This year, the journal Mobilization is turning 25. The first issue of Mobilization was published in 1996 at a time when social movement researchers had a lot of great ideas, but limited options for publishing cutting edge research papers in a journal that directly targeted the growing community of social movement scholars. Mobilization is unusual, too, in that it was founded and is still owned and operated by a leading social movement scholar, Hank Johnston (currently at San Diego State University)—rather than some large publishing corporation. It is currently edited by Neal Caren and Marco Giugni and Maria Grasso serve as the European editors.
This month, we have six outstanding contributors. Many thanks for their contributions on this topic:
Civic engagement has long stood as a central concept in social science scholarship, especially in the American social and political contexts. Indeed, many scholars have argued that civic engagement – i.e. involvement of individuals or groups in actions that promote the improvement of and change in their communities – has played a key role in democratic development and success. The beneficial effects of civic engagement at the individual, community and societal levels have also been widely acknowledged.
However, as Candice C. Robinson (PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh) stresses in this important recent article, much of existing civic engagement scholarship draws primarily on the experiences of White individuals. Laying out the ways in which previous scholarship fails to account for how structural inequalities within societies, organizations and associations impact forms of, and possibilities for, civic engagement among Black Americans, Robinson calls for a (re-)theorization of civic engagement that encompasses Black Americans’ experiences. Such (re-)theorization of Black civic engagement, in turn, holds great potential in advancing scholarship about and understandings of racialized dynamics in social movement mobilization.
For my first Mobilizing Ideas post, I wanted to write about a new book I recently read that I highly recommend, for scholars and activists alike: David Pettinicchio’s Politics of Empowerment (Stanford University Press, 2019).
There is so much that I like about this book. Empirically, it is a rigorous treatment of the successes and setbacks of the disability rights movement. But the other aspect of the book that I like is that it is a very good illustration of one of the new directions that I feel the field of social movements ought to move in. Specifically, there is a need to pay much closer attention to the political institutions that movements often seek to influence. A number of folks in our field (e.g. Amenta 2014, Andrews and Gaby 2015) have discussed the importance of considering institutional actors, and what movement mobilization looks like from their point of view, rather than analyzing movements only from the perspective of movement actors.
Pettinicchio does this admirably, showing how U.S. government actors began focusing on disability rights policy even before the movement took the highly mobilized form it eventually did. Activists nonetheless played a crucial role, especially as the competing demands of politics, and the fleeting moral convictions of institutional actors, required outside pressure to take disability rights policy to the next level, and ensure that the law on the books translated into law in action.
While the disability rights movement is surely unique in particular ways, the give-and-take between activism and institutional politics that Pettinicchio so carefully documents is likely far more typical than many earlier social movement studies might lead one to believe. Activists often know this first-hand, and so scholarship that focuses on this interplay, besides providing a fuller picture of movement consequences, will likely also be of greater practical use to activists seeking to optimize their policy influence. Well done, David, and I hope others follow your excellent example!
The field of social movement and protest research is today expansive and vibrant, with one of the largest ASA research sections and several publication outlets for our work. I am honored that Mobilization has played a role in our field’s astounding growth. To celebrate next year’s volume 25 of Mobilization and the commencement of its silver-anniversary year of publication, here are some threads of the Moby’s backstory to illuminate how we arrived at where we are today.
When I think of what was most important to me about Mobilizationwhen I first encountered it –and my continuing relationship to the social movement scholarly community it represented I think of what I did not see. There wasn’t space in social movement scholarship for people who cared about race and gender—or people of color— and thanks to shifts in the subfield, sociology and protest, there is a bit more now. We were invited by the Mobilizing idea blog to reflect as “scholars like you who have had a past (or present) connection to the journal and are in a position to write about the importance of the journal for your own scholarship and for social movement scholarship more generally.” I was a Notre Dame Young Scholar in 2012 so I contributed to the Mobilizing Ideas blog after that, even helping coordinate a dialogue on Roe and reproductive activism. I eventually published in the journal in 2017. Also, I have been active in the ASA Collective Behavior & Social Movements section, the membership of which overlaps with Mobilization readers, and attended all the Mobilization conferences so far, corralling students and faculty friends to attend.
In 2005, Suzanne Staggenborg and Verta Taylor published an article in Mobilization titled, “Whatever Happened to the Women’s Movement?” I remember being very intrigued not only by the title but the authors’ cogent and useful insights as well. Today this piece remains one of my favorite Mobilization articles, for a variety of reasons. The article wrestles with fundamental questions in the study of social movements, including, what is a social movement? It calls upon us to think carefully about how we define social movements, their structures, and actions. The authors offer compelling evidence that some definitions can impede our ability to see key forms of activism. The article also provides a detailed overview of feminist activism from the vantage point of the mid-2000s, a period when public collective protest events for this movement had less visibility. Yet, as these authors demonstrate, in a variety of realms of society feminist mobilization during that period of time remained bold and consequential. We just needed to understand how to see it.
The first issue of Mobilization was published in March, 1996, about five months before I started graduate school. The second issue came out in September, 1996 just after my first classes began. In a very real way, the development of many careers, especially my own, has been intertwined with its growth and development over the intervening years. This is certainly true on a surface level in terms of the publishing opportunities offered by the journal, but I argue it is true for all of us on a much deeper level: Mobilization both reflected our growing field and enabled and fueled its growth. Put differently, Mobilization and the study of social movements, protest, and collective action have co-constituted one another across time, allowing each to grow and thrive in ways that would be unimaginable without the other.
The content of Mobilizing Ideas occurs in two threads. The Essay Dialogue is an exchange on a salient topic, featuring insights from scholars and activists, occurring over the course of two months. The Daily Disruption is a blog covering social movements news, from current events to new research by emerging movements scholars. Use the menu at the top or the links below to access either of these full threads.