Panel Summaries: CBSM at ASA 2019

ASA 2019: Thinking About Abeyance in the 21st Century

Nancy Whittier, Smith College and Jo Reger, Oakland University

This session, organized by Jo Reger and presided over by Nancy Whittier, aimed to examine how the foundational concept of social movement abeyance functions and is relevant in the 21st century. Articulated by Verta Taylor and Leila Rupp in their investigation of the “doldrums” of the women’s movement in the early 20th century, abeyance has been applied to multiple social movement contexts to illustrate how movements survive in period of low mobilization. The invited panel of Alison Dahl Crossley, Fabio Rojas, and Suzanne Staggenborg explored the transformation of the abeyance concept over time and considered its relevance in today’s context of rapid social movement mobilization. Their comments were followed by reflections and discussion from Rupp and Taylor and a lively discussion with audience members. Some of the panelists’ core points were as follows:

Crossley, author of Finding Feminism, discussed how movement activism and therefore abeyance has moved online. She concluded that, as a result, periods of the doldrums are less pronounced, definitions of mobilization are broader and that online abeyance structures have the ability to be more inclusive. She found that the online abeyance structures in her studies were important in the later emergence of #MeToo.

Rojas reflected on abeyance as a way of thinking about relationships between multiple movements, noting that the concept can extend our notions of the interconnectedness of movements beyond social movement sectors or social movement industry. A key question for Rojas was “how many social movements are there actually?” He noted that abeyance theory would indicate that there are only a few interconnected ones. He concluded by asking “How can we merge abeyance theory with intersectionality?” and noted that this can tell us where politics happens and how movements are connected.

Staggenborg drew on her work on the environmental movement and her work with Taylor to reflect on how even when movements such as the women’s movement are in abeyance, they can organize large events and merge into other organizations in terms of identity and tactics. She discussed how abeyance processes are not only important in periods of low mobilization but also can foster a movement’s engagement in contentious politics. She encouraged scholars to consider how there are levels of abeyance from the individual to organizational/social movement communities.

Rupp, a historian, discussed how in her research she has been able to trace connections across transnational homophile activism from the 1920s to the 1970s by drawing on the concept of abeyance. She encouraged scholars to consider how there are movements that we don’t know about and that through archival research she was able to unearth activism in the 1950s that made this connection. In sum, abeyance structures may hide movements from study.

Taylor concluded the presentations by asking us to consider how the concept can be used to analyze right-wing movements. She pointed to Kathy Blee’s work on path dependence to illustrate how abeyance can aid and constrain movements. She asked scholars to consider some unresolved questions including: 

  • What organizational structures and variations allow survival in hostile times?
  • What kind of collective identities facilitate abeyance? (e.g., an emphasis on sameness vs. difference)
  • To what extent is abeyance an intentional strategy, emphasizing covert organizing instead of public under repression? (e.g., white supremacist strategy pre-Trump.)
  • What is the relation between abeyance and cooptation and mainstreaming?
  • How is abeyance connected to movement spillover?
  • What role does abeyance play in transitions from democracy to authoritarian regimes?
  • What role does abeyance play in resurgence of right-wing populism and fascism?

