Are protests effective? This straightforward question interests both scholars and lay observers of protest. Whereas scholars most frequently answer the question with a nuanced ‘it depends’ and start narrating about contingencies; citizens and especially journalists most often simply want to hear impressive stories. Not the historical cases everybody is familiar with, but preferably more recent ones. Tales of contemporary struggles that truly show the potency of protest.
In the last few months, several examples of protest and success covered in international media caught my attention. These protests were noteworthy because, contrary to what much scholarly work suggests—that is, that protest is especially effective in the long run—these actions succeeded extremely quickly, in a matter of days. Their success seemed to be as sudden as their emergence. Continue reading
We are familiar with framing effects, and aware that different news media use headlines and content to frame stories differently. Christian Davenport recently explored the issue in some depth in his 2010 book. Over the weekend a very nice illustration of this problem unfolded with respect to the Standing Rock (Sioux) Tribe’s #NoDAPL protests against the North Dakota Access Pipe Line being built by Energy Transfer Partners with the support of the US Army Corps of Engineers North Dakota.
Writing for the Associated Press, James MacPherson (@MacPhersonJA) used the “balanced and objective” passive voice construction so prized by the Western news outlets that grew dominant during the mid 20th Century. Here is an image of his story published by ABC News.
Spontaneity in social movements is likely pervasive, but we do not know how pervasive it is, or about the different forms it make take, as it has received far too little attention in movement scholarship to date. I know that I have seen it on numerous occasions in my own research and participation in social movements but have never paid it much attention.
For these reasons, I am thrilled about David Snow and Dana Moss’ courageous new article, “Protest on the Fly,” recently published in the American Sociological Review, which brings our attention back to spontaneity in social movements. Snow and Moss define spontaneity as “events, happenings, and lines of action, both verbal and nonverbal, which were not planned, intended, prearranged, or organized in advance of their occurrence” (Snow and Moss 2014: 1123). In their analysis, they provide examples of important spontaneous occurrences which shaped trajectories of action for movements’ and their targets, and which at times tragically led to violence. Some of the spontaneous events they identify include initial protester-police confrontations in Cairo on January 25, 2011, which eventually led to the Egyptian president’s resignation. Continue reading