Lapegna, Pablo (2016), Soybeans and Power: Genetically Modified Crops, Environmental Politics, and Social Movements in Argentina (New York: Oxford University Press).
Soybeans and Power by Pablo Lapegna takes the case of a rural community in Formosa (a northern province of Argentina that borders on Paraguay) to explore a crucial question for social movement studies: how to explain the demobilization of a social movement. A poor community of peasants experiencing local-level impacts of the global process of adoption of genetically modified crops (GMCs) and agrochemicals reacts differently in two instances. In the first instance, in the face of health and economic consequences associated with GMCs cultivation, it responds by mobilizing. In another instance, it reacts to the same consequences differently—by actively demobilizing. These seemingly contradictory strategies leads the author to propose an answer to the crucial question of why people sometimes choose to mobilize and sometimes to demobilize on the same issues and with similar grievances. According to Lapegna, cooptation and clientelism are insufficient explanations, and in this case there is no repression. Therefore, he proposes viewing demobilization as an agency-based process (p. 14, 16) that requires an ethnographic approach in order to appreciate the multiple layers at play in these sorts of dynamics, without overemphasizing the role of the elites while grasping the actors’ understandings of the dynamics at hand. Continue reading
“Participatory singing as a political act is becoming an outmoded relic of former movements.” –Leondar-Wright (on Mobilizing Ideas 2012)
“Artistic quality varied considerably, but was not the central point.” –Nancy Whittier (2009: 179)
“Dialogical projects often leave little or no physical trace due to their ephemeral nature.” –Kester (2004: 190)
I have my Intro American Studies students write an essay on the use of songs in labor movements. It’s a popular assignment, and the musicians in the class usually take great care in picking “their song” to present to the rest of the students. So I was floored when, during the Writer’s Strike in 2007, I pulled up a YouTube video of the TV stars from “The Office” lustily belting union ballads on the picket lines. “See, class? Union songs are still relevant and cool today!” The look of sheer teenaged horror on their faces was unforgettable—a collective cringe on the order of the American public’s reaction to Brad Paisley and LL Cool J’s “We just cured racism with music!” bravado (see here). Can art demobilize or disempower when it doesn’t work, or even when it does? The very question may seem silly, especially for a blog discussion about the use of art and music in activism. Continue reading
Emotions can get us into the streets, but can they keep us silent, too? Social movement scholars have paid attention to emotions in recent years, but we still focus primarily on how emotions shape social action rather than how they may prevent it. In the case of public response to global warming, I find the latter to be particularly interesting. Global climate change is not only the single most significant environmental issue of our time, widespread and potentially catastrophic social impacts are predicted from sea level rise and changing patterns of precipitation and disease. As events from Hurricane Katrina and Super-storm Sandy to pine bark beetle infestations in Colorado and melting permafrost in Alaska reveal, changing climactic conditions will increasingly jeopardizes state economic resources, exacerbate social inequality, alter community structures, and generate new patterns of economic and social conflict. For nearly three decades, natural and physical scientists have provided increasingly clear and dire assessments of the alteration in the biophysical world. Yet despite these urgent warnings, human social and political response to ecological degradation remains wholly inadequate. Continue reading
Social movement scholars have often struggled with operationalizing movement success and/or failure, and rightfully so. What may be considered a failure to scholars may be perceived as success to activists. In addition, movements are not monoliths and therefore success for some activists or for some groups, may not be relevant to other aspects of a movement. Finally, talking about success and failure also rests on the assumption that we know about the intentions of movement actors – that there are clearly stated and known objectives and that the decisions actors make are in reference to achieving those goals and objectives. Often, we can only speculate about motivations and intent; presumably success can also come about unintentionally. I have written about how the Occupy movement has shifted the spotlight to scholars’ understanding of movement outcomes, but I suggest that the Tea Party also requires us to think about how we define movement success and failure. Continue reading