animals Rights in France and the United States by Elizabeth Cherry

Dana Moss, University of Pittsburgh (essay)
Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami

Ana Velitchkova, COES-Center for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies (essay)
Social Movement Dynamics: New Perspectives on Theory and Research from Latin America by Federico M.Rossi and Marisa von Bülow

Fei Yan, Tsinghua University (essay)
Will China Democratize? by Andrew J. Nathan, Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner

Yang Zhang, American University (essay)
The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China by Guobin Yang

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Guillermo Trejo

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Informing Activists

Mobilizing Ideas is excited to announce the publication of a special series this month called “Informing Activists.” Coordinated by Jennifer Earl and Thomas Elliott (both at the University of Arizona), and in in partnership with the Youth Activism Project, this series includes videos from some of the top scholars in social movements, recommended readings, and other resources on topics ranging from framing to social movement consequences, all tailored to young activists, potential organizers, and/or potential protest participants. We hope you will share this series widely, especially with young people in your communities interested in working for social change.

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Dan Myers

The Youth Activism Project, which is sponsored by the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics, has joined with Mobilizing Ideas to produce a video series designed to translate academic research on social movements into actionable information and questions that can be of use to young activists, potential organizers, and/or potential protest participants.

The MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) is a network of ten scholars from various disciplines that have come together to understand how youth are getting involved civically and politically, including through sharing and producing civic and political content online. We are also interested in understanding the risks and opportunities that the use of digital media may play in these engagements. While the network invests in, and members conduct, basic research on these topics, YPP is also dedicated to translating relevant research findings into actionable information for young people, activists, educators, and/or policy-makers.

This video series comes out of that desire to connect young people with critical research on activism. We’ve invited some of the top scholars in the field of social movements to talk about what their research has to say about how to be effective activists. For example, David Snow discusses what advice his pioneering work in framing has for activists looking to improve their messaging. Holly McCammon discusses how her work in strategic adaptation helps guide activists in modifying their strategies to changing contexts. Our goal is that these videos can help current and future activists better plan their campaigns to achieve success.

Each page contains at least one video that we hope will help young activists make informed decisions about their engagements, a bio about the presented, and some suggested readings if someone is interested in a deeper dive into the topic area.

We hope you find these to be helpful, and welcome suggestions about new videos. You can email us at Good luck on making the change you envision!

Table of Contents

In what ways do social movements make a difference? – Thomas Elliott

How/When do movements make a political difference? – Katrin Uba

How/When do movements affect culture? – Jenn Earl

When do movements shape public opinion? – Neal Caren

How does movement participation affect people’s lives? – Marco Giugni

Who Participates in Movements and Why? – Bert Klandermans and Ziad Munson

What can be done about activist burnout? – Sharon Nepstad

How do I build identity and solidarity in a movement? – Rachel Einwohner

How much does the political environment affect my cause? – David Meyer

What are the best tactics for my cause? – Catherine Corrigall-Brown

How do I use online tools to help my cause? – Lissa Soep

What are the best targets for my cause? – Tom Maher

How do I adapt my tactics to the political environment? – Holly McCammon

When do I need an organization? – Jenn Earl

How do I work with existing organizations? – Grace Yukich

How can I build coalitions and increase diversity? – Rich Wood

What are some considerations for youth in organizations? – Sarah Gaby

How do I talk about my cause? – David Snow

What do I need to know about the media environment? – Deana Rohlinger

What are the risks of activism and can I reduce those risks? – Heidi Reynolds-Stenson

How Might These Topics Apply to a Specific Campaign? – Elizabeth Armstrong


Filed under Essay Dialogues, Informing Activists

“Activists are on this. Let’s all be on this:” Is Gun Control on the “Gay Agenda?”


“Dear NRA, we made it through Stonewall, AIDS, DADT, and through Marriage Equality. You’re next.” This was among the many comments Jennifer Carlson and I received following the online publication of our recent op-ed in the Washington Post.

For many gun control advocates and activists, when meaningful policy change did not occur after Sandy Hook where a dozen elementary school children were murdered, it signaled their impotence in going up against the powerful gun lobby. To many, the failure of Congress to enact any of the four “gun control” bills this week is a replay of past efforts following those mass shootings.

In our op-ed, we argued that the Orlando massacre might represent new political opportunities for policy reform. Continue reading

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Stoking the Embers of the Long, Hot Summers

By Christian Davenport


Lewis, John and Andrew Aydin. 2013. March: Book One. 1st edition. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions.


About fifty years ago, the United States of America was set ablaze with a series of riots/disturbances/rebellions/incidents of civil unrest/acts of freedom. These events are significant in US history because they shifted much political thinking of radicals to the left (i.e., advocating self-determination, statehood, socialism and reparations) while moving political authorities to the right (i.e., greater restriction on civil liberties, militarization of responses and diminished accommodation), they shifted political tactics of challengers as well as authorities to greater levels of aggression (i.e., armed self defense for the former and “law and order” measures for the latter), they led to the creation of a series of above-ground challenging institutions that were politically more radical than many before them (e.g., the Black Panther Party, the Republic of New Africa, the Young Lords) as well as the increased support of a series of below-ground, covert police institutions (e.g., Red Squads) and they also led to the rise of some of the most intellectually creative/radical/productive/influential individuals in American history that you probably have never heard speak or read including Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Toure, Imari Obadele and José (Cha-Cha) Jiménez.

