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 founding of Mobilization allowed our field to coalesce in a way that now feels “natural” and like it has always been, but was certainly the product of great labor by many and great risk by its founding Editor and publisher, Hank Johnston. There were several parts of this. First, as Mobilization built and consolidated its audience, it helped to build and consolidate social movement studies. Prior to Mobilization, the vast majority of social movements’ top works came out in monographs or generalist journals spread out across fields ranging from sociology to political science to area studies and beyond. This meant scholarship on social movements was growing but wasn’t able to be as readily consolidated, especially given that locating relevant research was so much harder pre-Internet and pre-Google. The study of social movements was much like the increasingly unwieldy study of online protest dynamics today—spread across so many journals and disciplines that the small number of common anchors struggled to moor research into a unified audience and aggregate knowledge. Mobilization presented an excellent solution because it was both creating and offering a consolidated audience, which in my view, allowed social movement studies to develop much more rapidly and more responsively to existing and new research than if the audience continued to be a scholastic diaspora of sorts.
Second, Mobilization also helped to build the careers of its audience both by offering space for high quality publications but also by offering an audience that used and cited work published in its pages. To my recollection, before Mobilization, there was only one consistent annual that focused heavily on social movements; Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change, then a JAI imprint, had been published since 1978 but only a single volume per year. While it had certainly published important work, it was too infrequent to meet the burgeoning demands of our collective enterprise, wasn’t as widely available and accessible as Mobilization came to be, and included work whose primary audiences were overlapping with Mobilization’s audience but not identical. To developed further, we needed high impact journal pages in which to develop, and Mobilizationdelivered that space. Because the journal consolidated an otherwise diffuse audience, and also had cross-over readers from highly-related fields, it also delivered an audience that cited its pages frequently, driving the impact of the journal, and scholars publishing in it, further.
Third, Mobilization was pivotal to the creation of a publication ecology for social movement scholarship that both reflected our dramatically expanding field and fueled it. Today, there are at least four journals and/or annuals that have a central focus on social movements, with Mobilizationat the peak since its inception. The founding of Mobilization, and its growth from a two issue a year journal (from 1996 to 2001), to a three issue a year journal (from 2002 to 2005), to a four issue a year journal (since 2006), showed that there was an exceptionally deep well of truly excellent scholarship on social movements, protest, and collective action being done—enough that top generalists journals and increasing numbers of issues a year from Mobilization were not enough to run our field dry. Of course, journals require not just excellent research to publish, but large enough audiences to survive financially and large enough reviewing pools and individuals committed to the common enterprise of study to serve as Editors, Editorial Board members, and reviewers. Mobilization revealed that our field was large enough to support it, and over time, large enough to support a broader ecology of journals with Mobilization as the premier social movement outlet. Since Mobilization was founded, at least two other journals that have strong social movement focuses have been founded. I argue these foundings are in part a result of Mobilization making it clear that our field was prodigious enough to support even more journals. In my view, this ecology is essential to the health and vitality of our field: we need a variety of publication outlets to continue to develop our field and we need a high impact journal like Mobilization among them. In other words, it is not just that Mobilization is a peak journal that makes it so important and so impactful, it is that it has helped build a larger and larger and ever thriving ecology that can support more research and careers than any single journal’s pages could on its own.
Last, but of course not least, Mobilization fueled our collective and individual imaginations and has shaped our research trajectories. The ideas it contained shaped, and continue to shape, our field. In preparing to write this post, I was asked to think about an article that I found particularly impactful but the journal was just too rich—whether I flipped through its tables of contents or looked at the citations of articles published in Mobilization through Web of Science, the range of important ideas is simply too large for me to try to capture.
In closing, I have grown up alongside Mobilization and owe it, and all who have contributed to it, a deep debt of gratitude. I know that my own career is similar to many others: my own imagination has been sparked by what I have read in Mobilization’s pages, my networks deepened by the events it has sponsored, and my research contributions enabled by publication in its pages and the readership and impact that brings. But, I know that social movement studies more broadly exists in a dramatically more vibrant form today than it would have without Mobilization. To Hank, Dan, Rory, and Neal (the founding through current Editor): thank you for what you have built—it far more than the sum of pages, or citations, or ideas; it is a field that you have been integral to developing and shaping. I also give a special thanks to Hank for taking the initial risks that made this all possible and for shepherding the journal all these years.