Social Movement Data

The availability of previously unimaginable volumes of text and network data on new forms of communication (e.g., “big data” from Facebook and Twitter) and other technological advancements that allow researchers to collect new kinds of data on old forms of communication and participation (e.g., using drones to photograph and analyze protests events, or using nationally representative survey data to map protest events), have led some to predict that social movement research is on the cusp of new discoveries concerning social movement processes. Others are less optimistic that more data leads to better theory. For Mobilizing Ideas’ next essay dialogue, we are inviting contributors to reflect on both the promise and limitations of innovative techniques for collecting data on social movements and protest. In what ways, if any, do new sources or forms of data allow us to test classic theories (of movement emergence, recruitment, diffusion, outcomes, etc.) or to generate new ones? Which methodological problems of “old” collection techniques are solved by new methods, and which persist? What new hurdles are posed by the availability of “big data”? In what ways does our methodology restrict the kinds of questions we ask? What types of questions are new forms of data best suited to address? What impact will all of this have on the long-term future of social movement research?

Thank you to all of our contributors, their essays are below.

Benjamin Lind, National Research University Higher School of Economics (essay)
Laura K. Nelson, Northwestern University (essay)
Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, Central European University (essay)
Zachary C. Steinhart-Threlkeld, University of California-San Diego (essay)
Alex Hanna, University of Wisconsin-Madison (essay)
Thomas Elliott, University of California-Irvine (essay)

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

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Big Data, Automated Textual Analysis, and Protest Events

By Alex Hanna

One of the longstanding issues with social movements research is the availability of reliable, timely, and comprehensive protest event data. Ideally, we would like to cover multiple movements and have adequate temporal and spatial variation. However, the generation of protest event data has usually meant many human hours dedicated to hand-coding, usually by farms of social science undergraduates. But the wide availability of electronic sources and advances in natural language processing – or in a word, “big data” – has the potential for pushing the boundaries of our field. Continue reading

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The Radical Sixties and the Militant Asian Americans

Fifty years ago, on March 8, 1965, the U.S. Marines landed in Da Nang, marking the beginning of the American ground war in Vietnam. Protests erupted all over the U.S., with the largest anti-war demonstration in the U.S.—the March Against the War organized by the Students for Democratic Society—taking place in April 17. Radicalism in the 60s has been the subject of social movement theories that set the direction of contemporary scholarship. But scholars in the field were remiss in examining a contentious group in American society: Asian Americans.

While Sid Tarrow was visiting Pittsburgh early this month, we had a conversation about the dearth of studies on Asian American mobilization, especially in the 1960s. In recent years, we have noticed a rise in scholarship on the Asian American movement (AAM). But based on a cursory look of undergraduate and graduate courses in social movements, Asian Americans remain invisible in mainstream discussions about the “turbulent 60s.” Continue reading

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A Review of Deana A. Rohlinger’s, Abortion Politics, Mass Media, and Social Movements in America.

Abortion Politics, Mass Media, and Social Movements in America (2015) is Deana A. Rohlinger’s tour de force thus far. The book coalesces her years of research on the abortion debate, social movement organizations, and media discourse in a way that is satisfying and compelling. I was pleased to see so many of the concepts she’s used over the last 10+ years (radical flank, organizational identity vs. reputation, professionalization, branding, etc.) deployed in this book. Finally, we are able to see her extensive data (that includes content analyses of thousands of newspaper, radio, magazine, and television accounts, as well as organizational newsletters, and in-depth interviews with members of the four organizations) used in a comprehensive analysis of a movement in which Rohlinger spent well over a decade of her research career immersed.

Rohlinger

As she highlights in the introductory chapter, Rohlinger shifts the conceptual gaze away from examining the power of media outlets to select social movement events and issues for coverage and towards how activists strategize their interactions with mass media. For those of us knee-deep in research that assumes media power, it is refreshing to rethink these interactions as truly interactive, where activists use media as much as media use them. She crafted the entire book to emphasize activists’ and organizations’ ability to partly control and build a media repertoire. By repertoire I mean the very rich set of potential interactions organizations can choose to instigate or sustain with media outlets, including external media (mainstream outlets) and direct media (media organizations control, such as a website or social media profiles). Continue reading

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August CBSM Workshop in Chicago: Protestors and Their Targets

The conference of the Collective Behavior and Social Movements (CBSM) section of the American Sociological Association will take place at Northwestern University at the downtown campus of the Kellogg School of Management in Chicago, Illinois, on August 20 and 21, 2015 – immediately prior to the American Sociological Association national conference in Chicago.

