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.
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
Amidst the calls for a more relational and dynamic approach to the study of social movements, the protester-target nexus would seem an area of inquiry ripe for further development. Social movement scholars have already begun to fruitfully expand our horizon of targets beyond the state, reflecting not only the multitude of arenas in which contention occurs, but also an enveloping political landscape confronting activists characterized by the ever-increasing blurredness of the boundaries between governments and the institutional agents of global capitalism. Though we surely have much to learn about the strategically-chosen targets of activists, future work should also not lose sight of the unintended targets of social protest, and the manner and means by which the spectator audience can alter the course of contentious trajectories. I will suggest below that a renewed focus on “bystander publics” (Turner 1970) promises to yield potentially novel theoretical insights for our models of movement-countermovement dynamics and social movement outcomes. I support this claim by drawing from my dissertation work on Euro-American memory of and attitudes toward the American Indian Movement (AIM), which suggests that our understanding of the unintended consequences of movements needs to account for the processes through which dominant group bystanders alter the “discursive fields” through which social movements, and even racial groups, are culturally constructed. Continue reading
At many protests, law enforcement or security officers act as a buffer between protesters and their targets. As a result, protesters often do not come face-to-face with their targets at street demonstrations (unless they are targeting everyday people; Einwohner 2001). And, as protest-policing protocols increasingly emphasize the pre-emptive control of space, protesters are often kept further and further away from the targets they seek to influence or disrupt (Gillham and Noakes 2007). Because their primary target may not be accessible, movements often engage in indirect proxy targeting, like the students who targeted their universities for complicity in the Vietnam War (Walker, Martin, and McCarthy 2008). So, while protesters and targets react to one another and try to anticipate the reactions of the other side, this interplay is, in many cases, delayed and mediated though law enforcement (Earl and Soule 2006), the media (Koopmans 2004) or proxy targets. Continue reading