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CONFLICT: SOCIAL MOVEMENTS
& COLLECTIVE ACTION
Social Movement - Collective actions by relatively powerless
challenger groups using extra-institutional means to promote or
resist social change (political, cultural, economic, ethnic, sexual)
Civil Rights vs KKK; Pro-life vs Pro-choice; 2nd Amendment vs Handgun control
Social Movement Organization (SMO) - A named formal
organization engaged in actions to advance a movement’s goals
Movements often have numerous SMOs
pursuing overlapping change agendas.
What differences in the goals & tactics of
these environmental SMOs?
Greenpeace; Sierra Club; Audubon Society;
Nature Conservancy; World Wildlife Federation;
Friends of Earth; Natural Resources Defense
Council; Earth Now!; Earth Liberation Front; …
Old & New Social Movements
Major 19th & 20th c. social movements were national struggles for
independence from colonial rule (Norway, India, Algeria) and
working-class movements for union collective bargaining rights.
U.S. Civil Rights Movement of 1950-60s was a
new type of movement based on social-group
identities. Deprived minorities sought rights of
political inclusion: Latinos, Native Americans,
women, gays & lesbians, aged, disabled, ...
With post-industrialization, many New Social
Movements emerged around cultural values,
lifestyles & middle-class interests: human rights,
environmental, peace/anti-war, social justice,
consumer protection, animal liberation, …
Some new social movements draw
international participants and rely on
transnational networks to achieve goals
Success is Becoming an Insider
Over its life cycle, a SMO may change from radical outsider to
accepted political insider. William Gamson (1975) found that
centralized and bureaucratized SMOs have better chances of
success (gaining recognition & acceptance). Movements with
complex org’l structures can wage stronger action campaigns.
Give an example of a SMO that transformed into a bureaucratic
organization, thus compromising the purity of its struggle?
Is Michel’s “Iron Law of Oligarchy” the inevitable fate of SMOs?
How do social networks – among activists & SMOs – constrain
social movements that drift away from their ideals?
But, as a movement wins legitimacy and resources,
it runs a risk of cooptation – being bought-off by
minor concessions from its targets. Leaders
become diverted into running orgs and neglecting
the original goals; e.g., building homeless shelters
instead of solving root causes of homelessness.
When SMOs gain recognition, legitimacy, & access to the polity, they
cease to be outside challengers. Transformed into institutionalized
interest groups, they now compete to influence state policies, using
conventional political tactics, e.g., campaign donations and lobbying.
SMO #3Interest Group #1 IG #2
Penetrating the Polity
Network Recruiting for Collection Action
Dense networks provide pre-existing channels for recruiting
participants and micro-mobilization for collective action.
Movement activists target friends, family, coworkers whose
shared social identities & attitudinal affinities for movement
values and goals may predispose them to participate.
High-risk/cost activism raises barriers to
mobilizing SM supporters: Rational decision
is not to participate when perceived low
success is outweighed by potentially heavy
costs; e.g., police violence or losing a job.
But networks can offset negative rational calculations, if people
value preserving or forging strong social ties to SM adherents.
To assure compliant control, religious cults often recruit weakly
tied persons & force members to cut links to family and friends.
Mississippi Freedom Summer
Doug McAdam’s SM recruitment model emphasized
strong identification with values, prior activism, and
integration in supportive networks. Evidence for this
model came from 961 applicants to SNCC’s 1964
MS Freedom Summer black-voter registration drive.
Compared to 241 who withdrew, the 720
who went to Mississippi had more org’l
affiliations, higher levels of past civil rights
activity, more extensive and stronger prior
ties to other Freedom Summer participants.
“The differences are especially pronounced in the two strong tie
categories, with participants listing more than twice the number of
volunteers and nearly three times the number of activists as the
withdrawals.” (McAdam 1986; see also McAdam 1988; Fernandez & McAdam 1988; McAdam & Fernandez 1990; McAdam and Paulsen 1993).
A Political-Process Model
McAdams’ (1982) political-process model explains both the rise and
the decline of U.S. black protest movement with three components:
1) Political Opportunity: greater receptivity to change demands
2) Cognitive Liberation: challengers’ subjective experiences of
shifting political conditions giving them a “new sense of efficacy”
3) Indigenous Organizational Strength: “structural potential” of
challengers to mobilize & take advantage of political opportunity
Rapid growth 1931-45 of three types of institutions “gave blacks the org’l
strength needed to generate a campaign of collective insurgency” in 1954-67:
• Black churches: ministers and their congregations
• Southern Black colleges: college students
• Southern chapters of NAACP: activists & lawyers
Sit-ins coordinated thru a “well-development communication network linking
SBC campuses into a loosely integrated institutional network” (1982:138)
Andrews & Biggs’ (2006) event history diffusion of 1960 Southern sit-ins
found SMO activist cadres played major role. But, “little evidence that social
networks acted as channels for diffusion among cities” (athletic leagues!).
Instead, news media conveyed crucial info about protests in other locales.
The Global Anti-Capitalist Movement
During the 1990s, an anti-capitalist movement began challenging
globalization of benefit only to developed nations & corporations.
