Tag Archives: Protest

Transposable Protest Legacies

By Cole Carnesecca

While the Umbrella Movement may ultimately prove lacking in results, it certainly has not lacked in drama. Part of that drama comes from the attempt to locate the Hong Kong protests into a broader legacy of social movements. The image of young Hong Kong students calling for expanded democratic rights drew immediate comparisons to the 1989 Tiananmen protests and the “Occupy Central” part of the movement seemed a clear nod to the Occupy Movement in the United States. Both of these links reflect the transferable nature of protest legacies and the importance of legacy mobility for contemporary protests in China (and beyond). Yet protest legacies can mean very different things to activists and their targets, giving shape to how a movement is understood culturally and structurally, as well as how activists and state agents act. To illustrate this point, I will consider four movement legacies that serve as significant sources for the Umbrella Revolution and their implications for how the Hong Kong protests have unfolded. Continue reading

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From French Resistance to hashtag activism: How our obsession with the extraordinary masks the power of the ordinary

I’ve become obsessed with “Un village français.” No, it’s not an idyllic town in Provence. It’s a French television series set during World War II. The show follows the residents of one French town as they navigate the German occupation.

"Un village français" is a French television series set during the German occupation during World War II.

“Un village français” is a French television series set during the German occupation during World War II.

I tell myself that I am already into the 6th season (thank you, Netflix) because it helps me learn the language. I have just started a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, based at the Toulouse School of Economics. And I do need to brush up on my French. But admittedly, I am fascinated with the drama and romance of the TV series.

But I have also realized that the show mirrors the way I approach my research on social movements, social media, and social class. It focuses not on the big heroes, or iconic giants of history, but on the average people. And rather than dwelling on extraordinary events like big battles involving thousands of troops, the shows unfolds slowly as we watch these regular people struggle with everyday circumstances.

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Studying Social Movements in the South

I am very grateful for this invitation to present my research in Mobilizing Ideas. As a young scholar, I have been studying social movements, trade unions and other forms of political participation using a variety of methods depending on the research question I needed to answer. Ethnography, life stories and process tracing are the ones I used the most. In this short text, I will focus on the following topics of my scholarly production: 1. Public deliberation and urban movements; 2. The youth condition and political participation; 3. The role of social movements, trade unions and protest on democratization; 4. The struggle of the poor for their socio-political reincorporation; and 5. The multiple scales in the resistance to the globalization of neoliberalism. My aim is to very briefly introduce the core questions and answers I have researched.

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Social Movements, Institutions and Policy Outcomes

In light of the recent proliferation of mass mobilization events like Occupy/99%, immigrant rights, the Arab Spring, and the Ukrainian protests, many interested in social movements have turned their attention to protest participation. No doubt, this new wave of protest research has provided important theoretical insights on mobilization as well as methodological advancements.

However, scholars have also recently pointed to important organizational and institutional aspects of social movements and social change that should not be overlooked. In fact, the two recent Charles Tilly Book Award winners, Drew Halfmann and Kathleen Blee, address these very aspects of mobilization.

When I began studying the disability rights movement, it became apparent that understanding mobilization, social change and policy outcomes required looking beyond grassroots protest and other forms of direct action to understand America’s disability rights revolution. Indeed, the disability rights movement shines light on several important themes in political sociology, which my work seeks to address, including a current book project I am developing. Continue reading

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How Organizations (Might) Change Climate Policy

(Climate March Sept. 2014) [CC-BY-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

(Climate March Sept. 2014) [CC-BY-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

On September 21, an estimated 400,000 people assembled in New York City for the largest climate change protest march in U.S. history (and one of the largest single protest events since the anti-Iraq-invasion protests of 2003). How did Bill McKibben and his fellow organizers generate that kind of turnout? While the particular opportunity of an international climate summit at the UN, the extensive reach social media technologies, the wide viewing of the movie Disruption, and the presence of celebrities all probably helped, the central reason seems to be good, old-fashioned organizing.

The New York Times, reporting on preparations for the march, noted that the event was “organized by more than a dozen environmental, labor and social justice groups” which cultivated connections to “1,400 ‘partner organizations’… ranging from small groups to international coalitions” along with students who mobilized participants on “more than 300 college campuses.” Continue reading

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Corporate Networks and the Collective Action of Large Corporations Faced with Protest

Do large corporations respond to social movement protest with an individual, firm-centric rationale or do they develop their strategies relationally with other firms? If they do so relationally, do corporate networks help unify the responses these firms take?

Social movement research has developed a prolific body of scholarship on anti-corporate activism, demonstrating the ways in which activists attain leverage over corporate targets and achieve concessions (e.g., Clawson 2003; Soule 2009). However, most research (and quantitative studies in particular) has emphasized the specific dynamic between social movements and individual firms, neglecting the possibility that how firms respond to protest is also constructed socially through their relationships with other firms. Continue reading

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When Does Anger Lead to Protest?

By Francesca Polletta

The insight that reoriented the study of social movements in the late 1970s was that people knew when they were oppressed. The relevant question was not, what led people to feel discontented enough to protest? (This was the question animating strain theories of collective action.) Instead, it was, when did people see themselves as able to act effectively on their discontent? Hence the causal importance attributed to external resources (by resource mobilization theorists) and to political opportunities, indigenous resources, and cognitive liberation (by political process theorists).

