A couple of weeks ago, I moderated a panel on social movement influence at the American Sociological Association meetings. It was organized by Edwin Amenta and included Andy Andrews, Leann Banaszak and Tony Chen. Our discussion was based around an essay that Ed published in Critical Mass Bulletin and responses by myself and Andy. I've reprinted Andy's essay below.
Kenneth Andrews, Critical Mass, Spring 2014
Over the past two decades scholars have published numerous articles and books on the consequences of social movements and many more are on the way! We have a strong and diverse set of studies across many different cases. As Edwin Amenta and his colleagues (2010) document, we know most about the political consequences of movements. However, scholars have made significant progress examining the economic consequences of movements (Bartley and Child 2011, Haveman, Rao and Paruchuri 2007, Ingram, Yue and Rao 2010, McDonnell and King 2013, Vasi and King 2012) and we will continue to see new work on social and cultural consequences as well (Bail 2012, Best 2012).
This is an ideal time to step back and assess the progress we have made to guide the next phase of research and theory on the consequences of movements. We lack a broader assessment of our progress to date and a useful roadmap for future studies. Edwin Amenta (2014) argues that there are several significant obstacles to gauging whether movements matter including “the frequent ineffectiveness of movements, their many targets of influence, and the tendency to select influential movements to study”. Nevertheless, he notes that scholars have made significant progress by developing creative strategies to work around these problems, and he identifies three ideal types based on recent book length studies of movements and political change.
Here, I preview my comments for the upcoming ASA panel on "The Influence of Social Movements". I sketch four strategies for advancing the field: (1) develop stronger theoretical expectations regarding the pathways and mechanisms of movement influence and lack of influence; (2) seek variation within case studies across time periods and domains to delineate the scope of movement influence; (3) expand engagement with related disciplines and sub-fields; and (4) devote greater attention to interactions with and response by targets - not just structural characteristics of targets (as we tend to do now).
To make further progress in understanding the consequences of movements, we have to ask a fundamental question: what is our theory of how protest (and movements more broadly) matter? The answer to that question should be nested in broader questions about the sources and dynamics of social, economic and political change. Much of our work on the consequences of movements lacks a coherent answer to these questions. Collectively, there has been little effort to develop and test alternative models of movement influence. Instead, scholars take an available indicator of movement activity - typically, the number of events or organizations - and examine its direct or indirect relationship to political outcomes alongside other factors.
In practice, our most common measures of movement lack serious theoretical justification. For example, scholars often consider the number of protest events or the presence of movement organization. Why would elites, authorities and other actors be influenced by the count of events? Most of our important theoretical expectations have little to do with the sheer number of events - but about other characteristics. For example, we might consider many other characteristics such as change in the amount of protest, big events, disruptive events, unusual events, or media covered events – to name just a few possibilities. If protest influence operates through sending signals or imposing costs on elected leaders, then there is minimal reason to expect aggregate protest levels to influence aggregate behavior or protest targets. Instead, we should expect protest to matter depending on its relationship to specific targets. So, what expectations should we have? Stepping back, we need to identify alternative models about how movement influence occurs. Elsewhere I have distinguished among three major patterns that I refer to as persuasion, access, and disruption (2001, 2004). These models differ with regard to the primacy of framing (which may appeal to cognitive or moral arguments), routine interactions with authorities, and costliness as mechanisms of influence.
Second, scholars should continue to seek variation within case studies across time periods and domains. As Amenta (1991) has argued, this is a strategy for "making the most of the case study" and has been the central logic of recent studies of movement influence. Movement scholars tend to focus on the positive consequences of movements, but this may mask where movements are having limited influence or even having negative consequences. For example, in my work on the legacy of the civil rights movements, I found that local activism had a negative impact on school desegregation through its impact on white counter-mobilization. In recent studies of local environmental groups, my collaborators and I identified key organizational characteristics that enhanced visibility; however, most groups gain minimal attention in the media and have little impact on their communities (Andrews and Caren 2010, Andrews et al. 2010). More careful analyses of variation within cases can help us delineate the scope of movement influence.
Another way to improve our understanding of movement influence is through greater engagement with related disciplines and sub-fields. If, as scholars of social movements, we risk over-emphasizing the significance of movements, engaging with historians, political scientists, economists, communication scholars, and others will lead us to make broader arguments and guard against overestimating the significance of activism. This feature characterizes the best work on the political consequences of movements where scholars have drawn on broader theories of the policy process and tested alternative explanations. Recent scholarship on the economic consequences of protest also shows the payoff of linking social movement theory to other strands of theory and research - economic sociology and organizational studies, in particular.
