Although the 2018 midterm elections have not yet been held, it is already clear that one of the biggest stories that will be in the headlines on November 7th will have to do with women’s engagement with the political process. Voter turnout is expected to be unusually high among women, and the “gender gap” in party preferences—with women being much more likely than men to favor Democratic candidates—seems to be wider than it has ever been. What’s more, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of women running for office. In fact, more than 40 percent of Democratic nominees for seats in the House of Representatives are women (compared to about 10 percent of Republican nominees). The essays in this dialogue offer insight into some aspects of women’s increasing involvement in the political process. What factors led so many women into politics (drawing them to the voting booth as well as leading them to run for office)? How may women’s increasing representation in political office reshape relationships between social movements and institutionalized politics in the years to come?
Thanks to our wonderful group of contributors on this topic:
Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Guillermo Trejo
By Catherine Bolzendahl
The U.S. is poised to witness unprecedented numbers of women engaging in electoral politics in general, and running for political office in particular. By the April 6, 2018 filing deadline, 309 women filed to run for the U.S. House, at a 90% increase since 2016, and a notable uptick in minority women candidates. Although the actual numbers elected are likely to be much lower, these figures are nevertheless remarkable and suggest the potential of one of the wealthiest capitalist democracies in the world to finally join counterparts with 40% or more women in legislature, such as France (39.6%) and Norway (41.4%) or at least to match the European average at 27.7%. The historical reality of American women’s political office holding is, however, quite bleak. Of all the countries in the world, the U.S. is 103rd in women’s legislative presence with 19.6% women, behind Indonesia, Uruguay, and Pakistan. Furthermore, it is particularly important to disaggregate among women elected or running for office, given that reasons for involvement and the possible influence on policy may be highly dependent on how gender intersects with other minority statuses. As a leading advocate for equity, human rights, and democracy, political outcomes in the U.S. elections rarely reflect the diversity of our citizenry. Thus, the recent news is exciting for scholars like myself, who study and support gender diversity in electoral politics, but a lot of work remains.
For activists and advocates in developing countries, funding from international donors is often perceived as a sharp double-edged sword. Financial support from development agencies like USAID, DfID, Sida, or Norad, or private foundations like MacArthur, Ford, or Omidyar can represent a resource windfall for the advocacy initiatives, citizen mobilizations, and policy reforms they labor to advance. Such funding grants are typically larger than anything available from domestic sources. Continue reading
Social movement theorists have pointed to the concept of threat as a mobilizing force. Yet whereas many objective conditions are threatening – presenting economic threats, environmental threats, and existential threats – such conditions do not always lead to collective action. What do resistance movements – past, present, domestically, and abroad – teach us about the ways in which threat inspires action? Alternatively, how have contemporary movements and events revised our understanding of the role of threat for mobilization? The essays in this Dialogue may explore a number of questions related to threat and mobilization, including: What kinds of signals do actors take from their environment as cues about threatening conditions, and how do assessments of threat vary across time and space? How do power dynamics intersect with threat to produce action – do marginalized populations respond to different kinds of threat than more privileged actors? Are some kinds of threats more likely to lead to smaller, “every day” acts of resistance, while others result in mass mobilizations? The answers to these questions lend insight to contemporary politics and further theoretical work.
Special thanks to Guest Editors Thomas V. Maher and Rachel L. Einwohner, who organized this exciting dialogue.
Thanks to our wonderful group of contributors on this topic.
Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Guillermo Trejo
This blog contribution is split between father and son sociologists, Stuart A. Wright and Jared M. Wright, who share research interests in social movements.
Stuart Wright. In their seminal work refining the contentious politics model seventeen years ago, McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly (2001: 43) observed that the attention given to threat as a stimulus to collective action had remained “an underemphasized corollary of the model.” In my research on the Patriot movement leading up to the Oklahoma City bombing (Wright, 2007), I argued that this tendency could be due to the dearth of studies focusing on far-right movements which have invariably postulated a threat by liberal-left state and non-state actors. The Patriot movement and various elements of racial nationalism have come to see state sponsorship of civil rights, cultural pluralism, and social and economic justice as a problem rooted in the power of the federal government, paving the way for increasing antigovernment sentiments. As such, I found the mobilizing potential of threat to be a more significant force in the trajectory of contention that produced violent, anti-government violence. Continue reading
It would be fair to say that the notion of threat was never a stranger to scholars of collective behavior and social movements. The idea that aggrieved groups respond to developments or events that put them at risk economically, socially or even existentially, by rioting, protesting, or raising arms, was voiced early on by scholars working in different strands of the classical tradition. Still, it would be just as fair to say that as a useful analytical concept, threat suffered from chronic under-specification and under-theorization. And while a much needed address was offered by scholars working in the political process tradition through the concept of the Structure of Political Opportunity and Threat (SPOT), two persisting issues ensued, which are: (1) the structural bias of SPOT, and (2) the political bias of SPOT. Focusing primarily on political threat, I suggest that the structural bias of the concept was more a reflection of scholarly research preferences, terminologies and practices than an inherent conceptual quality, and that the constructivist attempt to remedy this structural bias has stopped short in fully acknowledging and appreciating the original relational foundations of SPOT. I address the second issue—the political bias of political threat—as part of discussing several promises of such relational re-reading of the concept of SPOT and, more particularly, political threat. Continue reading
Contemporary movements across the world remind social movement scholars to rethink the role threat and grievances play in collective action. Recently, several movements have emerged in response to threats. From the occupy movement, and indigenous water rights mobilizations, to local environmental racism battles and immigrant rights social movements, marginalized and excluded social groups are mobilizing against increasing threats within their communities (Mora et al. 2017). Threats are defined as the negative conditions that inspire mobilization; although scholars have given more focus to political opportunities, threats were originally given the same weight as political opportunities (Tilly 1978). Some of the key threats that mobilize communities are environmental, economic, erosion of rights, and state repression (Almeida 2003; 2018). Continue reading