Doron Shultziner argues that the earlier question was the right one after all—and he does so in the context of the case that was supposed to have laid to rest accounts of mobilization based on discontent. Not only does discontent matter, he maintains; it may be all that matters. In short, none of the factors that have been used to account for protest generally, and the Montgomery bus boycott in particular, explain the decision of so many people to stay off Montgomery’s buses. No one from the outside injected resources, financial or otherwise. There were no political opportunities. To the contrary, after Brown v. Board, things got worse, not better, as a backlash against school integration swelled the ranks of the notorious White Citizens Council and amplified everyday white aggressions. There were black leadership structures in Montgomery, and they did play a role in the protest, but only after it had gotten underway. As for cognitive liberation, it is hard to imagine what would have led black citizens of Montgomery to feel that political change was newly within reach.

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What do the ALS ice bucket challenge, Alberta oil, and Leonardo DiCaprio have in common?

10142156Hollywood star, Leonardo DiCaprio, was in Alberta for a new documentary about the environmental impacts of the oilsands (a.k.a. tar sands). He met with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations who have been protesting against developing the oilsands. DiCaprio is among a host of celebrities speaking out against the oilsands. Others include Desmond Tutu, Neil Young and James Cameron. They join other celebrities who have been vocal opponents of the Keystone pipeline including Mark Ruffalo, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Kevin Bacon.

Proponents of the oilsands and the pipeline, including the Prime Minister’s office, have dismissed celebrity involvement in Alberta’s oil industry. According to Yahoo Canada News, the Prime Minister’s Office has commented in the past about “the energy-demanding lifestyle often afforded to such celebrities” and Tim Moen, leader of the Libertarian Party of Canada, referred to it as celebrity cheap talk demonizing Alberta’s oilsands. Moen told Yahoo Canada News that “The people I take seriously are people who actually create solutions. People that find ways to get cheap clean energy into the hands of people who want it.”  Continue reading

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Discussing Ferguson

I left the ASAs feeling inspired by all the amazing work people in our field are doing. On leaving, I stopped for dinner in a bar in D.C. during my layover. During my dinner, CNN reported another young black man was killed in Ferguson, MO who had wielded a knife against a police officer.

Watching the coverage, a law enforcement agent at the bar began a public conversation about how the unrest in Ferguson is outrageous and uncalled for. He said how based on his experiences, this whole conflict over the Michael Brown murder is about class not race. I vociferously disagreed, yet I was clearly the minority voice (in terms of numbers and my own racial identity) in the conversation.

I was surprised when, in raising the complexities of the Ferguson case such as issues of racial profiling, discrimination in legal processes, militarization of police forces, and systematic economic and spatial inequality, the police officer responded by strongly supporting racial profiling in law enforcement. He immediately dismissed many of the underlying complexities of the situation which I raised. Others supported his position. I left the conversation frustrated by how difficult these issues are to discuss with non-sociologists and in general. I was frustrated with my own inefficacy in explaining the many complexities of the issue which I am acutely aware of due to my background in sociology.

As the semester looms, I wonder how we can draw upon the literature we know about race, protest, and collective uprisings to sociologically unpack this case and discuss it with students and broader audiences in a more effective way.

Yet as the police officer was leaving, he went out of his way to come by and thank me for sharing my opinions. He said he hoped I would not hold his perspective against him.

I left the situation horrified by how nearly everyone in the bar viewed the situation in quite simplistic, and I believed deeply racist, ways yet was encouraged by how this man went out of his way to support raising these issues in public spaces.

As sociologists, educators, and movement scholars, how can we use what we know to open broader conversations and dissect such emotionally fraught, tense, and complex issues in more nuanced and insightful ways—in which people from a wide array of backgrounds can participate in and learn from? Although it is easy to always talk to each other about these issues, we have an important voice to contribute to broader public discussions.

I’ve been thinking of hosting a teach-in at Hamilton College and am lucky to have a department that supports the idea.  I’d love to hear others’ thoughts or insights on this issue.

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Direct and Indirect Challenges to the Pipeline

pipeline_protest1Over the course of the last two years, two pipeline projects – Northern Gateway and Keystone – have generated opposition from environmental groups in both the U.S. and Canada. As Rennie of the Canadian Press (June 17) notes, the pipelines have become highly political in both countries. In an article I wrote for Critical Mass, I mentioned that in the U.S., the Keystone pipeline project has posed a problem for President Obama and the Democrats given that environmentalists are against its construction while many others see it as creating jobs. There has been a tremendous push in Congress to get Obama to sign legislation that would allow for Keystone’s construction on the one hand, and Democrats hoping that Obama would veto such a bill on the other. Nonetheless, policy experts seem to believe that the Keystone project would inevitably move forward – if Canada is building a pipeline anyway, why shouldn’t Americans benefit from it? In fact, earlier polls did show that the American public thought energy security was a more important issue than greenhouse gases and a majority favored the pipeline’s construction (although the saliency of the issue among the public has likely varied greatly over the last year). Continue reading

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