This year’s award was a very hard choice. The committee – Paul Almeida, Drew Halfmann, Deana Rohlinger, and Nancy Whittier (chair) – considered 29 eligible submissions. It was an extremely strong field containing many truly excellent books. Both the prize recipient and the runner up are innovative and fascinating books to which a short summary cannot do justice. This year’s recipeint is Kathleen Blee, for Democracy in the Making: How Activist Groups Form (Oxford).
This is a remarkably strong book across the board – in theory, methodology, significant contribution to the field, and overall argument. The methods and sample are unique and impressive, drawing over 60 groups on a wide range of issues (all “progressive”) emerging in Pittsburgh from their first meeting through their development over time. This allows Blee to examine movement groups’ emergence, process, what doesn’t happen, and groups’ different trajectories over time. She argues that these processes are quite fluid, but that groups’ decisions and directions shape their paths. Theoretically, Blee shows that early choices shape these paths and influence the groups toward success, survival, or demise. She looks closely at the turning points where decisions are made about which paths to take, the longer term consequences of these decisions, and the ways that they can be modified or overturned and groups’ paths thus changed. Blee engages with most of the major concepts in the field, like organization, internal structure and decision making, the influence of external context, frames, collective identities, and more, deepening them in ways too many to describe.
The committee also extends an Honorable Mention to Guillermo Trejo, for Popular Movements in Autocracies: Religion, Repression and Indigenous Collective Action in Mexico (Cambridge).
Trejo focuses on explaining movements’ emergence, growth, and development into protest or rebellion. Focusing on rural indigenous organizing in Mexico, the book builds a theory of social movements in autocracies, examining political opportunities, the role of religious institutions and religious competition, and economic forces. Trejo’s data is very impressive, including both extensive fieldwork and an original dataset of collective action in Mexico. The committee was impressed with the book’s depth and range of data and the innovative theorizing of protest’s emergence and trajectory. Trejo draws on and expands existing social movement theory about political opportunities, by developing an ambitious case in an autocratic context, by meticulously analyzing data that are both micro/local and macro/comparative, and by incorporating under- theorized institutions like the church, the economy, and indigenous networks alongside the state.