Author Archives: jaimekucinskas

Reviewing the Field: What movements have we studied?

In beginning to write a book chapter on movements and social problems, I’ve realized the connections between these two areas are not nearly as developed as I had assumed. It is clear that movements matter because they raise consciousness about social problems and collectively try to address them.

Yet, I can’t seem to find much research explicitly connecting these two areas.

In particular, I am left wondering several questions about bridges, or the lack there of, between scholarship on movements and social problems.

 What movement cases have we studied over the past hundred years, and how does that compare to the field of social problems over that time period?

This seems like a basic question but is quite difficult to answer.

Several very good overviews of social movement theory (Morris and Herring 1984; Moss and Snow (forthcoming); Weber and King 2014) and scholarship (Snow, Soule and Kriesi 2004) hint at the types of movements scholars have focused on under different theoretical paradigms. Most reviews give excellent overviews of the common dimensions of movements and important contextual factors in mobilization. However, there is less direct attention to the kinds of movements studied and what their targets were.

Very generally, reviews of movement scholarship discuss how there was a shift from examining Marxist labor/poor people’s movements in early movement scholarship to the movements of the 1960s and 1970s (e.g. Civil Rights, women’s movement, anti-war movement, environmental movement, new social movements). In the past decade we have shifted to study more broadly movements targeting multiple institutions (Armstrong and Bernstein 2008; Rojas 2007; Soule 2009; Van Dyke et al. (2004)) and various kinds of structural, cultural, and individual outcomes.*

Is there a comprehensive review or meta-study of the movement targets studied in major publications over the last fifty or seventy-five years?

From there, it would be interesting to compare the field of movement scholarship to scholarship on social problems.

     Are there kinds of social problems that movement scholarship, or movements more generally, have tended to neglect?

In addition,

 Are movements better at initiating change for some kinds of social problems than others?

These are important questions and I’d love to hear your thoughts on them.


*Jennifer Earl’s website and database provide a useful overview and suggested readings on movement outcomes.


After this post, colleagues recommended the following very helpful resources on the field of movements at different points in time, changes in civic collective action tactics over time, biases and gaps in movement scholarship, and causality in the relationship between movements and social problems:

Bartley, Tim and Curtis Child. 2007. “Shaming the Corporation: Globalization, Reputation, and the Dynamics of Anti-Corporate Movements.” in annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, New York. Available at http://www. allacademic. com/meta/p184737_index. html.(Accessed March 1, 2009.): Citeseer.

Caren, N., Ghoshal, R. A., & Ribas, V. 2011. “A social movement generation cohort and period trends in protest attendance and petition signing.” American Sociological Review, 76(1), 125-151.

Gamson, William A. 1975. The Strategy of Social Protest: Dorsey Press Homewood, IL.

Klandermans, Bert and Nonna Mayer. 2005. Extreme Right Activists in Europe: Through the Magnifying Glass: Routledge.

Linden, Annette and Bert Klandermans. 2007. “Revolutionaries, Wanderers, Converts, and Compliants Life Histories of Extreme Right Activists.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 36(2):184-201.

McAdam, Doug, Robert Sampson, Simon Weffer and Heather MacIndoe. 2005. “” There Will Be Fighting in the Streets”: The Distorting Lens of Social Movement Theory.” Mobilization: an international quarterly 10(1):1-18.

Sampson, Robert J, Doug McAdam, Heather MacIndoe and Simón Weffer‐Elizondo. 2005. “Civil Society Reconsidered: The Durable Nature and Community Structure of Collective Civic Action1.” American Journal of Sociology 111(3):673-714.


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Looking Behind the Label and Reforming Global Industry

The recent essay series organized by Jennifer Hadden on climate change mobilization raises larger questions mobilization scholars should be asking: How can we collectively address complex global social problems, such as climate change, which are embedded in our systems of production and everyday habits? How can we build coalitions among movements, organizations, the state, and other players, to create effective reform programs?

Next we need to ask the even more challenging question of how do we successfully implement and regulate reform programs on the ground?

