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Critical Mass — Spring 2015

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Social Movements Research in Russia: Sociology of the ignored activism

By Anna Zhelnina, CUNY Graduate Center

Social movement studies in Russia gained momentum after the 2011-2012 protest wave, as new research groups emerged to conduct empirical studies of the spontaneous mass protests against electoral fraud (known as the “Movement for Fair Elections”). Publications appeared as early as January 2012 (one month after the first protests), when sociologists and anthropologists made their first and rather descriptive attempts to make sense of the unexpected mass mobilization. The “Rallies Research Institute” (NII Mitingov) in Moscow and the PS-Lab (Public Sociology Laboratory) in St. Petersburg and other Russian cities collected data on the protesters’ demographics and demands, struggling to find adequate methods to capture the “new” reality of mass protests.

The deeper analysis of these events followed later. One of the best contributions so far is the book The Politics of the Apolitical (Politika apolitichnykh) published by the PS-Lab collective in 2014. The book focuses on the “paradoxicality” of mobilization in the political and ideological context of depoliticization of the Russian society, and looks for the conditions of political subjectivization. Several chapters are dedicated to later mobilizations (such as volunteering in areas of natural disaster, local level activism) that allowed the “political subjects” formed during the anti-electoral protests to stay active.

The upsurge of mobilization research in 2012-2013 can leave a false impression of the absence of social movements and social movements research before 2011, and both the media and some of the researchers referred to the “Movement for the Fair Elections” as the first mobilization since 1993. However, social movements existed during the “cursed nineties” and “stable” 2000s, and researchers have examined mobilization around urban problems (housing conditions, heritage protection), labor and social security issues, and the women’s and environmental movement. Tilly’s political process theory, Melucci’s collective identity theory, and framing theory are popular frameworks for research. One significant contribution is the 2010 book From average people to activists (Carine Clement, Olga Miryasova and Andrei Demidov), an encyclopedia of social activism in Russia in 2000s.

Generally, movement-state relations are the center of scholars’ attention. Elena Zdravomyslova in her work on the organization “Soldiers’ mothers” analyzes the identity politics and the tactics of collective action legitimation under hostile state conditions. Natalia Danilova (in research on the disabled war veterans’ movement) and Milyausha Zakirova (on urban protest) look at movements’ search for mobilizing frames that allow them not to appear too “oppositional.” Scholars such as Elena Belokurova and Ivan Klimov pay attention to the organizational dimension of movements. Boris Gladarev in his work on the heritage protection movement is interested in a broader issue of the formation of the public, mostly based on Laurent Thévenot’s “moral sociology”.

Current interest is growing in conservative and right wing mobilization, although the future of those studies is questionable, since the state has become hostile not only to the activism, but also to research about it.

Question: did the emergence of the fair election movement change how scholars thought about movements, at the theoretical level? I think, it promoted the topic and it became more popular after the movement, and maybe just more people started “theorizing” about its origins. But it still is discussed either from the point of view of political philosophy or political science in the narrow sense, social movements studies in the strict sense did not become extremely popular.


Social Movements in India

By Debal K. SinghaRoy, Indira Gandhi National Open University

Societies in India have long been the breeding grounds for varieties of social movements as collective agency to protest against socio-economic dominations and exploitation and also for the articulation of new identities. Many of these movements have retained their historical legacies despite reorientations over the time.

Historically India has witnessed numerous religious reform movements and revolts of the peasants and tribal people against the rulers. During British rule starting from the early 19th century, tribal revolts surfaced in the eastern, central and northeastern parts of the country. India has also seen the phenomenal participation of the tribes and peasants in the Independence movements and also the proliferation of autonomous peasant and workers movements since the first quarter of the twentieth century. There have also been trade union movements, caste and ethnic movements like that of the Rajbansi movements in the northern parts of Bengal and the Anti Brahmin movements in the southern part of the country.

