Authority in Contention: Volume 25


Table of contents

(16 chapters)

Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change is celebrating a significant anniversary, the publication of its 25th Volume. I can think of no better way to mark this occasion than with this collection of fine papers from the 2000 conference, “Authority in Contention: Interdisciplinary Approaches,” sponsored by the Collective Behavior and Social Movements section of the American Sociological Association. Daniel Myers and Daniel Cress, guest editors for this volume, have done an exemplary job of selecting and editing the papers. The RSMCC series and scholars writing in the field of social movements are each in their debt.

In the summer of 2002, the Collective Behavior and Social Movements section of the American Sociological Association held one of its periodic workshops at the University of Notre Dame. The theme of the workshop and the title of this volume, Authority in Contention, was originally suggested by David Snow and later refined by the workshop committee. The conference theme was inspired in part by the ideas developed and published in Doug McAdam, Charles Tilly, and Sidney Tarrow’s Dynamics of Contention, and a good portion of the conference developed in reaction to the ideas presented in the book. But although the conference itself was reacting to the DOC agenda (along with just about everyone else in the social movements field at the time), the agenda was broader in scope. As important as the contentious politics agenda has become, the conference organizers wanted to take a step back and look more broadly at empirical terrain that might reflect what we collectively consider to be social movement research and theorizing. In part, this means moving beyond a state-centered view of contentious politics and toward a more open definition of what might be fruitfully examined by social movement theories – and in turn what might inform those theories even as we use them in more traditional social movement arenas. The danger of the contentious politics framework, as articulated by David Snow in his chapter on resisting the hegemony of the approach, is that much important social movement activity would be defined out or, or at least severely neglected, by contentious politics thinking and that a broader frame of mind is necessary to guide social movement scholarship.

This chapter argues against the recent crystallization of “contentions politics” as the anchoring concept for the study of collective action on the grounds that it is overly restrictive, foreclosing consideration and analysis of much social movement activity not tied directly to government or the state and which thus falls beyond the bailiwick of the political arena. The problematic character of the contentious politics frame is discussed and illustrated both empirically and conceptually, and a more inclusive and elastic conceptualization is proposed and elaborated, one that conceives of movements broadly as collective challenges to systems of authority. This alternative conceptualization includes collective challenges within and to institutional, organizational, and cultural domains other than just the state or the polity. Not only are direct challenges to authorities included, but also movements that challenge authorities indirectly either through covert means, as in the case of terrorist movements, or by exiting the system, as in the case of separatist and communal movements and other-worldly religious “cults.”

Among students of social movements, the prevailing view is that, in Western democracies, most social movements target the state and its institutions. Recently scholars have questioned this definition of social movements, associated with the political process and contentious politics approaches, arguing that public protest is also used to shape public opinion, identities, and cultural practices and to pressure authorities in institutional arenas not directly linked to the state. In this paper, we take up this debate by examining the targets of recent social movements. Our analysis draws from data on 4,654 protest events that occurred in the United States between 1968 and 1975. The protest events in our dataset encompass a variety of tactics used by social movements organized around a number of different issues. We find that, although virtually all movements in the United States direct some public protest at the state, there is considerable variation in the targets of modern movements. During this period, environmental, peace, international human rights, single-policy, and ethnic movements were more likely to direct their appeals to the government, while the civil rights, gay and lesbian, and the women’s movement were more likely to target public opinion and other, non-state institutions. Our analysis calls into question excessively state-centered conceptions of social movements that view social movement activity as directed primarily at the formal political domain of social life.

Work on repression within the social movements literature has largely focused on state-based and coercive repression, despite both the empirical importance of private and non-coercive forms of protest control and the theoretical leverage studying other forms of protest control could offer. This paper argues that scholars should shift from studying repression, which as a terminology carries connotations about state-based and coercive action, and instead focus on the “social control of protest.” The paper then manufactures a literature on private forms of protest control, culling existing work from disparate fields and literatures. These works are organized using a previously published typology of repressive forms that covers such diverse actions as vigilantism and countermovement violence. This organization reveals that empirical research has been done on private protest control even if it has not been named as such or been connected to a coherent body of scholarship on the subject. The paper then examines possible directions for future research that could facilitate the growth of scholarship on private protest control.