Finally, I argue that our analyses of movement influence need to pay greater attention to interactions with and the responses of bystanders, counter-movements, and targets. This will lead us to conceptualize influence as embedded in sequences of interaction. Most of our theoretical models and analytic strategies emphasize structural characteristics of targets (e.g., presence of allies, available access points). To the extent that we pay attention to strategy, we focus on activists rather than the broader actors that movements interact with. Moving in this direction has important theoretical and methodological implications. For example, scholars would need to spend more time interviewing non- activists and collecting archival materials outside movements. More fundamentally, studying interaction would require better data on the temporal ordering of events. Some areas of movement scholarship have made greater progress in studying sequences such as the study of repression (Almeida 2003, Gillham, Edwards and Noakes 2013), and some scholars studying movement influence have already moved in this direction (McCammon et al. 2008). Moreover, historical sociologists have developed useful strategies for examining sequences of interactions, and movement scholars could benefit from actively borrowing and modifying these approaches.
Almeida, Paul D. 2003. "Opportunity Organizations and Threat-Induced Contention: Protest Waves in Authoritarian Settings." American Journal of Sociology 109(2):345-400.
Amenta, Edwin. 1991. "Making the Most of a Case Study: Theories of the Welfare State and the American Experience." International Journal of Comparative Sociology 32:172-94.
Amenta, Edwin, Neal Caren, Elizabeth Chiarello and Yang Su. 2010. "The Political Consequences of Social Movements." Annual Review of Sociology 36:287-307.
Amenta, Edwin. 2014. "How to Analyze the Influence of Movements." Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews 43(1):16-29.
Andrews, Kenneth T. 2001. "Social Movements and Policy Implementation: The Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and the War on Poverty, 1965-1971." American Sociological Review 66:71-95.
Andrews, Kenneth T. 2004. Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: The Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and Its Legacy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Andrews, Kenneth T. and Neal Caren. 2010. "Making the News: Movement Organizations, Media Attention, and the Public Agenda." American Sociological Review 75:841-66.
Andrews, Kenneth T., Marshall Ganz, Matthew Baggetta, Hahrie Han and Chaeyoon Lim. 2010. "Leadership, Membership, and Voice: Civic Associations That Work." American Journal of Sociology 115(4):1191-242.
Bail, Christopher A. 2012. "The Fringe Effect Civil Society Organizations and the Evolution of Media Discourse About Islam since the September 11th Attacks." American Sociological Review 77(6):855-79.
Bartley, Tim and Curtis Child. 2011. "Movements, Markets and Fields: The Effects of Anti- Sweatshop Campaigns on Us Firms, 1993- 2000." Social Forces 90(2):425-51.
Best, Rachel Kahn. 2012. "Disease Politics and Medical Research Funding: Three Ways Advocacy Shapes Policy." American Sociological Review 77(5):780-803. doi: 10.1177/0003122412458509.
Gillham, Patrick F, Bob Edwards and John A Noakes. 2013. "Strategic Incapacitation and the Policing of Occupy Wall Street Protests in New York City, 2011." Policing and Society 23(1):81-102.
Haveman, Heather A., Hayagreeva Rao and Srikanth Paruchuri. 2007. "The Winds of Change: The Progressive Movement and the Bureaucratization of Thrift." American Sociological Review 72:117-42.
Ingram, Paul, Lori Qingyuan Yue and Hayagreeva Rao. 2010. "Trouble in Store: Probes, Protests, and Store Openings by Wal-Mart, 1998–2007." American Journal of Sociology 116(1):53-92.
McCammon, Holly J., Soma Chaudhuri, Lyndi Hewitt, Courtney Sanders Muse, Harmony D. Newman, Carrie Lee Smith and Teresa M. Terrell. 2008. "Becoming Full Citizens: The U.S. Women's Jury Rights Campaigns, the Pace of Reform, and Strategic Adaptation." American Journal of Sociology 113(4):1104- 47.
McDonnell, Mary-Hunter and Brayden King. 2013. "Keeping up Appearances: Reputational Threat and Impression Management after Social Movement Boycotts." Administrative Science Quarterly 58(3):387-419. doi: 10.1177/0001839213500032.
Vasi, Ion Bogdan and Brayden G King. 2012. "Social Movements, Risk Perceptions, and Economic Outcomes the Effect of Primary and Secondary Stakeholder Activism on Firms’ Perceived Environmental Risk and Financial Performance." American Sociological Review 77(4):573-96.