After Independence many of the previous movements continued, and India experienced an outburst of new peasant movements like the Tebhaga movements1946-47, Telangana Movements 1948-52, and thereafter the radical Naxalite movements in 1970s. It has also seen the proliferation of workers movements in the growing urban areas of the country in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Since the mid 1970s India has experienced women’s movements, environmental movements like Chipko (hugging the tree), movements against big dams (Narmada Bachaao Andolon), regional autonomy (separate statehood with Indian Union) movements like the Telangana, Vidharva, Kamptapuri ,Gorkhaland, Uttaranchal, Jharkhand, Bodoland movements, rich farmers’ movements in the agriculturally developed states, movements for the assertions of caste identity like the Dalit Panther Party , Bahujan Samaj Party, Pro-Mandal Commission Movements (movements in favor of reservations for the socially and economically backward classes in government jobs and in education), the radical Maoist movements since mid 1980s in the agriculturally backwards parts of the country. In recent years, movements against big hydro and thermal projects and dams, movements against nuclear and defense projects (e.g. Anti-Missiles Base movement in Baliapal, Orissa, Anti Nuclear Power Project in Haripur, West Bengal, movement against Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in Maharashtra), Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption, Movement for right to Information,   Movements of agriculturalists’ against land acquisition, civil liberty and human rights, gay rights, children’s rights, and numerous localized social movements for employment, livelihood security of the poor, safety and dignify of women, tribes, low castes, religious minority groups have surfaced in many parts of the country.

Despite India’s new social movements, the old social movements persist, although in new forms, as the old issues are yet to be resolved. However in the wake of economic globalization, penetration of ICTs and communication networks, increased migration and social mobility, a high concentration of youth in the population, most of these social movements are now nationally and internationally connected, attract supporters across the geographical space, and predominantly adopt strategies of non violence (except for the Maoists), and reforms rather than transformation. Many movements are in the process of getting transformed into political parties, getting co-opted by the state, or are aspiring for realignment with varieties of social forces.

Many Indians are vulnerable, due to the contradictions between economic prosperity and livelihood insecurity, legal enactment and political commitment, the culture of inclusion and the politics of subordination. Despite being routinised and reformative, social movements have remained inseparable parts of social progress to create space for collective contestation against these insecurities and vulnerabilities and to reorient collective identities for self expression and fulfilment.

Studies of Contentious Politics in China

By Guobin Yang, University of Pennsylvania

Confining my discussion to Chinese-language publications only, I see three trends in the scholarship on contentious politics in China. The first is the rapidly growing quantity of academic journal articles in these areas. This is clear from a quick keyword search of the major Chinese academic journals database I searched for several Chinese phrases denoting social movements and collective action on March 20, 2015 in “abstract” rather than “full-text.” If a keyword like “mass incidents” appears in the abstract of an article, chances are the article is about some form of contentious politics (“mass incidents” being an official term for designating social protests). The results show an increasing number of articles in the past decade:

Mass incidents (qunti xing shijian) Social movements (shehui yundong) Collective action

(jiti xingdong)

Internet events

(wangluo shijian)

2004 16 63 53 7
2005 31 86 79 6
2006 54 102 111 13
2007 61 125 147 15
2008 81 148 157 45
2009 177 143 179 52
2010 196 148 209 84
2011 226 179 211 88
2012 237 207 264 69
2013 195 211 252 84
2014 176 225 236 67

The second trend is that much of the work focuses on internet-related activism and protest and in this, scholars of journalism and communication, not sociologists, seem to be taking the lead. Many articles on “mass incidents” deal with “internet mass incidents,” which is the official term for internet-triggered protest. Another euphemistic term for internet protest is internet events or new media events.

Considering the frequency of popular protest in China, online and offline, it is not surprising that Chinese scholars are producing more research on it. Indeed, the Chinese government provides some support through its social science funding mechanisms, since government leaders themselves want to better understand popular protest, if only in order to contain it more effectively. The large amount of research on contentious politics has generated many insightful analyses of contemporary protest activities. With major works by Charles Tilly, Doug McAdam, Sidney Tarrow, Alain Touraine and many others all translated into Chinese, and with a younger generation of Chinese scholars fully competent in reading and using English-language scholarship, Western social movement theories and concepts have become standard references in these studies.