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Cultural Interplay and Social Movement Outcomes

By Erin Evans


Cherry, Elizabeth (2016) Culture and Activism: Animals Rights in France and the United States. Routledge: New York, NY.


Elizabeth Cherry’s first book, Culture and Activism: Animal Rights in France and the United States, reflects nearly a decade of in-depth ethnographic research in both countries. Cherry uses a comparative approach, grounded in cultural sociology, to explore why France’s animal advocacy movement is weaker than that in the U.S. both in size of the movement and gains made for animal protection. Unlike many cultural analyses, Cherry’s work focuses on how cultural and political structures are intertwined, and how culture should be conceptualized as structural, with opportunities and constraints for social movements. Scholars often focus on either culture or political structures to explain social movement processes and outcomes in a mutually exclusive way. Although Cherry focuses on cultural structures, she acknowledges that “as culture, structure, and agency are intertwined, so are culture, strategies, and outcomes… we must understand the myriad cultural structures in each country as well as their effects on activism and the public reception of activists’ claims.” (6) Continue reading

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Radicalism and Factionalism of the Red Guards

By Yang Zhang

red guard

Yang, Guobin. 2016. The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China. New York: Columbia University Press.


At the fiftieth anniversary of the Cultural Revolution, Yang Guobin’s just-released book, The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China, offers a vivid account of the genesis of the political activism of the Red Guards and their life courses from that time to the present day. A transformative event, the Red Guard Movement contains at least three important components: radicalism and internal factionalism as a political movement; the Red Guard generation’s continuous political activism, albeit in different forms; the resurgence of political populism and leftism over the last decade as this generation rose to power in China. Drawing upon twenty-year research, Yang touches upon all of these vital issues. In doing so, he also offers theoretical contributions to the study of political movements, collective violence, and political culture.

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Social Movement Theory from Latin America

By Ana Velitchkova

Social Movement_Rossi.PPC_v8.qxd:PPC
Rossi, Federico M., and Marisa von Bülow, eds. 2015. Social Movement Dynamics: New Perspectives on Theory and Research from Latin America. Farnham: Ashgate.


Social Movement Dynamics, edited by Federico Rossi and Marisa von Bülow, is the latest collection of works demonstrating how the study of social movements in Latin America can offer important additions to social movement theorizing centered on the Global North. The volume builds on the political process tradition but enriches it in significant ways through the creative use of theory. For example, Ann Mische’s chapter on Brazilian youth publics weaves together several strands of cultural and relational theorizing to offer an account of how activists with multiple and competing identities and interests reach collective understanding and engage in collective action. Publics, according to Mische, are not spaces of free expression, as others have argued, but spaces where particular “styles of communication” are enforced and where participants suppress identities and interests conflicting with these styles. Mische finds that tensions, dilemmas, and conflicts regarding such suppressed performances fuel the dynamics of civic life among Brazilian youth activists. Ligia Tavera Fenollosa borrows from William Sewell’s eventful sociology to conceptualize social movements as events. This lens allows her to identify Mexico’s earthquake victims movement as one event among a series of contingent and consequential happenings that led to the democratization of Mexico City. Tavera Fenollosa’s approach thus moves forward the study of the unintended outcomes social movements may have. Continue reading

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Social Movements and China’s Democratic Future: Straws in the Wind or Genuine Change?

By Fei Yan

china dem
Will China Democratize? by Andrew J. Nathan, Larry Diamond and Marc F. Plattner (eds). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.


Whether China will become democratic in the foreseeable future has long been a major concern for students of Chinese politics. The articles collected in this book examine the factors that may facilitate or impede China’s transition to democracy.

According to the analyses in this book, several positive factors are propelling China toward a speedier democratic transition. With continued and strong economic growth, China’s leaders proactively address the roots of popular contention by making health and retirement insurance available, attacking corruption, mitigating environmental pollution, and increasing government transparency and accountability. Especially at the lower levels of the political system, the leadership has introduced direct elections and implemented a more transparent cadre recruitment system (chapter 4). The dramatic wave of popular unrest sweeping the nation in recent years also poses as severe a threat to the central government, pushing a potential democratic breakthrough, as the Chinese citizens today are more dissatisfied, more mobilized, and less fearful than in the past (chapter 11, 14). Moreover, a revival of liberal values, such as individual freedom, property rights, and the rule of law, emerges in people’s daily life and spreads in the “network society” (chapter 20). Since Internet use is rapidly growing in China, particularly among the younger generation, “digital resistance” increasingly becomes a tactic for collective mobilization and public protests, such as the case of the Xiamen anti-PX protests (chapter 24). Overall, it is widely accepted that China is now at the tipping point (chapter 13), and political change is inevitable (chapter 1). Continue reading

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