According to Looking behind the Label: Global Industries and the Conscientious Consumer, a new book out this week by Tim Bartley and his colleagues, reforming our system of production is possible, but incredibly complex and difficult to implement in a consistent, cohesive manner. Using a combination of survey data on ethical or politically motived “conscientious” consumption and case studies of certification and regulation programs for different products (timber, food, clothing, and electronics), they examine the effects of certification programs on how individuals shop and on global commodity chain production.

How much does buying fair trade or other certified products matter? Can we really change the world by voting with our dollars? What are limitations to individualistic tactics such as boycotting (avoiding consumption of certain products for political or ethical reasons), or buycotting products (deliberately buying products for political or ethical reasons)? How much can a combination of certification programs and conscientious consumerism do to address the social and environmental costs of mass consumption and production via global supply chains? They answer all these questions in the course of the book.

Their results first suggest location matters a great deal in one’s odds of being a conscientious consumer. Scandanavians, for example, were more likely to buycott (about 50%) or boycott (about 30%) a product at least once in the past year, than Americans (at about 25% and 20% respectively). Bartley and his colleagues argue people are more likely to buy certified products if they live near economic opportunity structures which enable them to easily to do so. Living in an affluent country or having access to ethical products through large supermarkets and other high volume chain stores, makes one more likely to buy ethical products.

In the second part of the book, drawing on their own ethnographic data, the authors walk the reader through four case studies examining how ethical certified products really are. What do we learn from these cases? We learn that even in the best of circumstances where certification and auditing systems exist to monitor production processes, they often fall terribly short.

These case studies of the lumber, clothing, food, and electronics industries showcase how complex production is, and how many structural and contextual factors need to be taken into account to understand how global production can be improved. The case of lumber certification reveals, for example, that even in the best of circumstances, such as when various state, private, and non-profit organizations collaborate to form a certification program to create a more sustainable lumber industry, underlying problems may remain. Even with a fairly successful lumber certification program, with certified lumber at stores such as Home Depot and Lowes, deforestation of old wood forests continues to occur at an accelerated rate – due to other industries which cut down trees, such as the cattle and soy industries in South American and palm oil plantations in Indonesia.

Bartley et al. additionally show how when prominent members of an industry, such as the electronics industry, choose to institute self-auditing programs, they often fail to enforce regulations. Thus they gain the ability to market their attempts at ethical production without being held accountable to actual results. Ultimately the electronics industry case shows how due to the underlying structure of the industry itself – in which tech companies undergo rapid cycles of innovation, production, and sales – it is unlikely that human rights issues and labor abuses, such as overwork and lacking job security, will be addressed any time soon. Companies fear slowing down production will hamper their ability to compete and turn the most profit possible on goods with short life cycles.

Despite these problems, buying some certified products certainly should be part of the solution.  However, it is incredibly difficult and time-consuming to investigate which products are worth it.  The authors’ case studies provide us with some hints toward what certified products might be worth buying.  For example, they suggest that buying fair trade products from farm cooperatives can be beneficial.  Buying fair trade products can support small-scale farmers in collectively organizing to counteract corporate agricultural blocs. It also helps produce funds for the cooperatives to help their farmers develop and modernize production.

In conclusion, the authors suggest that although conscientious consumption and the emergence of certification and auditing programs are important avenues to addressing human rights and environmental problems in our production systems, they are far from a sufficient solution. Given the companies’ lack of commitment to enacting deep structural change, the complex structure of global commodity chains, and the relatively weak role of many developing countries in protecting their workers, to even have a chance to truly reform production systems, a combination of social movements to raise awareness of human rights violations and environmental problems endemic in our global system of production and a collective commitment to deep structural change (e.g. increased governmental regulation, reforming structures of production) will be needed.

I used the book in my global social problems course this past semester and the students found it very insightful. Ultimately, the book moves readers away from individualistic stances on saving the world through buying “socially responsible” products, to a much more critical sociological perspective by forcing us to look at how our political and economic structures can be the deepest source of international human rights violations and environmental degradation.  The book helped the students understand at a much deeper level how challenging it is to enact collective change at a global level. It showed them how many factors one needs to take into account in addressing global production problems — such as varying global supply chain structures in different industries, local and national economic structures, state regulation, movement and NGO mobilization, and collaborations between the many interested players. Yet, even if a certification program and production reform are successfully implemented in a single industry, other industries can still exacerbate underlying social problems.  This complexity was eye-opening to them and provided many important lessons to take away.