Considering that many Chinese scholars emphasize the importance of developing indigenous concepts and theories for analyzing Chinese realities, however, significant theoretical or conceptual breakthroughs remain few and far between. One exception is perhaps a book on rural protest by the sociologist Xing Ying. First published in Chinese in 2011, the book came out in English in 2013 titled A Study of the Stability of Contemporary Rural Chinese Society. It attracted attention in China because it uses a concept from traditional Chinese philosophy to explain why Chinese villagers protest. Called qi, the concept is translated as “vigor” in the English version and as “emotion” in the English title of the original Chinese edition. Neither translation is accurate, but roughly speaking, qi resembles the notion of “moral grammar” in Axel Honneth’s book The Struggle for Recognition: The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts. Ying’s purpose in using qi to explain popular protest is similar to that of Honneth and many others in the social movement field, which is to try to overcome the dichotomy of reason and emotion in understanding the motivations for protest. In this sense, Ying’s book initiates an interesting conversation between Chinese and Western concepts and for that reason, merits the attention of scholars outside of China.

I should add, however, that more and more scholars in China are now publishing in English-language journals outside of China, including high-impact international journals. Due to space limits, unfortunately, I have to leave out their works.


By Olivier Fillieule, University of Lausanne

In the 1990s social movement studies in France witnessed an exponential growth, resulting in a significant accumulation of knowledge. The combined influence of Marxist concepts, the socio-genetic and configurational thought of Norbert Elias, Bourdieusian critical sociology, and the expanding dominance of an interactionist paradigm in research on activism, lent some originality to current research.

The lion’s share of the last twenty years of publications in social movement studies has been dedicated to three domains.

First, the diversity of repertories of action, signalling the critical importance of Charles Tilly’s legacy. For example, on demonstrations (Fillieule and Tartakowsky 2013), hunger strikes (Siméant 1998), squats (Péchu 2006), rent strikes (Hmed 2006), public meetings (Cossart 2013) or ethical consumption (Dubuisson-Quellier, 2009; Balsiger 2010). Research also examined modes of resistance to authority, associated with the initiative to import social movement theory in research on the MENA region (Bennani-Chraïbi, Fillieule 2003, 2012; Zaki 2005; Vairel 2014), on Turkey (Gourisse 2014) on Latin America (e.g. Massal 2005) and on black Africa (Siméant 2014).

Second, and apart some developments in gendered social movements and feminist protests (Fillieule and Roux, 2009; Bereni research has mainly focussed on the “new struggles” of the day. For example humanitarian commitments (Dauvin and Siméant 2002; Collovald et al. 2002); the struggles of the most deprived populations – the homeless, unemployed, and others (Pierru 2003; Dunezat 2004; Péchu 2006; Mathieu 2006, 2014; Chabanet and Faniel 2013); anti AIDS activism (Pinell and al 2002; Broqua 2005; Voegtli 2009), associations connected with immigration (Siméant 1998; Hamidi 2006; Hmed 2006), and antiglobalization (Agrikoliansky and al. 2005; and Sommier, and al. 2008; Sommier and Fillieule 2013). Also, “68” began to interest university researchers (Pagis 2014), long after Sommier published her pathbreaking Ph.D. devoted to this issue from the perspective of a comparative analysis of France and Italy (Sommier 1998).

Finally, French researchers have explored at length the question of activism and the process of commitment, especially with reference to an interactionist model of careers (Fillieule 2001, 2010). Consequently, contrary to the North American academic field, where researchers specializing in the subfield of studies of socialization have kept their distance from the sociology of activism, the French have considered socialization studies pivotal. Ethnographic qualitative approaches have proven best able to analyse activist work and its social divisions (Fillieule 2005; Pagis 2008; Joshua 2015).

Two other French specificities deserve mention. First, unlike the United States, where the success of social movement studies has produced an effect of closing off the field, its exponential development in France has, on the contrary, translated into an invasive spreading of its instruments and issues into a great number of academic domains. There is an important point of convergence with the increasingly voiced ambition across the Atlantic to reposition the study of protest activities in the context of the political, economic and social relations which surround them, taking into account the multiplicity of actors involved and their strategies.

Second, in terms of methods, the French usually exercise caution with respect to undue simplifications of a stratospheric comparativism, arguing that we learn more about the dynamic of protests and collective action from in-depth case studies than in compiling vast data bases that risk stripping the explanatory factors chosen of all meaning. It offers a genuine means of investigating many paths outlined in theory but still unexplored in practice, due to the lack of adequate methodological tools: the logic of activist trajectories; emotions and affects (Latté 2008; Traïni 2009, 2011); the dynamics of events; and the face to face interactions which comprise the texture of protest.

