Jacquelien van Stekelenburg, Conny Roggeband, Bert Klandermans, eds. The Future of Social Movement Research: Dynamics, Mechanisms, and Processes. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. xxii + 469 pp. $30.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8166-8654-4.
Reviewed by Kurt Schock (Rutgers University)
Published on H-Socialisms (March, 2016)
Commissioned by Gary Roth
Volume 39 of the prestigious University of Minnesota Press series Social Movements, Protest, and Contention is a product of a 2009 conference in Amsterdam in honor of Bert Klandermans. The transatlantic, interdisciplinary collection of “all-star” scholars who contributed to the volume was charged with examining how dynamics of contention have been shaped by processes of globalization, individualization-diversification, and virtualization; assessing the extent to which extant social movement theories and concepts are adequate for understanding these changes; and suggesting fruitful lines for future research.
To frame the volume the editors curiously borrow from (neo)liberal economics with their analogical use of “supply and demand.” The “demand” side of challenges concerns characteristics of a social movement’s mobilization potential, such as the intensification of shared grievances, the arousal of anger, feelings of efficacy, and the politicization of collective identities. The “supply” side of challenges refers to organizers, organizations and networks, their appeals to participants and potential participants, and their provision of opportunities for participation. Pursuing analogies from (neo)liberal economics further, mobilization is conceived as a marketing process—that is, the process linking demand and supply. If the advertising women and men of social movements are successful in their marketing campaign, then consumers will buy the product; that is, mobilization will occur. The volume is divided into four sections composed of four to five chapters each: (1) “Grievances and Identities: The Demand Side of Participation,” (2) “Organizations and Networks: The Supply Side of Contention,” (3) “Dynamics of Mobilization,” and (4) “The Changing Context of Contention.”
In part 1, Dutch social psychologists and California sociologists grapple with the “demand” side of contention. In chapter 1, Bert Klandermans argues that a weakness of the social movement literature is the lack of theorizing and research into the dynamics of demand, since scholars tend to focus on movements where the demand for protest has already materialized. In chapter 2, Francesca Polletta et al. suggest that in addition to impacting the supply of protest, new information and communication technologies (ICTs) also impact the demand for protest through the creation of new identities, grievances, and motivations for protest. In chapter 3, Verta Taylor emphasizes discursive communities as the settings in which politicized collective identities and consensus formation occurs and underscores the role of emotions in the politicization of grievances. She also highlights the relationship between identity and tactics and the significance of collective action oriented toward cultural change, as well as political change. In chapter 4, Marjoka Van Doorn, Jacomijne Prins, and Saskia Welschen demonstrate how micro-level interpersonal interactions within groups can impact the politicization of collective identities and argue that whether or not a collective identity politicizes is ultimately a function of whether group members come to share certain perceptions and interpretations of their own position as a group, its relation with other groups, and the broader social context. The section concludes with a useful discussion by Martijn van Zomeran calling for greater integration of psychological and social movement theories.
