SOCIAL PROBLEMS February 2012

Since June 2011, I have been serving on the student advisory board of the journal  Social Problems. In that time, I have come across many wonderful social movement-related manuscripts. As issues come out, I will post about social movement-related articles included in those issues. Our first issue (February 2012), under Becky Pettit’s editorship at the University of Washington, includes several important contributions to the social movement area. For instance:

Holly J. McCammon – “Explaining Frame Variation: More Moderate and Radical Demands for Women’s Citizenship in the U.S. Women’s Jury Movements.”

While social movement scholars have added immeasurably to our knowledge of activist framing, few researchers analyze the circumstances leading to variation in the frames articulated by movement actors. In this study, I explore an important and understudied form of frame variation, whether activists use more moderate or more radical frames. Using framing data from the early twentieth-century U.S. women’s jury movements, I first show that activists offered both a more traditional and moderate difference frame, arguing that women should be permitted on juries because they would provide a unique female perspective in jury deliberations, and a more radical equality frame, stating that women had an equal right to sit on juries and they were as intellectually capable as men to do so. Second, I demonstrate that a combination of circumstances explains whether the jury activists were likely to articulate more moderate or more radical arguments. I find that frame variation is driven by activist organizational identities, a cultural and political resonance process, and a counterframing process. Findings from multinomial and binary logistic regression analyses reveal that all three processes influenced jury activist framing.

Daniel Jaffee – “Weak Coffee: Certification and Co-Optation in the Fair Trade Movement.”

The sociological literature on social movement organizations (SMOs) has come to recognize that under neoliberal globalization many SMOs have moved from an emphasis on the state as the locus of change toward a focus on corporations as targets. This shift has led some SMOs to turn to forms of market-based private regulatory action. The use of one such tactic—voluntary, third-party product certification—has grown substantially, as SMOs seek ways to hold stateless firms accountable. This article explores the case of the international fair trade movement, which aims to change the inequitable terms of global trade in commodities for small farmers, artisans, and waged laborers. Drawing from interviews with a range of fair trade participants, document analysis, and media coverage, the article describes fair trade’s growing relationship with multinational coffee firms, particularly Starbucks and Nestlé. It explores intra-movement conflicts over the terms for and the effects of corporate participation in fair trade, and illuminates tensions between conceptualizations of fair trade as movement, market, and system. The article makes two arguments. First, while fair trade has succeeded partially in reembedding market exchange within systems of social and moral relations, it has also proved susceptible to the power of corporate actors to disembed the alternative through a process of movement co-optation. Second, it argues that co-optation takes a unique form in the context of social movements whose principal tools to achieve social change are certification and labeling: it occurs primarily on the terrain of standards, in the form of weakening or dilution.

David S. Meyer & Deana A. Rohlinger – “Big Books and Social Movements: A Myth of Ideas and Social Change.”

Explanations of the past both reflect and influence the way we think about the present and future. Like artists and politicians, social movements develop a “reputation” that includes a capsule history of a movement’s origins, goals, and impact. Both popular narratives and scholarly treatments identify four books published in the early 1960s as having spurred important social movements and government action. This “big book myth” provides a simple origins story for social movements, a version of an “immaculate conception” notion of social change. We compare the mythic accounts of feminist, environmental, anti-poverty, and consumer movements of the 1960s to fuller histories of these movements and find consistent distortions in the common big book narratives. Mythic accounts shorten the incubation time of social movements and omit the initiating efforts of government and political organizations. The myths develop and persist because they allow interested actors to package and contain a movement’s origins, explicitly suggesting that broad social dynamics replicate idealized individual conversion stories. They also allow actors to edit out complicated histories that could compromise the legitimacy of a movement or a set of policy reforms. These mythic accounts spread and persist because they simplify complicated social processes and offer analogues to the individual process of becoming active, but they may lead us to misunderstand the past and make misjudgments about collective action and social change in the future. We consider those implications and call for more research on the construction of myths about the past.

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