Reference List

Social Movement Studies in France: A Short Overview

Some handbooks summarizing and synthesizing French research:

Neveu, E. 1996. Sociologie des Mouvements Sociaux, Paris, La Découverte.

Céfaï D. 2007. Pourquoi se Mobilise-t-on ? Les Théories de l’Action Collective, Paris, La Découverte.

Fillieule, O., L. Mathieu and C. Péchu. (eds). 2009. Dictionnaire des Mouvements Sociaux, Paris, presses de Science-Po.

Fillieule, O., E. Agrikoliansky and I. Sommier. (eds). 2010. Penser les Mouvements Sociaux, Paris, La Découverte.

Accornero, G. and O. Fillieule (eds.). Forthcoming 2016. Social Movement Studies in Europe. A State of the Art, New York/Oxford, Berghahn books.

Agrikoliansky, E., O. Fillieule and N. Mayer. (eds). 2005. L’Altermondialisme en France. La Longue Histoire d’une Nouvelle Cause, Paris, Flammarion.

Balsiger, P. (2010) ‘Making Political Consumers: The Tactical Action Repertoire of a Campaign for Clean Clothes’, Social Movement Studies 9(3): 311-329.

Balsiger, P. (2014) The Fight for Ethical Fashion. The Origins and Interactions of the Clean Clothes Campaign. Aldershot, Ashgate.

Bennani-Chraïbi, M. and O. Fillieule. (eds). 2003. Résistances et Protestations dans les Sociétés Musulmanes, Paris, Presses de Sciences-Po.

Bennani-Chraibi, M. and O. Fillieule. 2012. ‘Towards a Sociology of Revolutionary Situations. Reflections on the Arab Uprisings’, Revue Française de Science Politique, 62(5) : 1-29.

Bereni, L. 2015. La bataille de la parité. Mobilisations pour la féminisation du pouvoir, Paris, Economica.

Broqua, C. 2005. Agir pour ne pas mourir, Paris, Presses de Science-Po.

Chabanet, D. and J. Faniel (eds). 2013.  Les mobilisations de chômeurs en France : problématiques d’alliances et alliances problématiques, Paris, l’Harmattan.

Collovald, A. et al. (ed.). 2002. L’Humanitaire ou le Management des Dévouements, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes.

Cossart, P. 2013. Le Meeting Politique. De la Délibération à la Manifestation (1868-1939), Rennes, PUR.

Dauvin, P. and J. Siméant. 2002. Le travail Humanitaire. Les Acteurs des ONG du Siège au Terrain, Paris, Presses de Science-Po.

Dubuisson-Quellier, S. 2009. La Consommation Engagée, Paris, Presses de sciences Po.

Dunezat, X. 2004. Chômage et Action Collective. Luttes dans la Lutte. Mouvements de Chômeurs et Chômeuses de 1997-1998 en Bretagne et Rapports Sociaux de Sexe, Ph.D. dissertation. Paris: University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.

Fillieule, O. (ed.). 2005. Le Désengagement Militant, Paris, Belin.

Fillieule, O. 1997. Stratégies de la Rue, Paris, Presses de Sciences-Po.

Fillieule, O. 2001. ‘Post-scriptum : Propositions pour une Analyse Processuelle de l’Engagement Individuel’, Revue Française de Science Politique, 51(1-2) : 199-217.

Fillieule, O. 2010. ‘Some Elements of an Interactionist Approach to Political Disengagement’, Social Movement Studies, 9(1) : 1-15.

Fillieule, O. and D. Tartakowsky. 2013. Demonstrations, Halifax and Winnipeg: Fernwood.

Fillieule, O. and P. Roux. 2009. Le sexe du Militantisme, Paris, Presses de Science-Po.

Gourisse, B. 2014. La Violence Politique en Turquie. L’Etat en Jeu (1975-1980), Paris Karthala.