In part 2, the supply side of political contention is addressed. In the introductory chapter, Conny Roggeband and Jan Willem Duyvendak suggest that processes of individualization and globalization have consequences for mobilization, as they have contributed to a shift from “heavy,” long-term, identity-based engagements with formal institutions to looser engagements in informal, issue-oriented, “light” communities characterized by diffuse and decentralized networks. They also warn of the digital divide and the homogenization of light communities that excludes and reproduces inequalities. In chapter 6, Sarah A. Soule notes that in recent years social movement scholarship has moved away from drawing on insights from organizational theory and suggests that recent work on organizational population diversity, organizational identity and categories, and organizational learning could inform social movement theorizing and research. In chapter 7, Suzanne Staggenborg argues that the concept social movement community is useful in conceptualizing the more diffuse nature of social movements resulting from processes of individualization and globalization. Social movement communities contain different types of organizations, including social movement organizations (traditionally the primary focus of social movement research), cultural groups, alternative organizations, as well as established organizations that support movement activities. Social movement communities also include loosely coupled activist networks that occasionally coalesce to participate in collective campaigns in a particular locale. Like Soule, Mario Diani argues in chapter 8 that social movement scholars could benefit from engaging with organizational theory. He specifies four modes of coordination of collective action, that is, combinations of mechanisms through which a collectivity responds to the basic organizational dilemmas of allocating resources and defining group boundaries. The modes of coordination enable us to differentiate social movements—which couple dense exchanges of resources between actors with boundary definitions encompassing multiple actors—from organizations, coalitions, and subcultures. This focus on systems of relations allows us, among other things, to specify what is distinct about social movements and how they are transformed over time. In chapter 9, Dieter Rucht provides a useful taxonomy of six mobilizing structures: basic action groups, movement organizations, networks (campaign and enduring), service structures (material and immaterial), social relais, and social milieus. Examples of each are given for anti-nuclear waste mobilizations along the transport route to Gorleben, Germany. The section concludes with Debra Minkoff’s impressions of common themes across the chapters, including: (1) the clear trend in social movement research to move beyond the conflation of social movements with social movement organizations and to locate social movements in their broader organizational and structural contexts; (2) the crucial role of a shared collective identity in structuring networks of exchange that compose collective action; and (3) the role of collaboration across movement actors in facilitating learning, the diffusion of tactics, and consolidation of collective identities. Minkoff also stresses the necessity of longitudinal and multilevel research as well as moving beyond description to the theoretical specification of mechanisms of social movement transformation.
The focus in part 3 is on dynamics of mobilization. In the introduction to the section (chapter 10), Stefaan Walgrave asks if mobilization is changing. He answers with a yes and a no. That is, traditional, structural, top-down mobilization is still common, but it is increasingly complemented by bottom-up mobilization whereby formal organizations are bypassed. In chapter 11, Jacquelien van Stekelenburg and Marije Boekkooi identify a continuum of mobilizing structures. At one end are coalitions, in which formal organizations act together as one collective entity, and at the other end are networks composed of informal social networks with no clear collective entity or no active cooperation or agreement. In between are coordination structures, in which formal organizations and informal groups, networks, and individuals act toward a common goal but with space for diversity and disagreement. They also note a contemporary paradox of mobilization in that participation in political protest is increasing, while ties to formal organizations—long regarded as the basis of mass mobilization—are decreasing. In chapter 12, Pamela E. Oliver explains how political opportunities vary across social groups based on their social status and integration into society and argues that researchers need to theorize group differences within and between social movements. She illustrates how in the United States repression is much more likely to be used against marginalized and segregated minorities, such as African Americans, as opposed to social groups with higher status that are more integrated into the dominant culture. She suggests, moreover, that while majority groups may gain benefits through the use of violent tactics, violence on the part of disadvantaged minorities is more likely to result in increased repression and the escalation of mechanisms of social control, including mass incarceration. In chapter 13, David A. Snow notes that while research has confirmed that identification with a collectivity enhances the prospects of movement participation on behalf of that collectivity, there are a number of insufficiently theorized issues or dilemmas regarding the intersection of identity, collective identity, and participant mobilization. Identity dilemmas include, for example, the dilemma of multiple identities in which participation in collective action is partly contingent on personal and social identities becoming aligned with collective identities. Another example is the dilemma of identity salience, in which some collective identities may be more salient than others; thus workers may not act in accordance with their class identity and material interests if non-class identities are more salient. Thus, Snow argues, the identity-movement participation nexus is more complicated than what is typically assumed. In chapter 14, Swen Hutter and Hanspeter Kriesi find, somewhat surprisingly, that the most impressive mobilization around issues of globalization is not the global justice movement, but rather right-wing populist and defensive ethno-nationalist mobilizations. Many social movement scholars have overlooked this due to their focus on the protest arena, where social movements of the Left are more likely to operate, and their neglect of the electoral channel, where rightwing movements tend to mobilize. In the discussion for part 3, Christopher Rootes reiterates that recent social and technological changes have contributed to the fragmentation and fluidity of collective identities and the decline in importance of formal organization membership, so much so that we can begin to question the central role of collective identity and formal organizations in mobilization and solidarity dynamics. In contrast, Rootes notes that despite social and technological changes, class inequality and racial exclusion remain persistent factors that impact the dynamics of mobilization, as indicated in the chapter by Oliver. Like Oliver, Rootes argues that the systematic marginalization and exploitation of some social groups ensure that their overt protest is rare and that this should demand as much attention by scholars as dynamics of overt protest.
