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.