Category Archives: Protestors and their Targets

Protestors and their Targets

For July, we are continuing or dialogue on protestors and their targets. In anticipation of the CBSM section workshop before this year’s ASA conference in Chicago, we are hosting a dialogue concerning the relationship between protesters and their targets. Considering classic theories concerned with political institutions and companies, as well as the more recent focus on targeting lifestyle, culture, and public behavior, we want to discuss the plethora of actor-target interactions involved in collective action. We also hope to include the ways movements consider multiple targets and their perception by the media and public at large. Considering interactions between these actors and factors is encouraged. More specific considerations might include: How do movements identify targets? How do strategic actions of targets affect movements? How do movements change actions to fit their audience? What effects do media coverage and public perception have on movement success? We asked our contributors to consider these and similar topics in their posts.

Thank you to our contributors for their insightful essays, they are all listed below.

Round 1
Dana M. Moss, University of California – Irvine (essay)
Marc Dixon, Dartmouth College (essay)
Donatella della Porta, European University Institute (essay)
Charles Seguin, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (essay)
Heidi Reynolds-Stenson, University of Arizona (essay)
David Everson, University of Notre Dame (essay)
Deana A. Rohlinger, Florida State University (essay)

Round 2
William Gamson, Boston College (essay)
Mary-Hunter McDonnell, Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (essay)
Brayden King, Northwestern University (essay)
Catherine Corrigall-Brown, University of British Columbia (essay)

As always, we invite you to join the dialogue by posting your reactions to these essays in the comments sections.

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

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The Choice between Public and Private Targets in Anti-Corporate Activism

By Mary-Hunter McDonnell

While there is a considerable and expanding body of work dedicated to understanding the targeting decisions of movements operating in the private sector, this body of work has developed in large part in isolation from more traditional work exploring public sector movements. But this separation in the literature ignores potentially important connections between private-sector and public-sector movements, as well as the fact that social movements often have the freedom to choose whether to target industry incumbents or the state. For example, contemporary anti-corporate movements in the US regularly choose the field on which to wage their campaigns for industry reform, either by targeting the public sector (a top-down strategy where the movement pushes for new regulations that will pertain to all private sector companies) or the private sector (a bottom-up strategy where the movement tries to win concessions from individual companies that it can then mobilize to pressure industry or public sector officials to create industry-wide change through new standards or regulations). Thus the choice of which sector to target is a first-order strategic decision for many movements, but it is one that is often overlooked or taken for granted in the research. Continue reading

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It’s Time to Study how Corporate Targets Influence Activists

By Brayden King

Social movement activists have numerous goals in mind when they choose a particular corporate target, including implementing a specific policy change, changing the norms or standards of an industry, and drawing attention to their cause. Choosing the optimal target can affect the activists’ abilities to accomplish these goals. As demonstrated through research by Tim Bartley and Curtis Child on anti-sweatshop campaigns and by Mary-Hunter McDonnell and myself on boycotts, activists do not choose corporate targets randomly. They frequently go after the largest, most dominant, and most prestigious companies in their respective industries. Continue reading

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Knowing Who You Are: How Group Identity Shapes the Perceived Legitimacy of Tactics

By Catherine Corrigall-Brown

In the first set of essays for this dialogue published last month, Deana Rohlinger discussed the important role of reputation and how it affects the strategic decision making of movement organizations, particularly in relation to the media. In addition to the strength of a group’s reputation, a group’s identity also shapes the extent to which the media listens to it and how the use different tactics by organizations are viewed by the media and public as a whole. Continue reading

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Protestors and their Targets

By William A. Gamson

When I think about the distinction between members and challengers, I think of the differences in the adversarial relationship with the target of change. Challengers necessarily have an adversarial relationship with their target who does not recognize them as a legitimate spokesperson for some constituency. Members have a more ambivalent and mixed relationship. Representatives of the target are willing to sit down with them and discuss issues but it remains to be seen whether this leads to genuine change or is simply an attempt at cooptation. The task, for analysts, is to do justice to the variable nature of this relationship and to its changes over time. Continue reading

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Long Live the State?

By Marc Dixon

How wedded are social movement activities to politics and the state? What targets offer the most bang for the buck when seeking change? Research shows groups often have strong reasons to seek out a wide range of collective action targets beyond the state. Yet, whether groups like it or not, and whether they seek cultural, economic or any other non-explicitly political form of change, movement demands more often than not get ensnarled in the political process. This poses a series of interesting dilemmas for activists. Continue reading

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Target Choices in Intense Times

By Donatella della Porta

There are diverse explanations for how social movements made decisions about their targets and interact with them. Rather than considering the mas rival theories, it could be more useful to see them as illuminating dilemmas and tradeoffs that social movements have to address, and trying to specify under which conditions and through which mechanisms each applies. In these notes, I will present what I see as main explanations before focusing on targeting in the specific conditions of what I call intense times. Continue reading

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