Hamidi, C. 2006. ‘Éléments pour une Approche Interactionniste de la Politisation. Engagement Associatif et Rapport au Politique dans des Associations Locales Issues de l’Immigration. Revue Française de Science Politique (56) : 5–25.

Hmed, C. 2006. Loger les Etrangers « Isolés ». Socio-Histoire d’une Institution d’Etat : la Sonacotra, 1956-2006, Ph.D. dissertation. Paris: University of Paris I.

Johsua, F. 2015. Anticapitalistes. Une sociologie historique de l’engagement, Paris, La Découverte.

Latté, S. 2008. Les ‘Victimes’. La Formation d’une Catégorie Sociale Improbable et ses Usages dans l’Action Collective, Ph. Dissertation. Paris: ENS.

Massal, J. 2005. Les Mouvements Indiens en Equateur. Mobilisations Protestataires et Démocratie, Paris, Karthala.

Mathieu, L. 2006. La Double Peine. Histoire d’une Lutte Inachevée, Paris, La Dispute.

Mathieu, L. 2014. La fin du Tapin. Sociologie de la Croisade pour l’Abolition de la Prostitution. Lormont, éd. François Bourin.

Pagis, J. 2014. Mai 68, un pavé dans leur histoire, Paris, Presses de science Po.

Péchu, C. 2006, Droit Au Logement, Genèse et Sociologie d’une Mobilisation, Dalloz, Paris.

Pierru, E. 2003. L’Ombre des chômeurs – Chronique d’une indignité sociale et politique depuis les années 1930, Ph Dissertation, Amiens, Université of Picardie.

Pinell, P. et al. 2002. Une Epidémie Politique. La Lutte Contre le Sida en France (1981-1996), Seuil, Paris.

Siméant, J. 1998. La Cause des Sans Papiers, Paris, Presses de Science-Po.

Siméant, J. 2014. Contester au Mali. Formes de la Mobilisation et de la Critique à Bamako, Paris, Karthala.

Sommier, I. 1998. La Violence Politique et son Deuil. L’Après 68 en France et en Italie, Rennes, PUR.

Sommier, I. and O. Fillieule. 2013. ‘The Emergence and Development of the “no Global” Movement in France: A Genealogical Approach’, in C. Flesher Fominaya and L. Cox. (eds). Understanding European Movements, London and New York, Routledge, pp. 47-60.

Sommier, I., O. Fillieule, and E. Agrikoliansky. (eds). 2008. Généalogie des Mouvements Altermondialistes en Europe. Une Perspective Comparée, Paris, Karthala.

Traïni, C. (ed.). 2009. Emotions… Mobilisation!, Paris, Presses de Sciences-Po.

Traïni, C. 2011. La Cause Animale, 1820-1980. Essai de Sociologie Historique, Paris, PUF.

Vairel, F. 2014. Politique et Mouvements sociaux au Maroc. La Révolution Désamorcée?, Paris, Presses de science po.

Voegtli, M. 2009. Luttes Contre le Sida, Luttes Homosexuelles: Histoires Croisées d’Engagements Militants en Suisse, PhD dissertation, University of Lausanne and EHESS.

Zaki, L. 2005. Pratiques Politiques au Bidonville, Casablanca (2000-2005), PhD Dissertation, Paris, Institut d’Etudes Politiques.

Imagine: the state is your ally… *

By Jan Willem Duyvendak, University of Amsterdam

Conspicuously absent from Dutch approaches to social movements is the so-called New Social Movement Approach of influential figures such as Alain Touraine and Alberto Melucci. Even though some have argued that the NSM approach was the “European contribution” to the field of social movements par excellence, most Dutch scholars contributed instead to Anglo-Saxon traditions. One can speculate why certain approaches resonate so strongly in some countries and less in others. Here, I want to hypothesize that the Dutch political culture of openness toward protest and protestors has been mirrored in the popularity of scholarly approaches that emphasize the importance of political opportunities and resources. It is not that the Netherlands have been less influenced by “May 68,” by the huge cultural transformations of the 1960s and the 1970s that would explain the absence of the NSM-approach in the Netherlands. On the contrary, the Dutch “new” social movements have been far stronger than their French and the Italian counterparts. The literature shows, however, that these huge cultural changes have been possible due to rather specific political conditions. It is this specificity of the Dutch political context – the openness to and the “absorption” of social movements by and in the Dutch state- that explains the popularity of paradigms that focus on (perceptions of) opportunities.

