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
By Marian Azab
Azab, Marian, and Wayne A. Santoro. 2017. “Rethinking Fear and Protest: Racialized Repression of Arab Americans and the Mobilization Benefits of being Afraid.” Mobilization 22(4):417-36.
Naber, Nadine. 2006. “The Rules of Forced Engagement: Race, gender, and the culture of fear among Arab immigrants in San Francisco post-9/11.” Cultural Dynamics 18:235-67.
Santoro, Wayne A., and Marian Azab. 2015. “Arab American Protest in the Terror Decade: Macro-and micro-level response to post-9/11 repression.” Social Problems 62(2): 219-40.
By Aliza Luft
Adrien Nemoz was 21 years old when his friends told him in horror that a stained-glass portrait of Marshal Pétain, the French Vichy regime’s authoritarian leader, was hanging in a chapel across the Fourvière Basilica. A tall, imposing Church overlooking Lyon, the Fourvière was seen by many as the moral center of the city. For Nemoz and his peers, it was unconscionable that a tribute to Pétain would hang in this holy place. After all, only several months earlier Pétain had agreed to an armistice with Hitler, resulting in the Nazi occupation of half of France. Something had to be done.
By Trent Steidley
The usefulness of threat in understanding social movements has informed a wide range work on topics like labor strikes, anti-union policies, the creation of ex-gay “therapy” centers and same-sex marriage bans. Naturally, social movements can use actual threats as a powerful mechanism to support mobilization. Left unanswered though is this: can a social movement that has mobilized in response to threat continue to mobilize around it even as objective risk declines?
By Greg Prieto
While grievances are common, collective mobilization to address them is rare. Take the case of Xiomara, whom I profile in my new book Immigrants Under Threat. An undocumented single mother of three sons, she fled her home state of Zacatecas, Mexico in 2001 and crossed the border without authorization to escape her abuser, to be nearer to her sisters in California, and to avail herself of the economic opportunities al norte. Shortly after Xiomara arrived to California’s Central Coast, she met a man and the abuse began anew. Too fearful that her undocumented status would land her in deportation proceedings, she called the police only when her abuser began threatening her young sons. Besieged by the legal violence of the deportation regime, on one side, and gender violence, on the other, Xiomara recalled the period as a dark one, one in which she felt immobilized, deeply fearful, and alone.
By Soon Park
This is a special phase in the history of the United States, one characterized by threat. Yet, the dynamics of threat are playing out a bit differently now than in the recent past. How so? A short answer: it’s about a clear and focused target for mobilization. To elaborate on that, I will first briefly discuss the concept of threat with an emphasis on how we arrived here. Then, I will consider how threat is important for both activists and observers, how the Trump-era is changing our treatment of threat, and how a historical case from East Asia helps us understand the current situation in the U.S.
Youth, Social Movements, and Activism Syllabus
This course provides an undergraduate level introduction to the study of youth political socialization and political activism. Young people are the backbone of most social movements from the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements to more contemporary examples like Black Lives Matter, #Occupy, and the anti-gun violence movement. The first half of the course presents an overview of theories of youth political socialization, political participation, and their role in social movements. The course specifically explores concerns about the state of youth political participation and the realities of participation, theories regarding how youth are socialized to participate in politics (and the impediments to participation), the history of youth in social movements (specifically why youth and college campuses are so important). The second half builds on this structure to review areas where youth are bringing new energy to political participation. The syllabus includes discussion in how youth have updated tactics, continue to redefine what counts as political, and incorporate new (intersectionality) and old (economic inequality) concerns into movements. The course is built around a midterm and final exam, as well as a research paper on a youth-oriented social movement that is broken up into several smaller “proposals” throughout the semester. Students are also assessed on their participation in class discussion over the substantive issues. The course serves as a point of connection between courses on youth and society, political sociology, political communication, and social movements.
The syllabus with usage notes and learning outcomes are available on the TRAILS website.
An un-gated link to Youth & Activism syllabus is available here.
Additional material are available here.