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Measuring Movement Outcomes

By William Gamson

Gathering my thoughts on how we measure social movement failure is, for me, a deja vu experience. Imagine that it is 40 years ago and I am struggling with this question as I conduct the research reported in The Strategy of Social Protest (Dorsey: 1975). I write the following:

Success is an elusive idea. What of the group whose leaders are honored or rewarded while their supposed beneficiaries linger in the same cheerless state as before? Is such a group more or less successful than another challenger whose leaders are vilified and imprisoned even as their program is eagerly implemented by their oppressor? Is a group a failure if it collapses with no legacy save inspiration to a generation that will soon take up the same cause with more tangible results? And what do we conclude about a group that accomplishes exactly what it set out to achieve and then finds its victory empty of real meaning for its presumed beneficiaries? Finally, we must add to these questions the further complications of groups with multiple antagonists and multiple areas of concern. They may achieve some results with some targets and little or nothing with others. (p. 28).

If I were writing this today, I wouldn’t change anything. Continue reading

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