Critical Mass

Critical Mass is the newsletter of the Section of Collective Behavior and Social Movements. The current editors are Kelly Birch Maginot and Loredana Loy. Please send all your ideas, feedback, and submissions to cbsmnews@gmail.com.

Hints of the Coming of the Women’s Marches

By Jo Reger, Oakland University

As someone who studies the contemporary U.S. feminist movement, I should not have been surprised by the global outpouring of protests on January 21, 2017. After all, you could feel the rumblings coming during the Clinton-Trump campaign. The outright misogyny of Donald Trump’s casual evaluation of women, in contrast to the empowered women rhetoric of Hillary Clinton. Emotions were running high, insults were being flung, and once agreeable neighbors began to argue with each other’s choice of yard signs.

But stepping back from the heat of those moments, there were seeds planted for the global spread of women’s marches long before Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton threw their hats in the electoral ring.  Drawing on the old adage “hindsight is twenty-twenty,” I offer a few examples that offered hints of the women’s marches to come:

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Considering Contention in Trumptimes

By David S. Meyer, University of California, Irvine

For those of us who study protest movements, to paraphrase Dickens, the Trump presidency represents both the best of times and the worst of times. For scholars of political contention, Trump’s election immediately presents an upsurge of activism across many social movements that offer us massive amounts of empirical material and no shortage of analytical challenges. Like the paleontologist visiting Jurassic Park, those of us who write about movements can watch our preferred theories of contention being shredded—or not—in real time. Public attention to protest has also surged, and journalists, activists, and neighbors are more likely to express interest in the stuff that occupies our imagination most of the time. Regular people are paying attention!

The sense of urgency and possibility is exhilarating, but there is a downside: I have to live here. Donald Trump represents an urgent and unusual threat to democratic institutions in general, and in particular, a direct threat to the pursuit of science and the institutions which support it.

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100 Days of #Resistance and Still Counting: Innovating How We Study Protest

By Dana R. Fisher, Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland

Since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the US, protests and demonstrations have become relatively commonplace around the United States:  hundreds of thousands marched in pussy hats on the day after the inauguration; thousands stood in airports to show support for an America that is open to immigrants; tens of thousands of people marched (some sporting brain hats) to support science; hundreds of thousands circled the White House to show concern for climate change and the ways the new Administration is quickly undoing all political progress the previous administration made; and the town hall meetings of members of Congress have been flooded with attendees who want their elected officials to represent their interests.  In other words, the election of Donald Trump has been a veritable shot in the arm to democracy in America.  People are no longer bowling alone, they are marching and yelling together.

Since the inauguration, I have fielded research teams to survey participants at the large-scale protest events taking place in Washington, DC.  So far, we have collected data at the Women’s March, the March for Science, and the People’s Climate March that coincided with Trump’s 100th day in office.  Like my previous work, which surveyed a random sample of participants at large-scale protest events around various issues over the past 17 years, the research team at these events has administered a short anonymous survey to learn who is participating, what motivates them to participate, how civically engaged they are, how connected they are to the respective march’s organizational coalitions, and what are their demographics.  Unlike my previous work, where we administered a two-sided one-page paper survey with clipboards and ballpoint pens, however, I recently decided to innovate the data collection process.

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Message from the Chair: Protest, Elections, Media, and Inequality

By Kenneth (Andy) Andrews, CBSM Section Chair, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

We have arrived at a moment where protest and efforts to understand protest are everywhere. I am certain you are familiar with the broad contours of recent protest. The Crowd Counting Consortium documented 653 protests as part of the Women’s March on January 22nd and over four million participants. In subsequent weeks, there have been hundreds of protest events across an incredible array of issues and locales. Both established groups like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood and new ones like Indivisible have jumped into the fray. Trump provides a singular and unifying target for activism related to immigration, healthcare, gender, LGBT rights, abortion rights, racial justice, and on and on. Perhaps the best recent parallel is the way Obama provided a focal point for right wing activists and conservatives over the prior eight years.

Thinking about this moment, I recalled a conversation I had with Anthony (Tony) Oberschall several years ago. Tony described the politically and intellectually charged environment when he first started working on social movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s where seemingly every day was marked by events on college campuses, throughout the U.S., and across the globe that spoke to the emerging theoretical debates and perspectives being developed. Importantly, these debates were not contained by or within the boundaries of our subfield. We seem to be in the midst of a similar moment.

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