In part 4, the changing context of political contention is the focal point. In the introduction to the section (chapter 15), Ruud Koopmans asks if changes in the context have led to the end of the social movement as we know it. He contrasts the contextual conditions that gave rise to the social movement (as illustrated in the work of Charles Tilly), such as the emergence of modern democratic states, parliaments, political parties, and labor unions, along with increased state intervention in market relations and income redistribution, with profound recent changes such as the weakening of institutions of representative democracy, the decline in state intervention in market relations, and increasing inequality. He suggests that the major challenge to social movements is not the declining relevance of the nation-state, but rather the shift from state to market regulation, the weakening of representative democratic structures, and the institutionalization of symbolic protest demonstrations and their rote implementation that has shorn protest of its qualities of negative inducement and disruption. In chapter 16, Doug McAdam and Sidney Tarrow, elaborating on a point raised in the chapter by Hutter and Kriesi, suggest that social movement scholars have not adequately addressed the relationship between electoral channels of mobilization and protests in the streets. The authors claim that the traditional disciplinary divide between political scientists who focus on institutional politics and sociologists who focus on protest politics has impeded our understanding of the interrelation between elections and social movements. In chapter 17, Donatella della Porta summarizes trends that have contributed to de-democratization in developed Western societies in recent decades, such as a shift in power from nation-states to inter-governmental organizations, from the state to the market, and from political parties to the executive branch. Although these trends have provided challenges to social movements as traditionally conceived, della Porta also notes opportunities that have arisen for social movements and re-democratization, particularly the advancement of more participatory forms of democracy. In chapter 18, John D. McCarthy, Patrick Rafail, and Ashley Gromis examine a number of datasets on protest events and conclude that for the U.S. context the “social movement society” thesis is questionable, since protest does not seem to be becoming increasingly common, and contrary to assumptions about the institutionalization of toleration towards protest, police repression has increased. These trends are attributed to the rise of community-based organizations and grassroots lobbying groups, which are less likely to rely on protests in the streets to influence power-holders, and the post-9/11 era in which the repressive capacities of local law enforcement agencies to combat “terrorism” have increased. Whereas McCarthy et al. note that protest in the United States is lower than in Europe, in chapter 19 Nonna Mayer discusses the contentious French with their cultural imprint of the 1789 Revolution and strong tradition of national social movements that regularly respond to mobilizations, even more regularly than their European neighbors. This has been facilitated since the 1990s with opening up of political space “to the left of the Left,” with the decline of the Communist Party and the rightward shift of socialists. Formally antagonistic groups such as Marxists and Third World Christians filled the space; and organizations such as Association pour la Taxation des Transactions financières et pour l'Action Citoyenne (ATTAC) emerged to fill the space as well. Mobilizations against the Juppé Plan in 1995 and the proposed European Union constitution in 2005 helped cohere ongoing challenges to neoliberal globalization. In the discussion section for part 4, Myra Marx Ferree reiterates the significance of political opportunity structures for social movement dynamics, but also emphasizes the significance of discursive opportunities. The discursive expansion of the meaning of democracy to include gender issues and the politicization of problems once viewed as “personal” are examples indicating that frameworks of discourse are both elements of opportunity and changeable objects of political struggle (see also the chapter by Taylor).
