Category Archives: Great Books for Summer Reading 2014

Review of Direct Action, Deliberation, and Diffusion: Collective Action after the WTO Protests in Seattle

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Wood, Leslie. 2012. Direct Action, Deliberation, and Diffusion: Collective Action after the WTO Protests in Seattle. Cambridge University Press.

The 1999 World Trade Organization Meetings in Seattle was a pivotal turning point for activists around the globe. It was a turning point, not only because outsiders brought the meetings themselves to a grind, but also because activists made innovative use of dramatic new tactics of resistance. These new and highly visible tactics included the Black Bloc, the use of Giant Puppets, the creating of Lockbox blockades, and practicing jail solidarity.

The Black Bloc is not an organization. Nor is it a group. It is a tactic that “involves dressing in black and masking one’s fact (often with a black bandanna), moving in tightly packed groups, and protecting members of the group from police encroachment through evasive maneuvers” (Wood, 34). Lockbox blockades are blockades in which activists lock themselves to each other and objects and jail solidarity entails a refusal to “cooperate with authorities during arrest and processing” (Wood, 37).

Why, Wood asks in the question that forms the heart of this Direct Action, Deliberation, and Diffusion, were activists in New York City more likely to adopt the use of the Seattle tactics than activists in Toronto? Both are the largest cities in their respective nations. Activists in each city had equal access to information about the tactics used in Seattle. Thus, that the tactical diffusion was so unequal, as Wood, shows, is by no means a given. Continue reading

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On Democratic Revolutions

By Elisabeth Clemens

American Insurgents, American Patriots

Breen, T.H. 2010. American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People. Hill and Wang.

In the final years of the eighteenth century, political insurgents on both sides of the Atlantic attempted something radically new:  to institute government by the consent of the governed.    Yet these efforts played out rather differently in France and the United States.  As exemplars, these two cases have long informed the theoretical imaginations of political sociologists and social movement scholars.  Two recent works at the intersection of history and social theory, however, suggest that we may all need to recheck some of our basic assumptions.

With American Insurgents, American Patriots:  The Revolution of the People (Hill & Wang, 2010), T.H. Breen has produced that rare work of scholarship that one actually might want to read in a hammock or a beach chair.  Exploiting the organized obsession with the American Revolution, embodied in so many wonderful local history associations and library collections, Breen reconstructs the close-to-the-ground processes by which some communities remained loyal to the British Empire while in others the social network pressures to join the insurgency became close to irresistible. Continue reading

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Great Books for Summer Reading, 2014

This summer, we are continuing our annual tradition of offering readers a healthy selection of great books for your summer reading lists.  We have invited contributors to choose their favorite social movements/protest-related book of the past couple years, whether scholarly, activist, or fiction, and write a short review. The list of recommended titles is especially diverse this year, so there should be something for everyone.  Enjoy these insightful essays and look for a few more to post later this month!

Phillip Ayoub, European University Institute and Drexel University
Out in Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa (review)

Elisabeth Clemens, University of Chicago
American Insurgents, American Patriots and Demands of Liberty (review)

Catherine Corrigall-Brown, University of Western Ontario
Welcome to Resisterville: American Dissidents in British Columbia (review)

Paul-Brian McInerney, University of Illinois at Chicago
Contention and Corporate Social Responsibility (review)

Will Moore, Florida State University
Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (review)

Kathleen Oberlin, Indiana University
Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism (review)

Jo Reger, Oakland University
Resistance and The Politics of Child Sexual Abuse: Emotions, Social Movements and the State and At The Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape (review)

Deana A. Rohlinger, Florida State University
Silo Saga (review)

Fabio Rojas, Indiana University
Political Epistemics:The Secret Police, the Opposition, and the End of East German Socialism (review)

Rima Wilkes, University of British Columbia
Direct Action, Deliberation, and Diffusion: Collective Action after the WTO Protests in Seattle (review)

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Review of Rise of the Warrior Cop

Radley, Balko. 2013. Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces. Public Affairs.

Radley, Balko. 2013. Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces. Public Affairs.

For the past several years the month of May has borne witness to The Purple Hatter’s Ball, a music festival at Suwanee River State Park, FL, that celebrates the life of Rachel Hoffman.  Rachel is a relatively well known victim of the USA’s “war on drugs.”[1]  She was murdered in May, 2008 on a rural road in Tallahassee, FL by two young men who were not drug dealers, but had nonetheless been approached by Rachel because a friend had told her they could sell her $13,000 worth of drugs and guns.  The Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) had used a minor marijuana possession charge to pressure Rachel–who used, but did not sell drugs–to participate in this “sting” operation, and on that night in May she had $13,000 of U.S. taxpayer money in her possession.  Her communication with the TPD’s officers running the sting failed, and the teenagers who had made no attempt to obtain either the drugs or guns they told Rachel they could provide her ended up shooting her, taking the money, and escaping (they were eventually arrested, several days later, as they began spending the cash).  In short, the TPD created a drug buyer who did not exist, allowed her to locate drug dealers who weren’t, botched the electronics, and one person died while two petty teenage criminals became murderers, generating grieving and loss across three families, along with hundreds of friends.[2] Continue reading

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Protest and the Life World

Andreas Glaesers. 2011. Political Epistemics: The Secret Police, the Opposition, and the End of East German Socialism. University of Chicago Press.