I think the book would also work well in a social movement course. It adds a useful perspective on how movements need to work with powerful institutions such as businesses and the state, yet also warns of the limitations of mobilization for social change within business and the broader capitalist system without outside movements or organizations to maintain accountability to improved outcomes.

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Do the Right Thing

Last night in our Post-Ferguson Film Series we screened Do the Right Thing (1989) by director Spike Lee. Having not seen it since I was an undergrad in a sociology course, it struck me how incredibly relevant the film remains today. Even 26 years later, it is still a great resource for teaching about race and protest tactics.

do the right thing

The film begins slowly, following various different characters on a hot summer day in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The film documents the numerous subtle and explicit forms of inequality and racial tensions in this neighborhood. As the day goes on, and the heat increases, tensions build over a series of seemingly small, but symbolically laden, events between members of different racial groups. The film ends with an altercation between several black youth and Sal, the Italian owner of a pizzeria. This leads to the arrest and murder of one of the young black men in the altercation, Radio Raheem, by a police officer. In response to the unnecessary tragic death, the pizzeria’s delivery boy, Mookie (portrayed by Spike Lee) who is friends with Raheem, throws a garbage can through the window of the pizzeria. This leads to the complete destruction of the pizzeria and a riot in the neighborhood.

Do the Right Thing depicts, and holds in complexity, the many layers and forms of racial tension and inequality in American society, raising questions of how one can “do the right thing” in a society with such vast, entrenched, and diverse forms of inequality and injustice. It is a brilliant film, showing how a sense of hurt and injustice from a series of slights, degradations, and inequalities can slowly compound under difficult conditions (such as the symbolic summer heat), and combust in violent collective action. Continue reading

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Spontaneity: An important and neglected topic in social movements

Spontaneity in social movements is likely pervasive, but we do not know how pervasive it is, or about the different forms it make take, as it has received far too little attention in movement scholarship to date. I know that I have seen it on numerous occasions in my own research and participation in social movements but have never paid it much attention.

For these reasons, I am thrilled about David Snow and Dana Moss’ courageous new article, “Protest on the Fly,” recently published in the American Sociological Review, which brings our attention back to spontaneity in social movements. Snow and Moss define spontaneity as “events, happenings, and lines of action, both verbal and nonverbal, which were not planned, intended, prearranged, or organized in advance of their occurrence” (Snow and Moss 2014: 1123).  In their analysis, they provide examples of important spontaneous occurrences which shaped trajectories of action for movements’ and their targets, and which at times tragically led to violence. Some of the spontaneous events they identify include initial protester-police confrontations in Cairo on January 25, 2011, which eventually led to the Egyptian president’s resignation. Continue reading

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The Civil Rights Movement, Version 2.0, Hits College Campus Crosswalks

Mass protests about civil rights and dissatisfaction with our current racialized system of mass incarceration (for a great resource see Alexander’s The New Jim Crow) are arising all over the country.  Hamilton College is no exception. See here how a student sponsored protest unfolded through a series of phases.

Stage 1: The Preparation

Students confided on Tuesday they were planning a walk-out of classes on Thursday at 2:00. But they deliberately did not inform most faculty.

Stage 2: The Die-In

Students and some faculty stage a die-in on the school’s crosswalk in the center of campus.


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ISIS’s Mobilization Tactics

How can we interpret the emergence of ISIS/ISIL from a movement perspective?  Students and colleagues keep asking me and my answer remains unclear due to the limited publicly available information on the movement. Much of the available information has been posted by ISIS itself or has been reported by journalists’ accounts (e.g. an overview from the New York Times). The footage their organization has released shows how they are committing brutal and violent acts and sharing them publicly via social media as a key mobilization tactic.

What we know from previous sociological research on militant and orthodox religious movements may lend insights in interpreting how ISIS has emerged and gained power.  Continue reading


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The Meditation Movement’s Unobtrusive Tactical Repertoire

I have always been fascinated by how people collectively mobilize to popularize their deep-seated personal beliefs and values among dissimilar and/or disinterested others.  How do people recruit busy, disinterested others to join their causes and collectives when there is seemingly no extra time and an ever-growing to-do list?  (As we are all well aware of now in early October in the midst of the fall semester.) In pursuit of answers to these questions, I have spent the last five years studying how Buddhist meditation was made popular in secular workplaces in America.

