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
Who activists target and how is an important topic for scholars of mobilization, and one that the Collective Behavior and Social Movements section of the American Sociological Association will discuss at the annual pre-conference workshop in Chicago this summer. My thoughts on the study of movements’ targeting practices and tactics are outlined below.
First, we should think about how movements create relationships with their targets, or why they fail to do so.
Whether movements are seeking to change the public’s consumption of water in drought-stricken California or their position on a particular ballot measure, it is worth considering how movements create—or foreclose—the kinds of relationships needed to enact social change with their intended targets. Movements engage in all types of outreach to change hearts and minds, but some strategies are far more likely than others to garner sympathy. I was thinking about this recently when I witnessed two activists wordlessly handing UC Irvine students pamphlets on veganism during the rush between classes. The students cringed and stuffed the papers in their pockets. It seemed as though the activists were checking off a box: distributed pamphlets to a bunch of random and potentially-impressionable young people? Check! Without having gathered data on this incident, I would wager my JSTOR subscription that zero minds were changed that day. Public education efforts require labor, time, and money—things that movements rarely have in ample supply. And yet, actions such as distributing pamphlets often seem to be all cost and no reward. 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