Decentralized SMO networks coordinate protests by socialists,
greens, labor unions, anarchists, and indigenous peoples. They
promote diverse anti-capitalist interests: privatized water rights,
endangered species, child labor, forgiveness of national debts, …
Inspired by the Indians of Chiapas, Mexico, People’s Global Action
<www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/> targets transnational institutions
allegedly undermining local community control and decision-making:
World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), G8 Summit,
World Economic Forum, World Trade Organization (WTO), …
Computer-supported SMs deploy
“new digital technologies to coordinate
actions, build networks, practice media
activism, and physically manifest their
emerging political ideals” (Juris 2005)
Social movement action is one example of diverse forms of
collective behavior, including fads, rumors, strikes, panics,
rubber-necking, football riots, lynch mobs, herd stampedes…
Contemporary collective action models seek to explain how
behaviors diffuse among actors in a collective context, while
emphasizing how decisions to participate involve the rational
choices of interdependent decision-makers. The eruption and
spread of collective behaviors depends on relations within a
group and on the imitators’ identification with the instigators.
Gabriel Tarde and Gustav Le Bon tried
to understand collective behaviors as
mass social psychology. The Laws of
Imitation and the dynamics of a “group
mind” could explain the apparently
irrational aspects of collective actions.
The decision whether to join a collective action can be analyzed
as a threshold process. Derived from percolation theory, a critical
threshold (tipping point) generates an aggregated critical mass:
below the threshold, a collective action will fail; but if mass
exceeds the threshold, collective action can grow exponentially.
In a crowd, ego’s decision to riot depends on
others’ actions. Although instigators start to
riot before anyone else does, others join only
if each perceives a specific critical N (or X%)
of troublemakers. Small shifts in personal
thresholds can yield diverse group outcomes.
Mark Granovetter’s (1978) threshold model linked individuals’
behaviors to their perceptions of the aggregate level of action.
The probability distribution of everyone’s thresholds determines
whether an entire crowd reaches the critical mass required for
rapidly escalating and widespread collective action.
Individual assumed to be rational, subjective expected utility maximizers.
“The threshold is simply that point where the perceived benefits to an
individual of doing the thing in question (here joining the riot) exceed the
perceived costs” (p. 1422).
Formal model seeks to predict, from the set of individual thresholds,
the ultimate numbers of rioters and nonrioters. For example, if the
large majority of on-lookers must observe more than half the crowd
rioting before they would join, then the riot will fizzle.
Precipitating Urban Riots
The major predictor of size & severity of 1960s urban riots was
the absolute size of a city’s black population (Spilerman 1976).
Can thresholds explain this city-size differential?
“..a city has, each time a crowd gathers, the same
probability of reaching this particular equilibrium [number
of rioters]. … If this probability is, say, .10, … then we may
think of each incident as a Bernoulli trial with probability of
success (of a large riot) of .10.” In a small city with only one
incident, no riot occurs 90% of time; but in a larger city with
10 incidents, the chance of no riot falls to (.90)10 = .35, even
though the distribution of thresholds is the same”
How to incorporate networks into threshold
models? Lower-threshold persons mobilized
by a few key alters, higher-threshold persons
by large aggregate participation. Strong links
mobilize participation if low thresholds, weak
links mobilize if high thresholds (Chwe 1999).
Andrews, Kenneth T. and Michael Biggs. 2006. “The Dynamics of Protest Diffusion: Movement Organizations,
Social Networks, and News Media in the 1960 Sit-Ins.” American Sociological Review 71:752-777.
Fernandez Roberto M. and Doug McAdam. 1988. “Social Networks and Social Movements: Multiorganizational
Fields and Recruitment to Mississippi Freedom Summer.” Sociological Forum 3:357-382.
Gamson, William A. 1990 . The Strategy of Social Protest. 2nd Ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Granovetter, Mark. 1978. “Threshold Models of Collective Behavior.” American Journal of Sociology 83:1420-1443.
Juris, Jeffrey S. 2005. “The New Digital Media and Activist Networking within Anti-Corporate Globalization
Movements.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 597:89-208.
König, Thomas. 1999. “Patterns of Movement Recruitment.” Paper presented to American Sociological Association
Le Bon, Gustav. 1895. La psychologie des foules (The Crowd). Paris: Félix Alcan.
McAdam, Doug. 1988. “Recruitment to High-Risk Activism: The Case of Freedom Summer.” American Journal of
McAdam, Doug. 1999 . Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970. 2d edition.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McAdam, Doug and Roberto M. Fernandez. 1990. “Microstructural Bases of Recruitment to Social Movements.”
Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change 12:1-33.
McAdam, Doug and Ronnelle Paulsen. 1993. “Specifying the Relationship between Social Ties and Activism.”
American Journal of Sociology 99:640-667.
Spilerman, Seymour. 1976. “Structural Characteristics of Cities and Severity of Racial Disorders.” American
Sociological Review 41:771-793.
Tarde, Gabriel. 1890. Les lois de l’imitation (The Laws of Imitation). Paris: Félix Alcan.