Author Archives: Peter B. Owens

Mass Violence, Ethnic Competition, and Social Movement Scholarship

For some time social scientists that study mass violence, right wing and repressive social movements, and interethnic and interracial competition have analyzed similar collective phenomena using quite different theoretical frameworks. Inattention to theoretical overlaps across these subfields has not prevented scholars within them from generating robust findings and insights, but it has hampered efforts toward the development of a broader synthetic research agenda on social movements, violence, and social control. This inattention is particularly important given the recent movement of scholarship on mass violence and racial/ethnic competition toward meso- and micro-levels of analysis, placing them squarely within the territory of social movement scholarship (Collins 2008; Cunningham 2012, 2013; Karstedt 2013; King 2004; Owens et al. 2013; Tilly 2003).

My research addresses these issues by focusing on the role of collective action in constructing, defending, or transforming structures of racial, ethnic, and political inequality. Specifically, I focus on the mobilization of social control efforts by nominal power holders against disadvantaged groups, and seek to extend macro-level theories of interethnic competition and group threat by specifying the meso-level mechanisms that mobilize or demobilize adherents across divergent social environments. Continue reading

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Filed under Emerging Stars in Social Movement Research, Essay Dialogues

Boundary Framing, “Ethnic Violence,” and the Politics of Restraint

By Peter B. Owens

In this essay I would like to explore an idea that has been the focus of much of my own research on the collective dynamics of mass violence – that the ways in which collective boundaries are framed by influential state and non-state actors can have significant impacts on the contours of state and non-state repression. Almost 15 years ago, in the wake of massive collective violence in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Brubaker and Laitin (1998) made a plea for the disaggregation of the monolithic phenomena of “ethnic violence.” They influentially argued that viewing violence as inhering along ethnic lines often ignored the ways in which violence was purposively framed as such, clouding understanding of the heterogeneous causal processes at work within specific cases. Since then, numerous comparative studies have demonstrated the ways in which the framing of conflicts along collective boundaries—be they ethnic, racial, political, and/or religious—can have enormous impacts on the degree of violent repression used by both state and non-state actors (e.g. Gagnon 2004; Hagan and Rymond-Richmond 2009; Oberschall 2000; Owens Forthcoming 2014; Straus 2006; Su 2011). Continue reading

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Filed under Essay Dialogues, Violent State Repression

New Report Details Worldwide Use of Excessive Force, Criminalization of Nonviolent Protest

In a massive new report, entitled “Take Back The Streets: Repression and Criminalization of Protest Around the World,” nine international civil liberties organizations warn of the increasing use of excessive force in crackdowns on nonviolent protest (full text available here, courtesy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association). Broad in its scope, the report features case studies of repressive events in the United States, Israel, Canada, Argentina, Egypt, Kenya, Hungary, South Africa, and Britain. As the report states:

In June 2010, hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets of Toronto to peacefully protest the G20 Summit, which was taking place behind a fortified fence that walled off much of the city’s downtown core. On the Saturday evening during the Summit weekend, a senior Toronto Police Commander sent out an order – “take back the streets.” Within a span of 36 hours, over 1000 people – peaceful protesters, journalists, human rights monitors and downtown residents – were arrested and placed in detention. The title of this publication is taken from that initial police order. It is emblematic of a very concerning pattern of government conduct: the tendency to transform individuals exercising a fundamental democratic right – the right to protest – into a perceived threat that requires a forceful government response. The case studies detailed in this report, each written by a different domestic civil liberties and human rights organization, provide contemporary examples of different governments’ reactions to peaceful protests. They document instances of unnecessary legal restrictions, discriminatory responses, criminalization of leaders, and unjustifiable – at times deadly – force.

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Filed under Daily Disruption

Upcoming special issue of American Behavioral Scientist: Colonialism, Genocide, and Indigenous Struggles in the Americas

I’d like to direct readers’ attention to an upcoming special issue of American Behavioral Scientist, focusing on historical and contemporary issues relating to dispossession, violence, and colonialism against indigenous peoples in the Americas. For interested readers, there are some preliminary articles from this issue that are now available online. The violent dispossession of indigenous peoples was a predominant feature of American territorial expansion, and created enduring settler-colonial institutions and relations that continue to structure indigenous-U.S. politics (Steinman 2012). This violence was perhaps most pronounced and systematic in mid-19th century California. Here state and local officials explicitly sanctioned numerous collective efforts by militias and settler groups to decimate indigenous peoples, and passed numerous laws and statutes that relegated indigenous peoples to extreme social and political marginality  (Almaguer 1994; Madley 2008, 2009). Although basic facts of this violent colonization and settlement are relatively well-known, it is only recently that historians have begun to systematically document and explore the state’s violent past. Continue reading

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Racist Movements without Racists?

By Peter Owens

A recent New York Times article captures a disturbing, yet increasingly common, practice in the contemporary American white power movement: the secretive taking over of ostensibly marginal and largely white communities or buying up of marginal land in order to transform them into strongholds of white racist organizing. Most disturbingly, many of the residents of this small North Dakota town were unaware that such a process was unfolding underneath their feet until they were alerted by the Southern Poverty Law Center! Such strategies reflect the importance of creating various covert “free spaces,” as Simi and Futrell have noted, in which movement adherents are able to openly socialize with each other and profess their beliefs. In the case of contemporary white racist movements, the cultivation of these free spaces, often referred to within the movement as “pioneer little Europes” (PLEs), is a significant objective of their activism. Continue reading


Filed under Essay Dialogues, Racist and Racial Justice Movements