Andreas Glaesers. 2011. Political Epistemics: The Secret Police, the Opposition, and the End of East German Socialism. University of Chicago Press.

By Fabio Rojas

In this post, I draw attention to a central issue in cultural sociology that should be of great concern to social movement scholars. Recently, cultural sociologists have produced a series of studies that examine the “life world” of various political and economic systems. What cultural sociologists are trying to measure and examine with these studies is the tacit rules for how people view their social world. According the life world theory, communities develop shared frameworks that explain what is possible. They have “folk cosmology” that provides an interpretive lens for everything that happens in the community or to the community. Contemporary life world theory combines Durkheim’s fundamental observation that our concepts are connected with group life with European phenomonology’s requirement that we account for how our observations and intuitions of the world are structured.

This is important for social movement research because life world theory might be the “second generation” of social psychology within social movement studies. Currently, most movement scholars adopt a few types of social psychology. Those of a materialist bent adopt the view that protest is essentially a feature of structural shifts in the economy. The followers of Benford and Snow view movements as a sort of discussion where people come to agree that the world needs fixing. Rational choice scholars see grievances as fixed reflections of interests or identities, but action happens when the relative costs shift.

Life world theory offers a different approach. One starts with looking at the folk cosmology of the society. Here, Andreas Glaeser’s book, Political Epistemics:The Secret Police, the Opposition, and the End of East German Socialism (2011, The University of Chicago Press), provides an important example that will be of interest to movement scholars. Continue reading

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Books That Are About More than You Think

Whittier, Nancy. 2011. The Politics of Child Sexual Abuse: Emotion, Social Movements, and the State. Oxford University Press.

Whittier, Nancy. 2009. The Politics of Child Sexual Abuse: Emotion, Social Movements, and the State. Oxford University Press.

By Jo Reger

It seems like a hard sell to convince academics to spend some of their “free” time in the summer reading books that center on the sexual assault of women and children.  Yet, I find myself attempting this because of my certainty in quality of these two books; Danielle McGuire’s beautifully written At The Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance (2010, Random House) and Nancy Whittier’s incredibly intelligent The Politics of Child Sexual Abuse: Emotions, Social Movements and the State (2009, Oxford). Note: I have met Danielle McGuire and I am friends with my graduate school colleague Nancy Whittier. So while I have connected with these authors personally, my goal here is to focus on the intellectual and emotional connection I have with each of their books (knowing them personally is just an added benefit).

So why should you read these books? First, taken together they underscore the importance and often overlooked issue of sexual assault in the study of movements. McGuire, a historian, retells the story of the origins of the civil rights movements through the epidemic of rapes of black women. Starting with anti-rape activism of Rosa Parks, McGuire tells a compelling and sometimes horrifyingly detailed story of the rapes, assaults, and murders of black women in a time when it was “open  season” for white men to go “hunting.” Starting (and ending) with the story of Recy Taylor, McGuire carefully traces these cases and the grassroots organizing that sprung up around them, eventually coalescing in an infrastructure that carried the movement forward. Continue reading

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Review of Out in Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa

Currier, Ashley. 2012. Out in Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Currier, Ashley. 2012. Out in Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

By Phillip M. Ayoub 

In Out of Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa, Ashley Currier explores the inner workings of LGBT movements as they target state and social change. She shows that LGBT organizations navigate their visibility, remaining acutely aware of the audiences that they engage and the contexts in which they operate—a phenomenon that will resonate with many LGBT people on a personal level.  Beyond the “visibility matters” assertion present in much social movement research, which has treated the concept as an attribute of movement relevance, Currier demonstrates how—depending on time and place—movements consciously use both visibility and invisibility strategies. She argues that visibility matters to movements in a variety of ways. It enhances the movement’s social and political relevance and the activists’ ability to disseminate demands and ideas. Visibility also offers movements the credibility necessary for improving their standing with the target audiences they wish to influence (p. 1). At the same time, invisibility can also be good for movements when (a) “political circumstances become hostile to organized resistance” and (b) “activists must withdraw from public visibility to respond to internal crises” (p. 1). The cases of Namibia and South Africa provide the appropriate foil with which to make these claims, since Currier’s rich ethnographic work demonstrates that organizational strategies had varied trajectories in these countries. Continue reading

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