Author Archives: Todd Nicholas Fuist

About Todd Nicholas Fuist

Visiting Assistant Professor at Western Washington University

Social Movement Dynamics at the Group Level

Throughout my academic career, my area of focus has been the social movement group. Social movement groups (SMGs) are a key mechanism to connect individuals to each other and get them informed and mobilized on important social issues. Sociologists of social movements have often found that political conversion on an issue occurs concurrently with activism, not prior to activism. This was certainly my own experience as an activist. As such, I tend to see the social movement group as representing the promise of democracy and civic engagement in our society: it is a vehicle through which individuals are connected to each other and plugged into citizen action in our society.

Yet, on the other hand, SMGs are also subject to all the internal dynamics that occur in any social group, making them interesting laboratories to study broader social processes. Continue reading

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Masha Gessen’s Thoughts on Pussy Riot and Putin

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When reading coverage of Russia’s now infamous Pussy Riot, one may be tempted to ask: are a punk band, an art collective, or a social movement group? The answer, of course, is yes. This is made clear by Masha Gessen in her new book Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot. In the book, Gessen shows how politics, art, and performance are intertwined for the women of Pussy Riot, demonstrating the complicated nature of contemporary protest, something I suspect many readers of Mobilizing Ideas will be interested in.

Additionally, Gessen has been making the rounds to several recent podcasts to talk about the book, as well as about homophobia in Russia, the logic of Putin, and the situation in The Ukraine. She has recently been on NPR’s Fresh Air, Slate’s Live at Politics and Prose, and KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasny. Each interview is worth listening and they cover slightly different topics, shifting between wider Russian politics and Pussy Riot more specifically. Through her book and these interviews, Gessen provides both a useful look at a fascinating, outside of the box, contemporary political group as well as a window into current Russian politics.

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Nathan Schneider’s “Thank You Anarchy” and the Importance of “Being There”

Protest is a visceral experience. You hear the overwhelming sound of chanting, drumming, and shouting; get swept up in a sea of bodies in motion; and feel the butterflies that flutter in your stomach as you look at the line of riot police, imposing and unmovable, just a few short feet away from you. Despite this, we have a relative lack of first hand, ethnographic accounts in the sociology of social movements when compared to analysis of secondary sources or interview-based projects. Yet we know that part of what builds solidarity in a movement is participating in mass action. In other words: being there matters. This begs the question: could we “be there” more as researchers?  

I learned the importance of “being there” first hand as a student. I had already begun to read in the sociology of social movements, but nothing I read could have prepared me for my first mass protest, which I went to while studying the Global Justice Movement. Even the most dramatic of photographs or descriptions cannot adequately capture the rush of emotions dredged up through mass collective action. I have a strong memory of being at the 2001 protests against the FTAA on the U.S./Canada border in Buffalo, New York and listening to a speaker at a rally, when what seemed like thousands of protesters broke apart from the event and ran down the street in an impromptu march. Continue reading

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Why do we support the policies we do?

As a follow up to the post I wrote last week about the lack of unambiguous political signifiers, this Washington Post article by Ezra Klein draws attention to two recent pieces, one by Jesse A. Myerson and one by Dylan Matthews. The Myerson piece has been kicking around the internet for a little over a week now, generating a lot of chatter for its progressive economic proposals, including work for all and a universal basic income. The Matthews piece represents a conservative response to Myerson’s five economic proposals.

The kicker, though, as Klein points out, is that Matthews largely suggests the same things, just switching out the language codes to ones associated with conservatism For example, the “jaw-droppingly simple idea of a universal basic income, in which the government would just add a sum sufficient for subsistence to everyone’s bank account every month” in the Myerson piece, becomes “basic income would shrink our bloated government, give people more choices, and break the culture of dependency in our poorest areas” in the Matthews piece. Klein goes on to cite point out that conservatives howled about Myerson’s piece, while those on the left had some choice words for Matthews after his piece came out, despite the ideas in the pieces largely being the same. In other words, the “signification,” so to speak, mattered more than the ideas. How an idea is presented drives how we understand it. Continue reading

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The Hunger Games, Lisa Simpson, and The Semiotics of Revolution

Recently, Donald Sutherland, who plays the villain, President Snow, in the Hunger Games movies, said that he hoped those films would cause a “revolution” among young people. Sutherland, a longtime supporter of left-wing causes, asks why young people aren’t marching in the streets to fight inequality, and suggests a fairly typical assessment: there is no revolution because millennials are too worried about job hunting and making ends meet to get organized.

While there is, undeniably, always a time/resources crunch aspect to whether or not people become activists, there is another potentially interesting notion at work here, and the Hunger Games, the movie that Sutherland stars in, represents a useful cultural artifact to make the case with. Continue reading

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Occupy, The Civil Rights Movement, and Decentralization

Over at orgtheory.net, Fabio Rojas recently asked a good question: why has Occupy not followed the tactical and organizational choices made by the Civil Rights Movement. As Fabio points out, they share ideological similarities, yet Occupy has largely been a decentralized movement while the Civil Rights Movement favored large organizations and clearly defined goals. It’s a post that’s worth reading and mulling over in its entirety, and it’s generated some interesting conversation. I did, however, want to raise one point with regard to this question, though, that hasn’t been brought up (at least at the time I’m writing this) on the thread, which is that Francesca Polletta covered some of this in her piece “How Participatory Democracy Became White.Continue reading

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Interviews with Theda Skocpol and Frances Fox Piven

Just a quick note to link to two recent interviews on Salon.com with two noted sociologists of social movements. One interview is with Frances Fox Piven, the other with Theda Skocpol, and both discuss the Tea Party movement in the U.S. Sensationalist headlines aside, both interviews are interesting and worth checking out, if you haven’t already.

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