By tracing how meditation emerged in seemingly disparate social spheres, including in Fortune 500 companies such as Google, in the U.S. Armed Forces, in secular public schools, in top scientific research institutions, and in classrooms in higher education, I uncovered an underlying movement of intellectual elites. Continue reading


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Discussing Ferguson

I left the ASAs feeling inspired by all the amazing work people in our field are doing. On leaving, I stopped for dinner in a bar in D.C. during my layover. During my dinner, CNN reported another young black man was killed in Ferguson, MO who had wielded a knife against a police officer.

Watching the coverage, a law enforcement agent at the bar began a public conversation about how the unrest in Ferguson is outrageous and uncalled for. He said how based on his experiences, this whole conflict over the Michael Brown murder is about class not race. I vociferously disagreed, yet I was clearly the minority voice (in terms of numbers and my own racial identity) in the conversation.

I was surprised when, in raising the complexities of the Ferguson case such as issues of racial profiling, discrimination in legal processes, militarization of police forces, and systematic economic and spatial inequality, the police officer responded by strongly supporting racial profiling in law enforcement. He immediately dismissed many of the underlying complexities of the situation which I raised. Others supported his position. I left the conversation frustrated by how difficult these issues are to discuss with non-sociologists and in general. I was frustrated with my own inefficacy in explaining the many complexities of the issue which I am acutely aware of due to my background in sociology.

As the semester looms, I wonder how we can draw upon the literature we know about race, protest, and collective uprisings to sociologically unpack this case and discuss it with students and broader audiences in a more effective way.

Yet as the police officer was leaving, he went out of his way to come by and thank me for sharing my opinions. He said he hoped I would not hold his perspective against him.

I left the situation horrified by how nearly everyone in the bar viewed the situation in quite simplistic, and I believed deeply racist, ways yet was encouraged by how this man went out of his way to support raising these issues in public spaces.

As sociologists, educators, and movement scholars, how can we use what we know to open broader conversations and dissect such emotionally fraught, tense, and complex issues in more nuanced and insightful ways—in which people from a wide array of backgrounds can participate in and learn from? Although it is easy to always talk to each other about these issues, we have an important voice to contribute to broader public discussions.

I’ve been thinking of hosting a teach-in at Hamilton College and am lucky to have a department that supports the idea.  I’d love to hear others’ thoughts or insights on this issue.

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Summer Heat Wave

Summer has officially hit in Bloomington and across the country.  It is hot and humid. People are wilting and as a result are more likely to be impatient and irritable.  Psychologists have argued for decades that heat waves are associated with violent action and crime due to increased aggressive thoughts and feelings of hostility (Anderson 1989; 2001; Cohn and Rotton 2000). More crimes are reported during the summer than other seasons (Cohn and Rotton 2000).

If heat is related to hostility and aggression, is it related to protest participation? I’d suspect that protests are more likely to occur in summer months when more people are out and about in public spaces.  People may also have more time off in the summer to engage in protests.

Are protests less likely to occur in the winter?  Certainly, some protests have occurred during the winter, such as the Occupy protests. But were these an exception? And thinking more broadly, has there been research on how movements are influenced by environmental conditions such as weather, ecosystems, spatial layouts of communities, etc.?


My quick search on movements and weather did not yield any results. Does anyone know if there is any research on how environmental conditions influence movements? If not, maybe someone should start looking into this further…



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Harnessing Technology to Advance Movement Research

After spending a semester in Silicon Valley and San Francisco interviewing many techies, computer software engineers, entrepreneurs, and business execs, I left with a lot of questions about the future of sociological research. Several shifts seemed crystal clear to me. First, there is an unprecedented amount of longitudinal data being collected in real time by big business through social media as well as through handheld devices and apps. Second, if as researchers we do not connect with these data sources and find ways to analyze them, we will become irrelevant.  So how do we do this better? And how do we do this in particular to advance scholarship on social movements? Continue reading

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