Tag Archives: Pedagogy

Value Free Social Movements Courses?

By Kim Dugan

If “value-free sociology” was YOUR Facebook status (and we were “friends”) sorry to say I would not “like” it. So too it goes for the so called value-free teaching of social movements. I view it is as impractical, if not impossible.  The guiding question then is: To what extent do we faculty advocate for a position or for change?  Three things I find guide my pedagogical approach to teaching of social movements:  1) to have and maintain an awareness about which/whose values I am actually promoting, 2) clearly articulating and being transparent about those values, and 3) reaching students where they are/asset-based student learning.  Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Pedagogy of Social Movements

Teaching Social Movements through a Writing Course

By Kelsy Kretschmer

The original posts for Mobilizing Ideas on pedagogy in social movements were insightful and thorough. I recognized many of my own pedagogical struggles in their posts, especially the problems of satisfying activist students while also engaging students who are unfamiliar with and usually perplexed by the activism of others. As a follow up to those great posts, I thought it might be useful to write about my experience in constructing a writing intensive course on movements, including what worked and what didn’t work in engaging both kinds of students.

In the fall of 2011, I took a one year position teaching in the writing program at Wellesley College, a small, all-women’s institution in Massachusetts. Continue reading


Filed under Essay Dialogues, Pedagogy of Social Movements

Quandaries in teaching about social movements

By Pamela Oliver

I don’t feel that I’ve ever mastered the teaching of the undergraduate social movements course. I initially begged off on this blog assignment for this reason, but was told that giving voice to my problems would encourage others to reflect on the issues. I started writing this while traveling on August 1 and then read the first five wonderful contributions to this series. I am blown away with admiration at the very different but rich and thoughtful approaches they offered to the course. I know I cannot provide a better positive model. So instead I will discuss some of my frustrations and failures with the course. If this has value, it will be because the tendency for us all to be silent about our mediocre or bad teaching experiences both intimidates struggling instructors, making them feel isolated and alone in their misery, and makes it difficult to improve, since we are often too busy covering up our inadequacies to get the information or help or perspective we need to improve. Continue reading


Filed under Essay Dialogues, Pedagogy of Social Movements

Employing Backward Design Toward Movement-Relevant Teaching and Learning

By Lyndi Hewitt

Many of us began studying social movements, at least in part, because our own experiences with activism in one realm or another called us to develop a deeper understanding of how social change happens. Having found fulfillment in such pursuits, and recognizing the significance of both the theoretical and the political in our own journeys, we might hope to pay it forward by fostering the intellectual, political, and moral development of the students in our social movements courses. But are we thinking carefully enough about how to do this in the classroom?  While calls for greater attention to movement-relevant scholarship and “useable knowledge” have (re)intensified over the past decade (Bevington & Dixon 2005Croteau, Hoynes, & Ryan 2005CBSM workshop 2011), conversations about movement-relevant teaching have been less consistent.

In a CBSM section newsletter a few years back, Rob Benford shared the impetus behind his decision to revise the content of his upper level social movements course to reflect more applied goals rather than solely theoretical ones. Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Pedagogy of Social Movements

How about a social movement app?

Apparently a new iPad app called “Revolutionaries of the Past Century” (also called “Making of a Century” depending on where you look) was launched recently, and guess what, it lets you explore the past 100 years of revolutions and social movements. You can even look at the profiles of revolutionary leaders and their movements and how it relates to particular historical events. Digging into the background of the app a bit, I found that it was a Bahraini civil rights activist Esra’a Al-Shafei who had created the app (full article here). Pretty cool huh, a social movement app?

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Disruption

Social Movements: How People Make History

By Peter Dreier

Back in 1900, people who called for women’s suffrage, laws protecting the environment and consumers, an end to lynching, the right of workers to form unions, a progressive income tax, a federal minimum wage, old-age insurance, dismantling of Jim Crow laws, the eight-hour workday, and government-subsidized health care and housing were considered impractical idealists, utopian dreamers, or dangerous socialists. Now we take these ideas for granted. The radical ideas of one generation have become the common sense of the next.

How did this happen?

Social movements transformed these (and many other) radical ideas from the margins to the mainstream, and from polemics to policy.   The 20th century is a remarkable story of progressive accomplishments against overwhelming odds. But it is not a tale of steady progress. Continue reading


Filed under Essay Dialogues, Pedagogy of Social Movements

Hit and Miss: Making Connections in the Social Movements Classroom

By David Cunningham

“Why don’t we connect with this material as much as we do with theories in some of our other classes?”  I pondered this question – offered up by one of the best students from the inaugural semester of my undergraduate Social Movements course – for a good long while.  I knew he had a point, having sensed throughout the semester the very gulf he articulated.  The problem was exacerbated by both of our expectations, which seemed skewed by a sort of “social movement exceptionalism” – a feeling that this kind of class should more deeply affect students than, say, their intro or research methods courses typically do.

At Brandeis University, where I teach, such expectations do not entirely reflect my own biases, as the school’s founding emphasis on social justice and strong activist history means that each year a number of politically-engaged students express high hopes that a course on movements might provide a place for their principles, aspirations, and ad hoc political experience to coalesce.  Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Pedagogy of Social Movements

Social Movements Classes as Sites for Organizer Training

By Brian K. Obach

An alternative approach to teaching social movements classes is to do so in a way that imparts practical skills designed to prepare students for careers in organizing.  While higher education institutions offer training and professional development for a wide range of careers, this important career trajectory is almost completely neglected.  The dearth of higher education offerings in this area is so great that labor unions and private non-profit centers have had to develop their own training and education programs to meet their own demand.  With some modification, most social movements classes could be designed to develop that skill set and to better prepare students for careers as professional organizers.

There are thousands of non-profit community organizations and labor unions throughout the United States that employ social movement organizers.  A visit to a web-based employment clearinghouse for non-profit organizations yielded a list of over 600 jobs available under the designation “activism.”  Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Pedagogy of Social Movements

Big Ideas, Challenges, and Practical Insights

By Nancy Davis

Teaching social movements has been one of the most meaningful projects of my life as a sociologist.  Below are some of the big ideas that I have tried to emphasize in my teaching, some of the challenges, and some attempts at addressing them.


Understanding that change from the bottom does occur

Perhaps the foremost idea that undergirds my course—the idea that I hope my students will retain long after they leave the university—is that significant change is possible, not just from above by political and economic elites, but frombelow by ordinary men and women who often lack numerical majorities, conventional resources, or access to institutional channels of power. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Pedagogy of Social Movements

Teaching Movements as Fundamental Moral Dramas

By Dick Flacks

The questions posed for this essay dialogue are ones I’ve wrestled with over the 40 years I taught courses in social movements. I initiated an upper division social movements course in 1971, in the midst of intense campus and community antiwar protest. Students who took such a course then were overwhelmingly identifying with the student movement and many if not all had taken part in large-scale militancy (including street rebellions accompanied by bank burning and mass police roundups). As I recall, my efforts then were aimed at getting students to document and reflect on the ongoing protest that swirled around them.

Once the protest tide receded, I began to rework the course. My first concern at that time was to see how some of the emotional and human experience of mass movement might be made available. To achieve this, I decided to make films an integral part of the curriculum. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Essay Dialogues, Pedagogy of Social Movements