Category Archives: New Ways to Define Activism

New Ways to Define Activism II

For September we are extending the conversation on “New Ways to Define Activism” with another round of insightful essays considering activities that blur the lines of our definitions of activism. Many organizations and groups of individuals engage in activities that are similar in many respects to those carried out by social movement organizations yet we, as well as those participating, may not perceive it to be activism. For these essays we have asked our contributors to consider what may be gained or lost by stretching definitions of what counts as activism.

Thank you to all of our contributors, their essays are below.

Dana R. Fisher, University of Maryland (essay)
Grace Yukich, Quinnipiac University (essay)
Alison Dahl Crossley, Stanford University (essay)
Valerie Chepp, Hamline University (essay)

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Dan Myers

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The Problem with Research on Activism

By Dana R. Fisher

Social movement scholars have a problem: since the 1970s, when collective behavior and social movements emerged as a growing sub-field of sociology, research has focused on a very limited definition of activism. In many ways, this definition was constructed as a response to the psychologically driven work on collective behavior, which tended to focus on what McPhail called the myth of the maddening crowd.

Even today, however, the well-incorporated notion of contentious politics continues to focus its attention on actors that target the political system, with the majority coming from outside the political system. This predisposition in the field was on clear on display at last week’s CBSM Workshop on Protesters and their Targets (which was extremely informative and interesting by the way). But, as a result of the limitations of the ways we conceive of activism, the object of inquiry in much of the research on social movements overlooks the manifold ways that citizens (or non-citizens) participate, the organizations that mobilize them, and the tactics that they choose. Continue reading

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Blogs and Activism

By Alison Dahl Crossley

Gender and social movement scholars have contributed to the expansion of how we think about activism—including enlarging conceptualizations of the targets and tactics of social movements, and recognizing the importance of movement communities and cultures.

Applying these themes to the online setting, my research on feminist mobilization sheds light on how blogs are an important site of activism.

In my research, I found that feminist blogs educated readers about feminism and provided an opportunity to create online communities. Continue reading

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Emotion, Activism, and the Creative Arts

By Valerie Chepp

In this essay, I reflect upon the role the creative arts can play in social change work. I explore this connection by drawing upon my ethnographic research of a community of young spoken word poets in Washington, D.C. In various ways, these young adults—primarily millennials (i.e., those born 1980-2000)—leverage the emotive power of the creative arts in pursuit of social justice activism. Below, I introduce you to some of these poets and their artistic activist approaches.¹ Continue reading

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Who Gets Left Out When We Talk About “Activism”?

By Grace Yukich

In a 2005 piece, Doug McAdam and colleagues argue that “disproportionate attention accorded the struggles of the sixties has created a stylized image of movements that threatens to distort our understanding of popular contention” (2). Dominant conceptions of movements, they continue, include disruptive, public protest; loosely coordinated national struggles over political issues; urban and/or campus-based protest activities; and claim making by disadvantaged minorities. After analyzing media reports of public protests, they contend that this dominant conception of movements is outdated, too restrictive, and has outlived its usefulness. Continue reading

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Professional Activism and Social Change

By Meghan Kallman

About forty years ago, as neoliberal economic policies took hold, a change also occurred in the landscape of social movements. Though neoliberalism—initially a set of economic policies intended to jumpstart the US economy—is many things, we have internalized it socially. Translated, that means that we now primarily think about free markets, commodification, formal organizations, and individual people (rather than policy, for instance, or informal or collective organizing) as how social change is made (Brenner, Peck, and Theodore 2010; Harvey 2007; Jepperson and Meyer 1991; McAdam 1986). Somewhere along the line, and in parallel with the ideas that neoliberalism has fostered, we got the idea that formalized, professionalized social movement organizations were the most effective type of organizing. Continue reading

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New Ways to Define Activism

For our dialogue in August and September, entitled “New Ways to Define Activism,” we are considering activities that blur the lines of our definitions of activism. Many organizations and groups of individuals engage in activities that are similar in many respects to those carried out by social movement organizations yet we, as well as those participating, may not perceive it to be activism. For these essays we have asked our contributors to consider what may be gained or lost by stretching definitions of what counts as activism.

Thank you to all of our contributors, their essays are below.

Meghan Kallman, Brown University (essay)
Rebecca Tarlau, Stanford University (essay)
Alex Barnard, University of California-Berkeley (essay)
Jaime Kucinskas, Hamilton College (essay)
Kyle Dodson, University of California-Merced (essay)
Erin Evans, University of California-Irvine (essay)
Paul-Brian McInerney, University of Illinois-Chicago (essay)
Ed Walker, University of California-Los Angeles (essay)

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Dan Myers

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