Category Archives: Origins of Social Movements

Comments on Shultziner and Social Movement Theory

By Anthony Oberschall

I am puzzled by Doron Shultziner’s “reconsideration” of social movement theory’s apparent failure to account for the social-psychological antecedents of collective action (e.g., shame and humiliation preceding the Montgomery bus boycott). For 50 years of research and writing, I (and many others) have distinguished the social-psychological roots of collective action – briefly termed discontent and grievances – from framing, mobilization, and opportunity. All four require independent, though overlapping, explanations (see Oberschall 1993:16-19 on “the origin of social movements”).

Shultziner puts the accent on shame and humiliation in person-to person-interaction experiences as the emotion motivating protest: bus drivers on segregated buses persistently, frequently, and intensely abused black riders in Montgomery. It is not surprising that strong emotions in many situations motivate many types of actions in both institutional and in loosely structured contexts. Continue reading

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The Movement for African-American Civil Rights: Both a Model and a Contrast

By John D. Skrentny

The 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the place of the Civil Rights Movement in social movement theory. Because it was a complex, momentous, constitutional moment in the American history of justice, law, politics, and nation-building, it is not surprising that we are still learning about the movement. Though it was in many ways a model for other movements, I argue here that using it as a comparison case with other movements provides insights into important differences between movements.

One area where we are still learning regards the origins of the movement. A case in point is the subject of this symposium, Doron Shultziner’s recent article in Mobilization, which provocatively puts social psychology at the center of our understanding of the origins of the Civil Rights Movement. For Shultziner, the psychological experience of “humiliation” provided a key motivation for the movement. Notably, constitutional scholar Bruce Ackerman (2014) has independently placed what he calls “institutionalized humiliation” at the center of his understanding of the legal response to the movement. Civil rights laws, in his view, were designed to prevent these everyday humiliations from marking the African-American experience. Continue reading

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Slippery as an Old Banana: Pinning Down Explanations for Social Movement Emergence and Momentum

By Deana Rohlinger

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Doron Shultziner’s article, “The Social-Psychological Origins of the Montgomery Bus Boycott,” provides an important reminder that relational dynamics matter. Whether studying a particular movement or a campaign rolled out in a specific community, we learn a lot about the emergence and course of social movements by studying the perspectives of different kinds of players, who also have a direct or indirect stake in the political game.

Some students of social movements may not find this welcome news. Studying interactions among groups of actors is messy work. Continue reading

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Civil Rights, White Supremacist, and Racially Conservative Movements

By Kim Ebert

One of the most significant achievements of the Civil Rights Movement is the steady decline in overt racism and de jure discrimination. This accomplishment is among the reasons why scholars of social movements are encouraged to continue to study and learn from the origins, maintenance, and consequences of the Civil Rights Movement. The decline in explicit racism also has generated considerable research on the somewhat puzzling persistence of the white supremacist movement within a social and political environment that ostensibly is hostile to such blatant forms of racism. Yet while the scholarship on social movements has offered great insight and clarity on the dynamics of racism and racial inequality, this tendency to focus on the extremities of racial-political activities – the Civil Rights and white supremacist movements – has unintentionally obscured the transformation of racism and the new ways prejudice and privilege manifest in social movements.

While scholars within the field of racial and ethnic relations have investigated the post-civil rights shift in racial ideologies, comparatively little research has been done on a corresponding transformation in racial-political organizing of racial conservatives that act to protect white interests. Continue reading

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