ASA 2019: Mobilizing For and Against Violence in Pursuit of Social Justice

Dana Moss, University of Pittsburgh

Mobilizing For and Against Violence in Pursuit of Social Justice, organized by Aliza Luft and Dana Moss, provided a forum to discuss six exciting papers on cutting-edge topics related to violence and mobilization. First, Dolores Trevizo (Occidental College) presented her research on “A Mnemonic Community Frames the Crisis of Disappeared People as Extension of Mexico’s Dirty War.” Based on extensive ethnographic research, this paper focused on how protest movements are working to bring attention to Mexico’s crisis of the disappeared through framing practices, thereby making individual homicides a political issue warranting attention by authorities. Vivian Shaw (Harvard) presented her work on “‘Extreme Pressure:’ Gendered Negotiations of Violence and Vulnerability in Japanese Antiracism Movements.” This fascinating study focused on the paradox of male activists’ use of physical intimidation and threats of violence to protect women and pursue movement claims. Nella Van Dyke of UC Merced (along with Kathryn Patricia Daniels, Ashley Noel Metzger, and Carolina Molina) presented a paper titled “Individual Stories, Emotion, and Mobilization against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence” to illustrate public reactions to efforts by assault survivors and activists to use public art and writings to draw awareness to violent experiences. Rachel Sullivan Robinson (American University) presented work co-authored with Nicole Angotti (American U) and Tara McKay (Vanderbilt) on how LGBT activists survive and persist in fighting for human rights in a context like Nigeria, which has low political and legal tolerance for LGBT rights. Ben Case (University of Pittsburgh) presented work from his dissertation titled “Molotov Cocktails to Mass Marches: Riots and Nonviolent Protests in Social Movement Uprisings” to describe how violence in protest keeps contentious politics contentious in places like South Africa; importantly, he emphasized the need for scholars to attend to riots as a common part of protest activity. Last but not least, Lauren Duquette-Rury (Wayne State University) and Clarisa Perez-Armendariz (Bates College) presented preliminary results of their study on the relationship between migrant-funded development and vigilantism in different parts of Mexico. In all, these papers demonstrate the importance of studying violence in mobilization and collective behavior, including both when and how activists combat violence and use violence, broadly defined, to pursue their goals.

ASA 2019: Critical Studies and Social Movements

Edelina Burciaga, University of Colorado, Denver

This year’s session on Critical Studies and Social Movements brought together a brilliant group of scholars who are pushing social movement studies forward in exciting directions. In putting together the panel, I chose to highlight papers that were focusing on contemporary social movements, looking at historical movements in new ways, and/or introducing innovative methodological approaches. Nicole Arlette Hirsch compares anti-racist organizing in France and the United States to reveal how anti-racist organizations respond to national racial ideologies to frame their work. Drawing on content analysis of print and digital data, interviews, and ethnographic fieldwork with 52 organizations in France and the United States, Nicole argues that how organizations decide on a frame to respond to issues such as police brutality contributes to the social construction of race and the reification of national racial ideologies. Similarly, Jann Boeddeling draws from both an extensive original data set that catalogued protest events during the Tunisian uprising from 2010-2011 and 55 interviews. Jann argues that the rapidly shifting nature of interactions between protesters and the state contributed to the emergence of spontaneous mobilization that led to forming collective solidarity, providing key insights into Revolutionary Mass Mobilization. K Mann discussed how the labor movement has held a peculiar place in social movement studies. K argued that an unintended consequence of the assault on unions and collective bargaining has been a resurgence of grassroots labor mobilizing that is invigorating the labor movement, exemplified in victories for teachers in Chicago. Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval presented a compelling analysis of Chicana/o student activism in California during the 1990s. Drawing from interviews and content analysis with Chicanx activists who participated in hunger strikes at three college campuses in California, Ralph argued that while these hunger strikers demands included establishing or fortifying Chicana/o Studies departments on these campuses, these demands reflected a broader call for dignity and respect as the hunger strikes followed the passage of Proposition 187 in California, one of the earliest pieces of anti-immigrant legislation introduced at the state level. Finally, Jessi Grace’s paper focused on digital disputes in the Women’s March movement. Jessi analyzed over 1,000 tweets on Twitter related to the Women’s March. In order to arrive at these 1,000 randomly selected tweets, Jessi culled 9,000 tweets from Twitter on dates close to the actual Women’s Marches in 2017 and 2018. As Jessi noted in both the paper and the presentation, methodological approaches for analyzing tweets are just being developed. Beyond the methodological innovation, Jessi explored key frame disputes in the days leading up to the Women’s March related to racial inclusivity, trans inclusivity, support for sex workers, Hillary Clinton, and the inclusion of pro-life participants. Jessi argues that the frame disputes related to these issues reveal interesting insights about Women’s March Movement. As these papers and presentations demonstrated, social movement scholarship continues to be integral for understanding contemporary social change efforts. Taken together, the authors of these papers draw on social movement theory to understand their movements, but they are also making significant intellectual and methodological contributions to social movement studies.