Data limitations remain one of the challenges of scholars seeking to publish work on social movements and activism. But, there’s a new tool in town that might help social movement scholars overcome some small part of those long-standing data issues. Google recently released a Beta feature called “Google Dataset Search.” The tool compiles datasets that meet their requirements (contain metadata and structured data, and exist on pages with sitemaps). This means there are many datasets that are not being catalogued, but the developers have released guidelines in case others want to ensure their data is included in the search. For a full description of the tool, you can read their blog.
I took the tool for a spin to get a sense how it might be useful for movement scholars. I searched “protest” to get started and was pleasantly surprised that the large number of search results included sites I often search for data (e.g., ICPSR) and many small, one-time studies I’d not heard about prior. Scrolling through, there was a diversity in the type of data (both quantitative and qualitative) as well as in the size and extensiveness of the datasets. In exploring briefly, for instance, I located a dataset containing a twitter archive from the Women’s March in 2017 as well as interview data on protests across Europe.
Right now, I’m working with some lynching data, so I went ahead and searched “lynching” to see what was catalogued. There, I only received 5 search results. On the positive side, I found datasets I did not know about prior, like this one from a data scientist. On the other hand, I did not see data sets I expected like the EJI lynching dataset. The limited terms of inclusion remain a restriction to finding data. However, the capacity to locate unknown and available data is novel and potentially useful, especially for young scholars who are looking for opportunities to publish work in Social Movements.
In the post-Trump era, tools like Resistbot and Countable seek to make political engagement easier and more readily accessible to broader audiences. These tools predetermine which political stakeholders users should contact and ensure that collective action efforts to reach elected officials become automated. Recently, I presented in a course alongside a professor and founder of a new kind of tool that hopes to centralize and simplify many of the processes of collective action. Betsy Sinclair, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, developed an online platform she hopes will allow any citizens to start a “micro social movement.” Magnify Your Voice is described as “…the solutions platform for civic, environmental, and political initiatives near you. Create a new project, or join one to help make change in your neighborhood and beyond.” With Magnify, anyone can create a profile and post a project. Take for instance asking faculty to make election day “A Day Off For Democracy.” This particular project seeks to mobilize university members to cancel class and pressure their university president to make election day a holiday. The project has 49 members who support the initiative and 11 who have already taken an action such as cancelling class on election day or emailing their university president. Several are also part of related growing efforts through https://www.educatorpledge.com/ and http://www.adayofffordemocracy.com/. Continue reading
As neo-confederate protesters clashed with protesters supporting the taking down of a confederate monument on campus at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, it felt impossible to divorce these recent protests from their historical context. During the 1913 dedication of Silent Sam, the unnamed soldier commemorating those who left college to defend the confederacy, supporters like student Julian Carr called to the historical linkage with the statue. After Dixie played in the background, Carr proudly told the audience of racial violence he himself engaged in just 100 yards from the site of the statue. The “memorial gateway to campus,” as then President Venable referred to it, stood at the entry way to one of the largest thoroughfares at UNC until last week when it was knocked down by protesters.
The statue has been the site of several waves of protest on campus since it’s erection, with increasing frequency in recent years. Thinking back to the origin story of Silent Sam calls us as social movement scholars to push further down a road that historians and economists have paved – a focus on the impacts of historical legacies of slavery. We can ask questions yet to be answered about how histories of racial violence shape activism in communities.
The years of protest around the contentious figure on campus only further demonstrate that legacies of slavery directly impact contemporary experiences. Beyond the well-documented impacts of legacies of racial violence at the city and state level, assuredly there are microcosms on campuses, in communities, and around various statues and memorials that provide opportunities to understand how history shapes modern-era events. Recent events like the one at UNC call us as scholars to develop an understanding of the mechanism by which these legacies shape mobilization.
On September 23rd, Bernice King, Marin Luther King Jr’s daughter, tweeted this picture with the caption “The real shame & disrespect is that, decades after the 1st photo, racism STILL kills people & corrupts systems. #America #TakeAKnee @POTUS.”
Since the election of Donald Trump, protests have become increasingly commonplace in the United States, both in the nation’s capital and in towns and cities across the country. This recent wave of mass mobilization has led to growing considerations about how the new political climate might be changing civic engagement, particularly for young people. In June, Phase 1 of the 2017 Millennial Impact Report1 was released. The findings are based on interviews and focus groups with 16 millennials who previously downloaded the report; selecting for youth likely to be engaged. The press release for the report read “Will Millennials Turn Your Cause Into a Movement?” This is a complicated and potentially unanswerable question, but one whose answer could greatly impact movement scholarship. While the report cannot answer the long-standing question of how extensively youth drive social movements, it does offer some insights that are useful and potentially challenging to movement theory. Continue reading