In anticipation of the CBSM section workshop before this year’s ASA conference in Chicago, we are hosting a dialogue concerning the relationship between protesters and their targets. Considering classic theories concerned with political institutions and companies, as well as the more recent focus on targeting lifestyle, culture, and public behavior, we want to discuss the plethora of actor-target interactions involved in collective action. We also hope to include the ways movements consider multiple targets and their perception by the media and public at large. Considering interactions between these actors and factors is encouraged. More specific considerations might include: How do movements identify targets? How do strategic actions of targets affect movements? How do movements change actions to fit their audience? What effects do media coverage and public perception have on movement success? We asked our contributors to consider these and similar topics in their posts.
Thank you to our contributors for their insightful essays, they are all listed below.
Dana M. Moss, University of California – Irvine (essay)
Marc Dixon, Dartmouth College (essay)
Donatella della Porta, European University Institute (essay)
Charles Seguin, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (essay)
Heidi Reynolds-Stenson, University of Arizona (essay)
David Everson, University of Notre Dame (essay)
Deana A. Rohlinger, Florida State University (essay)
As always, we invite you to join the dialogue by posting your reactions to these essays in the comments sections.
Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, and Dan Myers
How wedded are social movement activities to politics and the state? What targets offer the most bang for the buck when seeking change? Research shows groups often have strong reasons to seek out a wide range of collective action targets beyond the state. Yet, whether groups like it or not, and whether they seek cultural, economic or any other non-explicitly political form of change, movement demands more often than not get ensnarled in the political process. This poses a series of interesting dilemmas for activists. Continue reading
Who activists target and how is an important topic for scholars of mobilization, and one that the Collective Behavior and Social Movements section of the American Sociological Association will discuss at the annual pre-conference workshop in Chicago this summer. My thoughts on the study of movements’ targeting practices and tactics are outlined below.
First, we should think about how movements create relationships with their targets, or why they fail to do so.
Whether movements are seeking to change the public’s consumption of water in drought-stricken California or their position on a particular ballot measure, it is worth considering how movements create—or foreclose—the kinds of relationships needed to enact social change with their intended targets. Movements engage in all types of outreach to change hearts and minds, but some strategies are far more likely than others to garner sympathy. I was thinking about this recently when I witnessed two activists wordlessly handing UC Irvine students pamphlets on veganism during the rush between classes. The students cringed and stuffed the papers in their pockets. It seemed as though the activists were checking off a box: distributed pamphlets to a bunch of random and potentially-impressionable young people? Check! Without having gathered data on this incident, I would wager my JSTOR subscription that zero minds were changed that day. Public education efforts require labor, time, and money—things that movements rarely have in ample supply. And yet, actions such as distributing pamphlets often seem to be all cost and no reward. Continue reading
There are diverse explanations for how social movements made decisions about their targets and interact with them. Rather than considering the mas rival theories, it could be more useful to see them as illuminating dilemmas and tradeoffs that social movements have to address, and trying to specify under which conditions and through which mechanisms each applies. In these notes, I will present what I see as main explanations before focusing on targeting in the specific conditions of what I call intense times. Continue reading
Amidst the calls for a more relational and dynamic approach to the study of social movements, the protester-target nexus would seem an area of inquiry ripe for further development. Social movement scholars have already begun to fruitfully expand our horizon of targets beyond the state, reflecting not only the multitude of arenas in which contention occurs, but also an enveloping political landscape confronting activists characterized by the ever-increasing blurredness of the boundaries between governments and the institutional agents of global capitalism. Though we surely have much to learn about the strategically-chosen targets of activists, future work should also not lose sight of the unintended targets of social protest, and the manner and means by which the spectator audience can alter the course of contentious trajectories. I will suggest below that a renewed focus on “bystander publics” (Turner 1970) promises to yield potentially novel theoretical insights for our models of movement-countermovement dynamics and social movement outcomes. I support this claim by drawing from my dissertation work on Euro-American memory of and attitudes toward the American Indian Movement (AIM), which suggests that our understanding of the unintended consequences of movements needs to account for the processes through which dominant group bystanders alter the “discursive fields” through which social movements, and even racial groups, are culturally constructed. Continue reading
At many protests, law enforcement or security officers act as a buffer between protesters and their targets. As a result, protesters often do not come face-to-face with their targets at street demonstrations (unless they are targeting everyday people; Einwohner 2001). And, as protest-policing protocols increasingly emphasize the pre-emptive control of space, protesters are often kept further and further away from the targets they seek to influence or disrupt (Gillham and Noakes 2007). Because their primary target may not be accessible, movements often engage in indirect proxy targeting, like the students who targeted their universities for complicity in the Vietnam War (Walker, Martin, and McCarthy 2008). So, while protesters and targets react to one another and try to anticipate the reactions of the other side, this interplay is, in many cases, delayed and mediated though law enforcement (Earl and Soule 2006), the media (Koopmans 2004) or proxy targets. Continue reading