Tag Archives: Social Movements Research

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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Planet of the Apes: Pop Culture and Changing Social Consciousness

The 8th edition to the Planet of the Apes franchise was released this Summer. The most recent revival started in 2011 with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” picked up where “Rise” left off. I won’t go into detail about the storyline since it is such an iconic movie, but the latest two explore the ethical concerns underlying human exploitation of animals, specifically in terms of animal research.

(Spoiler Alert for “Rise.”)

I watched “Rise” about a year ago with my family. During the scene where Caesar leads a revolt against an abusive so-called primate sanctuary, my cousins emphatically rooted for Caesar. They don’t have any strong beliefs in favor of animal advocacy; they were just rooting for the underdog protagonist. The factors that go into a person’s shift towards caring about a social justice issue are multi-faceted, but I think these kinds of popular media cues have an effect that scholars are just starting to examine. Continue reading

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Harnessing Technology to Advance Movement Research

After spending a semester in Silicon Valley and San Francisco interviewing many techies, computer software engineers, entrepreneurs, and business execs, I left with a lot of questions about the future of sociological research. Several shifts seemed crystal clear to me. First, there is an unprecedented amount of longitudinal data being collected in real time by big business through social media as well as through handheld devices and apps. Second, if as researchers we do not connect with these data sources and find ways to analyze them, we will become irrelevant.  So how do we do this better? And how do we do this in particular to advance scholarship on social movements? Continue reading

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Nathan Schneider’s “Thank You Anarchy” and the Importance of “Being There”

Protest is a visceral experience. You hear the overwhelming sound of chanting, drumming, and shouting; get swept up in a sea of bodies in motion; and feel the butterflies that flutter in your stomach as you look at the line of riot police, imposing and unmovable, just a few short feet away from you. Despite this, we have a relative lack of first hand, ethnographic accounts in the sociology of social movements when compared to analysis of secondary sources or interview-based projects. Yet we know that part of what builds solidarity in a movement is participating in mass action. In other words: being there matters. This begs the question: could we “be there” more as researchers?  

I learned the importance of “being there” first hand as a student. I had already begun to read in the sociology of social movements, but nothing I read could have prepared me for my first mass protest, which I went to while studying the Global Justice Movement. Even the most dramatic of photographs or descriptions cannot adequately capture the rush of emotions dredged up through mass collective action. I have a strong memory of being at the 2001 protests against the FTAA on the U.S./Canada border in Buffalo, New York and listening to a speaker at a rally, when what seemed like thousands of protesters broke apart from the event and ran down the street in an impromptu march. Continue reading

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Word Clouds as a Tool for Social Movement Research and Teaching

You’ve seen them everywhere: Word Clouds. In case you haven’t yet tried creating one here is the website: http://www.wordle.net/.

Social Movement scholars are in many ways just at the beginning of textual analysis. Word clouds could provide us with a simple new way to study not only the texts that movements put out but also the the media coverage that movements receive. They provide an extremely quick means of identifying the most frequently used keywords. This in turn might provide a helpful baseline for further analyses of texts.

The example below shows a word cloud of a media release from a well-known social movement organization.

What social movement organization created this media release?


Just for fun I have also created a word cloud using the content of the CVs of two scholars affiliated with Mobilizing Ideas.  I have taken their names out but see if you can guess who they are.

What social movement scholar’s CV was used to create this word cloud?


What social movement scholar’s CV was used to create this word cloud?


Answers are below……


  1. PETA  http://www.peta.org/media/news-releases/new-study-shows-growing-opposition-animal-tests/
  2. Jennifer Earl
  3. Rory McVeigh

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Using Automated Content Analysis to Study Social Movements: A Review of “Computer-Aided Content Analysis of Digitally Enabled Movements” by Alex Hanna

 The use of the internet by contemporary social movements is providing immense amounts of data to social movement scholars, and more and more researchers are devoting their energy to studying this phenomenon. The size, scale, and richness of these data, however, present a number of methodological hurdles. Alex Hanna highlights some methods we can use to analyze the content of text-based internet data–using Facebook as a case study–in his article “Computer-Aided Content Analysis of Digitally Enabled Movements” (Mobilization: An International Quarterly 18(4): 367-388, 2013).

Hanna did an immense amount of work to prepare his data for analysis, he thought carefully about his methods, and his descriptive statistics go a long way toward an empirical understanding of the way social movements use Facebook. His article is a great introduction to automated text analysis methods and is an example of how these methods can be used to study social movements and internet data. Continue reading


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