Category Archives: Critical Mass

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.

The Charles Tilly Award for the Best Book in Collective Behavior and Social Movements

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.

Report from the Mayer N. Zald Award Committee

Our committee, including David Cunningham, Jo Reger, and Hiroe Saruya, last year’s winner, is pleased to recognize some well deserving honorees for the first Mayer Zald Award competition. We gave out two honorable mentions in addition to the award. The high amount of recognition is in direct proportion to the number and quality of the entrants. We received 54 papers, likely to be an all-time record. We evaluated each paper based on the following criteria: development of theory, testing of theory, importance of question, theoretical innovation, methodological innovation, quality of data, quality of data analysis, clarity of reasoning and thinking, and synthesis of literature.

We agreed unanimously to confer the award upon Mohammad Ali Kadivar (North Carolina, Chapel Hill), for his paper, “Opportunities, Perception Profiles, and Alliances in the Iranian Reform Movement, 1997-2005.”

This paper asks an important question about the conditions under which social movement alliances and coalitions are likely. It makes an innovative theoretical contribution by reviewing the literature on U.S. and global case studies and identifying the different approaches to politics—strategic models— that movement actors might engage in. These “perception profiles” in turn serve as bases for potential coalition formation. This conceptualization represents a significant advance on current explanations of alliance-formation and maintenance. Drawing on extensive newspaper data across different phases of Iranian reform movement politics, moreover, the paper appraises this model of alliance formation through content analysis, with important attention to alternative hypotheses that might render the baseline relationship between perception profiles and coalitions spurious. That is, these similarities in perception helped to explain alliance formation in different phases of Iranian politics better than did state repression or the organization’s goals. All in all, the committee found this paper to be an outstanding achievement and a very worthy standard bearer for the inaugural Mayer N. Zald Award.

Two papers earned honorable mention awards: Tarun Banerjee (SUNY , Stony Brook), “Media, Movements, and Mobilization: Tea Party Protests in the U.S., 2009-2010” and Daniel S. Blocq (Wisconsin, Madison), “Formation of Armed Self- Defense Groups during Civil Wars.”

Overall, we found the quality of work was very high indeed, with several of the entries accepted for publication at top journals. The future of the section seems to be in good hands. We regret that we could not recognize more of this excellent work.

Message from the Chair

More and more, we have shifted our attention from explaining the rise and fall of social movements to addressing their influence on political and other institutions.  After all, social movements’ bids to effect social change are why people join them, and why we first studied them. Debates rage about the impact of current movements like Occupy and the Tea Party—not only about whether they have been influential and why, but also about what it means to be influential.  The time has long passed since anyone could plausibly say that the consequences of movements are understudied.

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