However, this openness, in which “the state” often positions itself more as an ally than an adversary, fuelled one of the main criticisms of an overly structuralist Political Process Approach for positing a rigid distinction between states/ governments and social movements. Studies of many Dutch social movements, such as the women’s and the LGBT movement, point to large intersections between states and movements and the implications of these intersections for theorizing political opportunity structures. In more recent work, scholars at the University of Amsterdam (Broer & Duyvendak 2009, 2011; De Graaff & Broer 2012; Grootegoed, Broer & Duyvendak 2013) have further challenged core assumptions of the structuralist PPA, inspired by the work of American scholars who have emphasized the importance of emotions and culture in social movement research (Jasper 2011). In their work, these UvA researchers show how in the policymaking process itself political subjectivities are formed that enable people to fight precisely those policies. Often, however, it is no so much dissonance that is the outcome of the political process but resonance: policymakers and people have the same definition of the situation and no mobilization occurs. Or something else happens, as Robert Davidson (also UvA) shows in his recent work on the LGBT-movement: the Dutch government – both national and local- mobilizes together with social movement organizations in order to change public opinion to become (even more) favorable regarding homosexuality. In such a context, “the state” as an enemy just doesn’t make sense. To understand protest and social change, we rather “break the state down” (Duyvendak & Jasper 2015) and look at the precise forms of cooperation and conflict that develop regarding concrete topics in highly peculiar settings.

* This short essay draws heavily on Jan Willem Duyvendak, Conny Roggeband and Jacquelien van Stekelenburg “Politics and People: Understanding the Dutch Research on Social Movements”, forthcoming 2016.                                                                     


Bröer, C. & J.W. Duyvendak (2009). Discursive opportunities, feeling rules and the rise of protests against aircraft noise. Mobilization: An International Journal, 14: 337-356.

Broer, C. & J. W. Duyvendak (2011). Sensing and Seizing Opportunities: How Contentious Actors and Strategies Emerge. In: J. Goodwin & J. Jasper (eds. ) Contention in Context. Political Opportunities and the Emergence of Protest. Stanford: Stanford California Press, pp. 240-255.

Duyvendak, J.W. & J. Jasper (2015) (eds.), Breaking Down the State. Protesters Engaged with Authorities. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Graaff, M.B. de & C. Broer (2012) ‘We are the canary in a coal mine’: Establishing a disease category and a new health risk. Health, Risk & Society, 14: 129-147.

Grootegoed, G. C. Broer & J.W. Duyvendak (2013). Too ashamed to complain: cuts to publicly financed care and clients’ waving of their right to appeal. Social Policy and Society, pp. 1-12.

Jasper, J. (2011). “Emotions and Social Movements: Twenty Years of Theory and Research.” Annual Review of Sociology 37:285-304.

Recent Australian Research

By Catriona Roberts, University of Sydney

Social Movement research in Australia has a long tradition and many new works focus on familiar themes because they continue to dominate in discussions of equity, change and nation. A new offering that synthesises key issues today is Greg Martin’s forthcoming book Understanding Social Movements (Routledge 2015). An edited collection that does similar work is James Goodman and Jonathan Marshall’s Crisis, Movement, Management: Globalising Dynamics (Taylor and Francis 2014). Both texts highlight the principal new themes and theories of the 21st century. Goodman is well-known for his work on social movements in the context of globalization, and is one of the authors of the impressive book Justice Globalism: Ideology, Crises, Policy (Sage 2012). This technical and densely argued book works through key issues associated with the Global Justice Movement and its ideology. It defends the GJM from criticism that is incoherent and just “anti” everything.

The previous Australian government introduced a National Disability Insurance Scheme in 2013, which for the first time brought issues of disability to the fore for many citizens. Helen Meekosha (UNSW), a disability movement scholar, has been working in the area for decades. She contributed a strong chapter to the collection edited by Dan Goodley, Bill Hughes, Lennard Davis Disability and Social Theory: New Developments and Directions (Palgrave, 2012), on the interplay between space, gender and disability. Co-writing with Carolyn Frohmader (Executive Director, Women with Disabilities Australia), the authors explore intersectionality – disability and gender in particular – but also the tensions between national and international aims within organizations. Anita Ghai’s interesting chapter, in this mostly British focused book, brings together issues of disability and postcolonialism in a discussion that sits neatly with local Australian arguments.

