Tag Archives: violence

Do the Right Thing

Last night in our Post-Ferguson Film Series we screened Do the Right Thing (1989) by director Spike Lee. Having not seen it since I was an undergrad in a sociology course, it struck me how incredibly relevant the film remains today. Even 26 years later, it is still a great resource for teaching about race and protest tactics.

do the right thing

The film begins slowly, following various different characters on a hot summer day in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The film documents the numerous subtle and explicit forms of inequality and racial tensions in this neighborhood. As the day goes on, and the heat increases, tensions build over a series of seemingly small, but symbolically laden, events between members of different racial groups. The film ends with an altercation between several black youth and Sal, the Italian owner of a pizzeria. This leads to the arrest and murder of one of the young black men in the altercation, Radio Raheem, by a police officer. In response to the unnecessary tragic death, the pizzeria’s delivery boy, Mookie (portrayed by Spike Lee) who is friends with Raheem, throws a garbage can through the window of the pizzeria. This leads to the complete destruction of the pizzeria and a riot in the neighborhood.

Do the Right Thing depicts, and holds in complexity, the many layers and forms of racial tension and inequality in American society, raising questions of how one can “do the right thing” in a society with such vast, entrenched, and diverse forms of inequality and injustice. It is a brilliant film, showing how a sense of hurt and injustice from a series of slights, degradations, and inequalities can slowly compound under difficult conditions (such as the symbolic summer heat), and combust in violent collective action. Continue reading

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“Risk-Aversion with the United Nations”

In March 2013, a coup took place in the Central African Republic (CAR). Following a rebel attack on the capital of CAR, the president fled, and rebels took control of the government. The situation in the capital became dismal, with rebels “looting, abducting, raping and killing — even breaking into an orphanage to steal whatever they could, according to Amnesty International”. In response to the precarious situation, the United Nations prepared to evacuate its non-essential staff members.

In the course of 2013, the UN redeployed its staff members. Redeployment has, according to the president of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), not resulted in effective operations. In an open letter to the United Nations, the president of MSF complained of the “unacceptable performance of the United Nations humanitarian system in the Central African Republic”. He argued that the UN produces “extremely risk-averse analyses.” Continue reading

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Upcoming special issue of American Behavioral Scientist: Colonialism, Genocide, and Indigenous Struggles in the Americas

I’d like to direct readers’ attention to an upcoming special issue of American Behavioral Scientist, focusing on historical and contemporary issues relating to dispossession, violence, and colonialism against indigenous peoples in the Americas. For interested readers, there are some preliminary articles from this issue that are now available online. The violent dispossession of indigenous peoples was a predominant feature of American territorial expansion, and created enduring settler-colonial institutions and relations that continue to structure indigenous-U.S. politics (Steinman 2012). This violence was perhaps most pronounced and systematic in mid-19th century California. Here state and local officials explicitly sanctioned numerous collective efforts by militias and settler groups to decimate indigenous peoples, and passed numerous laws and statutes that relegated indigenous peoples to extreme social and political marginality  (Almaguer 1994; Madley 2008, 2009). Although basic facts of this violent colonization and settlement are relatively well-known, it is only recently that historians have begun to systematically document and explore the state’s violent past. Continue reading

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From Peaceful Activism to Violent Insurgency

Last month, the New York Times posted a video of a summary execution of Syrian soldiers, which was carried out by Syrian insurgents. The article that accompanied the video emphasized the ferociousness of the act. The author suggested that this type of behavior poses a dilemma for leaders of countries who consider support for insurgents. The depth of that dilemma partly depends on the extent to which these actions represent the behavior of the Syrian insurgency at large. If the video is indeed representative of the Syrian insurgency, what can we expect from Syrian insurgents when they get the upper hand in the conflict? How will the insurgents treat Syrian citizens? And will they implement the social and political changes that activists called for in the streets of Damascus and other cities in the spring of 2011? Continue reading

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Partly Cloudy, with a 30% Chance of Riots

Gary Gutting

In this morning’s New York Times, distinguished philosopher Gary Gutting raises a commonly discussed set of questions about social science research and theory and the ability to make accurate predictions. As is common in such arguments, physics is held up as the best “real” science because it gives us theories with clear predictions that always work. Experimental evidence has allowed for the clear elaboration of (what appear to be) invariant physical laws, at least in areas like classical mechanics (e.g. we can predict precisely where the moon will be 200 years, 3 days, and 7 hours from now). The social sciences are then held in contrast to this. As the argument goes, the social world is amazingly complex, making it hard to generate predictions, and it is often too difficult or too immoral to do controlled experiments on people, so social scientists could never test those predictions anyway. Gutting’s conclusion: “we need to develop a much better sense of the severely limited reliability of social scientific results.” And the implication he draws from this conclusion? Continue reading

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Terrorism and Collective Behavior

Two recent books are quite valuable in thinking about the relationship between terrorism and Islamic mobilization. Collecting the largest data on suicide terrorism around the globe (database available in the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism website), Robert Pape and James Feldman make a compelling argument to demonstrate strong impact of foreign occupation on suicide terrorism.

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Reactions to Mobilization: Framing Occupiers, Environmentalists and Anti-Regime Protesters

For those who study and teach about social movements and collective action, the last year has provided us with numerous cases. From OWS, environmental activism, the Arab Spring, and the Tea Party, we have compared and contrasted these cases, often seeking to find common themes across these, using existing theoretical frameworks to shed light on contemporary cases, or alternatively, use what’s going on out there as a way to reevaluate existing theories of social movements and collective action.

One important and emerging theme is the way in which people – from the public, to the media, to political elites – react to social movements.  Scholars have shown how positive and negative reactions, especially by elites, have important consequences for subsequent mobilization. Of course, elite responses to protesters vary; by no means is government surveillance (as is the case with environmental groups in Canada) equivalent to the brutality faced by activists and bystanders in Syria. Yet, there is a common theme when it comes to elite framing of challenges as illegitimate and depicting challengers as radicals and terrorists. Continue reading

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