Category Archives: Art, Music, and Movements

How I’ve understood music’s role in activism

By William F. Danaher

This essay assesses the use of music in activism. Most of the research I’ve coauthored on music and activism has been from a historical perspective analyzing social movements. This poses special problems for the researcher who is seeking to assess the role of music in activism. When one is on the ground, direct observations can be made of what music is used and the effect it has on movement participants. If one attends a rally or participated in a march, the effects of the music can be directly seen and felt.  For instance, a friend and I once observed a rally for striking hotel workers in a major city. We marched several blocks through the streets to a gathering spot outside one of the city’s largest hotels. Popular music was playing from speakers. On stage, a speaker was shouting and chanting above the music, getting people to respond in unison. After the crowd was sufficiently excited, the speaker began to recount the problems the staff encountered while working in hotels. I looked around the crowd and saw some of my colleagues; to this day, when I see them, I think of this moment. So being there can elicit emotions in the short-term that can have long-term effects and give the researcher a greater sense of understanding. Continue reading



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Digitizing the Arts of Protest

By T.V. Reed

My topic will be the impact of new digital media on visual protest art, but before I take up that subject, let me briefly offer a few comments on digital protest methods in general. It seems to me that there are very few things that have been traditionally done by grassroots organizing that cannot be done also by netroots (online) organizing. And there are some clear advantages for digital activism in terms of speed, geographic reach, and costs of communication. There is also one huge limitation—roughly 70 percent of the world’s populace has no access to the Internet at all, and many millions more have minimal access. That represents some 5 billion people who cannot be reached by digital means of communication alone. That is one reason that no digital activist worth her of his salt would rely exclusively on the Net. Even in this case, however, a variety of digital means are being used to help reach the offline world, including low-cost printing of posters, flyers, banners and alternative newspapers, as well as digital radio broadcasts, and cheap CDs and DVDs containing organizing materials. Continue reading


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Art, Music, and Movements

June’s essay dialogue explores the use of art and music in activism.  We explore many different angles on this topic, including: What is the role of art/music in a social movement, and what impact, if any, does protest art/music have on activists?  How is the role of various types of art (music, visual art, film, etc.) changing in a digital age?  What is the role of protest music and art in broader culture? How has the diffuse status of protest art and music in culture altered the effectiveness of art in protest? How have movements of the past managed to produce lasting cultural artifacts like songs or works of art? Below is a list of this month’s essays.

Andrea Bohlman, UNC, Chapel Hill (essay)
Ugo Corte, Uppsala University (essay)
Stacy Elaine Dacheux, P.S. 1010 (essay)
William F. Danaher, College of Charleston (essay)
Ron Eyerman, Yale University (essay)
Pat Humphries and Sandy OEmma’s Revolution (essay)
Caroline Lee, Lafayette College (essay)
Ryan Moore, CUNY-Queensborough (essay)
T.V. Reed, Washington State University (essay)
William G. Roy, UCLA (essay)
Alessandra Rosa, Florida International University (essay)


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Music matters to social movements and in a number of ways, but can we use it to advance our understanding of emotions and the body?

By Ugo Corte

Music is culture, and “music is an incredibly powerful (emotional) force” (Garofalo 2011: 727). But how does music matter to social movements? What do we know? And what else should we research and why? Danaher (2010) recently provided a review of the topic that I won’t reproduce here. Instead with the space at my disposal, I partially—and therefore selectively—tackle these questions below while mentioning a few key well-known readings to social movement scholars, including a few others they should check, and one in particular. The latter could be useful to advance our understanding of music in social movements, and especially the connection between emotions and the body—“the physical dynamics of emotion”—discussed in this on-line publication by Summers-Effler (2012). Continue reading


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The Role of the Arts in Political Protest

By Ron Eyerman

Understood in the broadest sense to include music and street theater as well as all forms of visual representation, artistic expression has an undisputed place in contemporary social activism. There is a long, perhaps even ancient history of wall writing and what we would today call street art and graffiti used as means to express discontent and catch public attention. Recall the humorous scene in Monty’ Python’s Life of Brian, where an occupying Roman soldier corrects the Latin grammar in a rebellious piece of street art. While this may be fanciful fiction, it reflects a reality in the current Palestinian conflict (think local activists as well as Banksy), as well as in our own Occupy movement. More stylized and professional art forms, and artists, have been involved in political protests and movements throughout the modern era and the linkages between aesthetics and politics, art and propaganda has been long debated. Can political art be good art, can good art be political? How effective is politicized art and the artists who make it? What exactly does art do in demonstrations of political protest? These are some of the issues I would like to address. Continue reading


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The Art of Demobilization

By Caroline W. Lee

“Participatory singing as a political act is becoming an outmoded relic of former movements.” –Leondar-Wright (on Mobilizing Ideas 2012)

“Artistic quality varied considerably, but was not the central point.” –Nancy Whittier (2009: 179)

“Dialogical projects often leave little or no physical trace due to their ephemeral nature.” –Kester (2004: 190)

I have my Intro American Studies students write an essay on the use of songs in labor movements. It’s a popular assignment, and the musicians in the class usually take great care in picking “their song” to present to the rest of the students. So I was floored when, during the Writer’s Strike in 2007, I pulled up a YouTube video of the TV stars from “The Office” lustily belting union ballads on the picket lines. “See, class? Union songs are still relevant and cool today!” The look of sheer teenaged horror on their faces was unforgettable—a collective cringe on the order of the American public’s reaction to Brad Paisley and LL Cool J’s “We just cured racism with music!” bravado (see here). Can art demobilize or disempower when it doesn’t work, or even when it does? The very question may seem silly, especially for a blog discussion about the use of art and music in activism. Continue reading

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P.S.1010: A Collaborative Presence Without Agenda

By Stacy Elaine Dacheux

(photo taken from the P.S.1010 Kickstarter campaign)

(photo taken from the P.S.1010 Kickstarter campaign)

“How might we explore this connection between art and education? What is the relationship between the emancipated spectator and the empowered student? If activity and criticality distinguish both radical aesthetics and radical pedagogy, what happens when these contexts not only intersect but merge?”

These are a few important questions Eirik Schmertmann, Erin Schneider, Arjuna Neuman, Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal, Clifford Pun, Annie Danis, and Marco Di Domenico are asking with the launch of their latest endeavor, P.S. 1010, a school bus that will function as “a mobile laboratory, gallery, and classroom.” Continue reading


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