Expanding the Domain of Social Movement Scholarship and Helping Movement Scholars

BY Fabio Rojas

I started graduate school in sociology in 1997. At the time, we already had one solid generation of outstanding scholarship. The “first wave,” which might be said to have occurred from about 1960 to 1990, laid out the basic ideas of social movement research. David Snow and Robert D. Benford developed the social psychology of movements. Mayer Zald and John McCartyhy gave us the resource mobilization perspective. Theda Skocpol produced the now famous “dual” model of social revolutions, while scholars like Aldon Morris provided crucial historical and tactical analyses of social movements. 

What you might notice is that the scholarly environment in this period for social movement research is defined by two things: the emergence of the basic architecture of modern movement research and the relative lack of publication outlets. Up until the 1990s, social movement research as often limited to broad generalist journal and monographs. These are great, but, frankly, only the most elite scholars can hope to reliably place their work there. Other forms of publication were infrequent, such as various handbooks and edited volumes, or some very difficult to find journals, such as International Movement Studies, a journal that published an early Doug McAdam network analysis but it is nearly impossible to find. The other option was to publish in regional journals. These are important outlets, but it is often too easy to for good work to get lost in the shuffle.

Thankfully, Hank Johnston founded Mobilization: An International Journal and that changed the field. For the first time, I saw my library carry a journal dedicated exclusively to movement research. For the first time, there was a journal that carried a lot of social movement research from many different people. This journal could publish in depth debates about core issues in the field that simply wasn’t likely in a generalist journal or in monographs. For example, the dynamics of contention framework elicited much support and criticism and much of it appeared in the pages of Mobilization. There are other topics that have gotten much deeper treatment in Mobilization and we’re better off for it.

In this way, Mobilization kicked off the modern era of social movement scholarship.  There are now other really excellent journals that provide outlets for a wide range of work such as Social Movement Studies and the yearly Research in Social Movements, Conflict and Change. It is also a pleasure to see that field journals now routinely publish relevant social movement research, such as Administrative Science Quarterly, and you will even see movement research appear in the journals of other fields like education, political science, and economics. Mobilization was a leader in this wave of expansion for social movement research.

The editors of this blog asked contributors to reflect on their own personal relationship to the journal. Aside from being a peer reviewer, some of my work has appeared in the journal and my relationship is instructive. In 2011, I published an article on the anti-Iraq War movement in Mobilization with my friend and frequent co-author, Michael T. Heaney. During our research, we realized that a lot of participation in that movement was associated with partisan sentiment. In other words, a lot of people protested Bush and the Republican Party and many disappeared from the movement when Democrats took office. This finding was essentially historical and descriptive. A high quality specialty journal is the ideal place for this sort of finding because this observation would necessarily be a first step toward a broader understanding of how partisan identities shape movement dynamics. Michael and I were grateful to the peer reviewers and the special issue guest editor, Sidney Tarrow, who were willing to work with a kernel of the idea and help it blossom. Once we finalized our paper and tussled with peer review, we realized that the idea was important and could be substantially expanded, an insight that resulted in the Party in the Street book. 

This is the “silver” anniversary of the journal – that means that we’ve had 25 years of Mobilization. So three cheers and let’s hope for many decades more!


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