A focus on intersectionality is now common in social movement research more generally. Intersectionality and Social Change (2014), edited by Lynne Woehrle, has a fine chapter by Emma Partridge and Sarah Maddison on gender, race and violence in the context of the Australian feminist movement. These authors suggest that using intersectional frameworks for imagining collective identity allows us to recognize the complexity of Indigenous women’s identities. Other chapters explore intersectionality in a variety of North American, South American and European contexts, creating a detailed picture of the field.

The impact of social media in social movements is, not surprisingly, an expanding area of research. Ariadne Vromen (University of Sydney) is a key figure in this field. Her work on young people and political activism has explained some of the new ways community transformation is imagined and performed in virtual worlds. The Networked Young Citizen, co-edited with Bryan Loader and Michael Xenos (Routledge 2014), is a collection of thoughtful pieces on how young people engage in processes of social change. As with Goodman’s work, Vromen and her co-authors, move beyond the sometimes sneering reduction of young peoples engagements as nothing more than “clicktivism”.


Critical Mass — Fall 2014

PDF version of Critical Mass – Fall 2014

Critical Mass — Spring 2014

PDF version of the Critical Mass Bulletin

Best Article Award

The members of the CBSM best-article award committee for 2013 were Jeff Goodwin (chair), Manisha Desai, Amin Ghaziani, and Rachel Kutz- Flamenbaum. The committee considered 29 articles which were nominated for the award, all of very high quality. The committee recognized two articles for their special excellence.

The committee awarded the prize for best article in the field of collective behavior and social movements to Kevan Harris for his article titled “The Brokered Exuberance of the Middle Class: An Ethnographic Analysis of Iran’s 2009 Green Movement,” which was published in the journal Mobilization last year (vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 435-55).

Kevan Harris’s article is a fascinating study of unintended consequences, based in part on his participant-observation of the protests during and after the 2009 election in Iran. Harris shows that the core constituency of the protests was Iran’s rising middle class, itself a product, in part, of the regime’s developmental policies—but a class upset with the regime’s constraints on political freedoms, public behavior, and private life. The protests themselves did not develop from preexisting oppositional networks, but were a spillover from the electoral campaign of 2009, which the reform candidates hoped would bolster voter turnout, not generate an independent movement. Both organized campaign events and especially spontaneous street debates generated what Harris calls “brokered exuberance”— a solidarity and collective excitement, the emotional byproducts of these micro-interactions, which helped overcome the free-rider problem and sustain risky protests, at least for a while.

Movement scholars have of course emphasized the importance of emotions and microinteractions for some time now, but Harris’s article is especially important for linking these movement dynamics to broader processes of class formation in Iran. It was the brokered exuberance of particularly situated people, he shows, mainly the professional-technical middle class in this case, which came to matter in 2009. For various reasons, that exuberance did not extend quite so easily to either formal wage laborers or informal workers in Iran. Harris’s linking of movement dynamics, emotions, and class formation is a tremendously important contribution to the social movements field.

The committee has awarded honorable mention to an article by Hyojoung Kim and Steven Pfaff titled

“Structure and Dynamics of Religious Insurgency: Students and the Spread of the Reformation,” published in the American Sociological Review last year (vol. 77, no. 2, pp. 188-215). This article interprets the religious insurgency of the 16th century, which we today call the Reformation, as a movement in which university students played a key role as “bridge actors” or brokers. The authors use data on nearly 500 towns in Central Europe to show that the probability that a town would institute religious reforms was substantially influenced by its exposure to an Evangelical student network as opposed to a loyalist or orthodox network.

Scholars of movements have long emphasized the importance of religious belief and of students, whether singly or in combination. These are themes, of course, in the literature on the Southern civil rights movement. Kim and Pfaff show that religion and students—and religious students—have in fact been important for collective action for more than four centuries. This is an excellent work of historical sociology as well as an important contribution to the literature on social movements.