The workshop will center around the many kinds of interactions that social movements have with the organizations, populations, and practices that they target for change. These might include corporations, police forces, other state agencies, or consumers who smoke, take drugs, eat meat, or buy clothes from sweatshops. But it might also include bystanders reached through the media. The goal is to examine not only the campaigns and actions of protestors, but the strategic responses of their targets, and especially the dynamic interactions among multiple players. In addition to plenary and regular sessions centered on these themes, the workshop will include roundtables with senior scholars and selected regular sessions unrelated to the theme.

Visit the official website for the workshop for more information on the registration, the call for papers, the agenda, and logistics.

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Pegida Protests Podcast Illustrates Concepts & Processes

In a recent podcast, Germany, Islam & The New Right, BBC Radio 4 explores the remarkable rise of Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (Pegida) in Dresden, Germany (see here and here).  A local political scientist interviewed in the podcast explains that Americans should think of Pegida as the Tea Party, Brits as the BNP,[1] and the French as the National Front.

What interests me is the extent to which the podcast illustrates a number of concepts and processes I teach my students.  Pegida’s Monday protests echo those begun in Leipzig in 1989, which spread to many East German cities, including Dresden. Thus, Tilly’s “repertoires” are nicely illustrated.[2]  Informational theories of mobilization are also illustrated: the public display of opinions that are considered verboeten by political rulers makes others who hold such views more willing to air them in public, which creates a bandwagon among those who hold such views, but have different thresholds for taking the risk of being singled out and shamed or otherwise punished.[3]  Finally, Loewen’s argument about mono-cultures (highly homogenous ethnic communities) being most likely to vilify “the other” is borne out during the podcast.[4]

Finally, if you enjoy irony, that is yet another reason to check out the podcast.[5]

@WilHMoo

Cross posted at Will Opines.

[1] A Pegida UK branch launched last month.

[2] From Mobilization to Revolution, 1978.

[3] For examples, see Suzanne Lohmann “The Dynamics of Informational Cascades: The Monday Demonstrations in Leipzig, East Germany, 1989–91,” 1994 (ungated PDF here) and Timur Kuran “Sparks and prairie fires: A theory of unanticipated political revolution,” 1989 (ungated PDF here).

[4] Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, 2006.  This is a variant of the contact hypothesis.  See, also, Keith E. Schnakenberg “Group Identity and Symbolic Political Behavior,” Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 2014. Ungated at SSRN.

[5] The reporter, who clearly finds Pegida’s view unpalatable, is blissfully unaware of the information theories in [3].

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Advances in Understanding Protest with Big Data

By Zachary C. Steinert Threlkeld

The study of collective action can benefit greatly from big data. Collective action is the study of how large numbers of individuals engage each other to accomplish a common task; big data illuminate how large numbers of individuals engage each other over time. Yet these data have yet to show how they can improve our understanding of protests. Protests are one of the hardest collective action problems: large groups of individuals with little prior contact must come together and coordinate their behavior in risky situations for public goals. My research starts to show how, carefully used, big data generate new insights into protest processes. Continue reading

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Drones, Data, and Tactics

By Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick

Protest repertoires have been relatively stable for a really long time. Petitions have been with us since the first anti-slavery movement. Boycotts for almost as long. Nothing changes, and then it does. The recent explosion of new tactics rooted in technological innovation has spelled promise and peril for movements, most of whom face formidable obstacles and better-resourced incumbents.

I’m as excited by this turn of events as anyone; much of my recent work has taken place in rural India, where the most sophisticated technology in sight is usually a Nokia candybar phone. Sometimes an exploited laborer sends an urgent midnight text calling for help. Sometimes.

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