Author Archives: Matthew Baggetta

About Matthew Baggetta

I am an Associate Professor at the O'Neill School of Public & Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.

How Organizations (Might) Change Climate Policy

(Climate March Sept. 2014) [CC-BY-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

(Climate March Sept. 2014) [CC-BY-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

On September 21, an estimated 400,000 people assembled in New York City for the largest climate change protest march in U.S. history (and one of the largest single protest events since the anti-Iraq-invasion protests of 2003). How did Bill McKibben and his fellow organizers generate that kind of turnout? While the particular opportunity of an international climate summit at the UN, the extensive reach social media technologies, the wide viewing of the movie Disruption, and the presence of celebrities all probably helped, the central reason seems to be good, old-fashioned organizing.

The New York Times, reporting on preparations for the march, noted that the event was “organized by more than a dozen environmental, labor and social justice groups” which cultivated connections to “1,400 ‘partner organizations’… ranging from small groups to international coalitions” along with students who mobilized participants on “more than 300 college campuses.” Continue reading

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Tactical Innovation and the Face of Insolvency

Tourists on a protest tour in Spain are presented with declining public infrastructure, expensive mega-projects, and tales of government corruption.

Tourists on a protest tour in Spain are presented with declining public infrastructure, expensive mega-projects, and tales of government corruption.

The austerity measures imposed by European governments in response to to the sovereign debt crisis have never been popular with citizens of the most impacted  countries. Responses to the policies have taken many common social movement forms from mass protests to riots to the creation of new insurgent political parties. A recent framing of the critique of austerity has focused on the disparity between perceptions of corrupt politicians amassing wealth while the general population suffers. In Spain (where even members of the royal family are currently suspected of corruption), Miguel Angel Ferris Gil and Teresa Galindo have turned from writing about political corruption and the effects of austerity as journalists to undertake another form of protest activity: guided protest tours. Continue reading

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Simeon Booker on Choosing Tactics

Simeon Booker, the "dean of Washington's black press corps."

Simeon Booker, the “dean of Washington’s black press corps.”

If you’re teaching an undergraduate class about the Civil Rights Movement and want to provide a bite-sized example of a movement leader choosing between “insider” and “outsider” tactics, here’s a nice one. NPR’s Karen Grigsby Bates interviews Simeon Booker, the first African-American reporter at The Washington Post and (multiple) award-winning writer for Jet and Ebony magazines, about his recently published memoir Shocking the Conscience. In particular, the NPR piece focuses on an event Booker describes in detail: a party, hosted by JFK at the White House in 1963, to which many of America’s black movers-and-shakers were invited. While the party was notable for the many black politicians, civil rights leaders, entertainers, journalists, and other figures who attended, it was also notable for who declined the invitation–the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. By that point, King had worked for years, unsuccessfully, to get Kennedy to send civil rights legislation to Congress. With the lunch counter sit-in tactic rapidly spreading, King made the choice to forgo another attempt at “insider” influence and instead focused his attentions on developing the next set of direct action tactics. Continue reading

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A Social Movement President?

Obama_ElectionNight

President Obama speaks to supporters on election night, 2012. (Photo Credit: Christopher Dilts for Obama for America)

In 2008, the process that led to Barack Obama’s election was often described as more than a campaign. Many pundits saw it as a movement (here’s a good example) as did many of the folks who participated in it (and, apparently, as did their record labels; see the subtitle). Then what? As Marshall Ganz has argued, President Obama lost his “transformational” orientation–and demobilized much of the organizational structure that had built up the movement, got out the votes, and engaged a new set of political participants. The result was a series of bruising policy battles, midterm election losses for Democrats, and an enlivened conservative movement in place of what was supposed to be the continued flowering of new progressive policies carried through by a wave of continued grassroots organizing. Continue reading

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LEADING TEAMS (or, How Social Movement Leaders Are Like Flight Attendants, Semiconductor Manufacturers, and Second Violinists)

By Matthew Baggetta

What does this image have to do with social movements? More than you might expect.

It is increasingly common for social movement scholars to bemoan the lack of theory and research on leadership in social movements. There’s a good reason for this: there’s not enough out there. We know a bit about who becomes a movement leader. We know a bit about how they become leaders. We know a bit about what the leadership experience does to leaders over time. And we know a bit about what leaders (sometimes) (probably) do. There’s clearly a lot of ground left to cover.

One way to advance our understanding is to shift from thinking about leadership as something individuals do to thinking about leadership as the outputs from leadership teams (recent works by Marshall Ganz, Francesca Polletta, and others have started pushing us in such directions). Making this conceptual shift refocuses our attention away from the particulars of what certain leaders have done and toward the organizational and interactional contexts within which they operated. The most brilliant tactical innovation or issue frame is highly context dependent. But the settings from which brilliant ideas spring forth may not be. In effect, to understand movement leadership, we might be better off asking why some leadership teams work better than others. Continue reading

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Partly Cloudy, with a 30% Chance of Riots

Gary Gutting

In this morning’s New York Times, distinguished philosopher Gary Gutting raises a commonly discussed set of questions about social science research and theory and the ability to make accurate predictions. As is common in such arguments, physics is held up as the best “real” science because it gives us theories with clear predictions that always work. Experimental evidence has allowed for the clear elaboration of (what appear to be) invariant physical laws, at least in areas like classical mechanics (e.g. we can predict precisely where the moon will be 200 years, 3 days, and 7 hours from now). The social sciences are then held in contrast to this. As the argument goes, the social world is amazingly complex, making it hard to generate predictions, and it is often too difficult or too immoral to do controlled experiments on people, so social scientists could never test those predictions anyway. Gutting’s conclusion: “we need to develop a much better sense of the severely limited reliability of social scientific results.” And the implication he draws from this conclusion? Continue reading

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