The 2009 Amsterdam conference that produced the volume was intended to revitalize the transatlantic cooperation of social movement scholars from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s that contributed to advances in social movement theory and produced well-known volumes such as From Structure to Action: Comparing Social Movement Research Across Cultures (1988) and Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements: Political Opportunities, Mobilizing Structures, and Cultural Framings (1996). These works and others helped unite structural perspectives of U.S. scholars with cultural perspectives of European scholars and yielded a synthetic social movement model composed of political opportunities, mobilizing structures, and collective action frames. The current volume illustrates how much the field has evolved over the past twenty to thirty years, but it also demonstrates how much it has stayed the same. Like the earlier wave of transatlantic collaboration, the focus of the volume is almost exclusively on social movements in developed Western democracies. Although scholars of social movements and political contention have produced cutting-edge research on political challenges in the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America, insights that these works might have for the study of social movements in North America and western Europe are overlooked. Moreover, like the earlier wave of transatlantic collaboration this volume prioritizes structure over agency. As far as strategy and tactics are concerned, the primary focus is on how information and communication technologies are used by activists to promote protest, and in the chapter by Taylor, how the politicization of collective identities is related to shifts in tactics. Moreover, with some notable exceptions (the chapters by Oliver and McCarthy et al.), the relationship between repression and dissent is not adequately assessed nor are processes such as radicalization (despite brief mention in the chapters by Klandermans and Diani) or the maintenance of nonviolent discipline.
Some authors persuasively argue that social movement theory would benefit from integration with or insights from other theories, such as social psychological and organizational theories. One could also argue for greater engagement between social movement theories and macro-structural theories of social change, such as World System theory. But given the core-centric focus of the volume, the lack of engagement with Marxist and neo-Marxist macro-structural theories is not surprising. Moreover, given the prioritization of structure (at the meso-level) over strategy, it is not surprising that there is no engagement with collective action literatures that prioritize strategy and agency, such as the literature on civil resistance.
To assume or imply that social movement research is research on social movements in developed Western democracies is a bit impudent. The same conclusion is drawn by a number of French social movement scholars as summarized by Mayer in the first section of her chapter. Significantly, some of the most noted efforts to promote participatory and radical grassroots democracy—a topic discussed by della Porta—are occurring in Latin America, such as the autonomist movement of the Zapatistas in Mexico, the cooperative movement of the Landless Rural Workers Movement in Brazil, and the horizontalidad recovered factory movement in Argentina. What can we learn about (participatory or radical) democratization in North America and western Europe from research on social movements in Latin America? Moreover, how are dynamics of ethno-nationalist mobilization in the former Soviet Union similar to or different from dynamics of ethno-nationalist mobilization in western Europe? What contextual variations lead to the commonality of social movement partyism in Central America and its absence in the United States? How do dynamics of transgressive peasant struggles in Asia compare to dynamics of transgressive struggles in North America? How do anti-systemic and fundamentalist social movements in the Middle East differ from those in western Europe and North America? Are the social psychological factors that contribute to high-risk activism in authoritarian regimes similar to or different from the social psychological factors that contribute to activism in more democratic contexts? These are some compelling issues worthy of scholarly attention. While Minkoff and others call for more longitudinal and multilevel research, more broadly comparative social movement research is needed as well.
Finally, although the contributors were given a fundamental set of questions to focus on, there is no consensus in how the questions are answered. Indeed, the extent to which processes of globalization, individualization-diversification, and virtualization are addressed in the chapters is highly uneven, from a direct attending to the issues in some chapters to brief obligatory mention in others. Nevertheless, the volume is essential reading for graduate students and scholars of social movements and required reading for those seeking to be up to date on the cutting edge of social movement research—at least the research that applies to social movements in developed Western democracies.
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Kurt Schock. Review of Stekelenburg, Jacquelien van; Roggeband, Conny; Klandermans, Bert, eds., The Future of Social Movement Research: Dynamics, Mechanisms, and Processes.
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