If the concept of repression is to be useful when the state is not the primary target of social movement action, it needs to conceptualize how changes in values, perspectives, culture, norms, expectations and behavior in the public at large are contested through political interaction in civil society. Although non-state actors can sometimes use violence, their typical forms of repression of social movements are non-violent or “soft.” I suggest three forms of action – ridicule, stigma and silencing – that are commonly employed by non-state actors to repress challengers. Because women’s movements include challenges to non-state authorities, they have long been targets of soft repression. Examples of the use of power against challengers to the gender status quo are used to illustrate all three forms of soft repression.

This paper presents a theoretical definition of protest that overcomes the bifurcation of politics and culture in mainstream social movement research. The model is grounded in a study of drag performances, which have a long history in same-sex communities as vehicles for expressing gay identity, creating and maintaining solidarity, and staging political resistance. Extending Tilly’s concept of repertoires of contention, we propose the term “tactical repertoires” to refer to protest episodes, and we identify three elements of all tactical repertoires: contestation, intentionality, and collective identity. We combine social constructionist perspectives on gender and sexuality, the social movement literature, and writings in performance studies to understand how drag performances function as tactical repertoires of the gay and lesbian movement. We argue that because they are entertaining, drag shows illuminate gay life for mainstream audiences and provide a space for the construction of collective identities that confront and rework gender and sexual boundaries.

State-oriented models of collective action are too narrow to encompass expressive movements that challenge religious authority structures. These limitations are evident as I explore the tactics of the Plowshares movement. Inspired by the Catholic Left, Plowshares activists have distinguished themselves from other peace groups by their controversial methods of nonviolent sabotage. I argue that the tactical choices of this movement defy state-centered theories that assume political instrumentality, tactical neutrality, and rational calculation of costs and benefits. The Plowshares case reveals that expressive groups and religious movements may not select their methods solely on the basis of efficacy. Rather, tactical choice and innovation are influenced by the opponent’s source of power as well as activists’ beliefs, values, and moral commitments. I also call for greater attention to the effects of tactics on the movement itself, moving beyond an exclusive focus on outcomes. Particularly when controversial methods of action are employed, tactical consequences may include ideological refinement and unanticipated cultural developments that can pose further challenges.

Even as theorists of social movements have paid increasing attention to culture in mobilization processes, they have conceptualized its role in curiously circumscribed fashion. Culture is often treated as a residual category; that is, invoked to explain what structure does not explain in accounting for movements’ emergence, what instrumental rationality does not explain in accounting for movement groups’ choice of strategies and tactics, and what policy change does not encompass in accounting for movements’ impacts. As a result, culture’s role in creating structural opportunities, in defining what counts as instrumentally rational, and in determining movement impacts within the policy arena as well as outside it has gone largely untheorized. An alternative view of culture focuses on the schemas that guide, and are reproduced in, institutions. Such a perspective makes it possible to identify the conditions in which culture has independent force in shaping identities, interests, and opportunities, and to grasp culture’s simultaneously enabling and constraining dimensions. Drawing on recent empirical studies, I show how this perspective can illuminate neglected dynamics of movement emergence, tactical choice, and movement impacts.

Amidst the backlash against gay rights in the U.S., a rapidly expanding number of companies are instituting inclusive policies. While in 1990 no major corporations provided health insurance for the partners of lesbian and gay employees, by early 2004, over 200 companies on the Fortune 500 list (approximately 40%) had adopted domestic partner benefits. This study of Fortune 1000 corporations reveals that the majority of adopters instituted the policy change only after facing pressure from groups of lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees. Despite such remarkable success, scholars have yet to study the workplace movement, as it is typically called by activists. Combining social movement theory and new institutional approaches to organizational analysis, I provide an “institutional opportunity” framework to explain the rise and trajectory of the movement over the past 25 years. I discuss the patterned emergence and diffusion of gay employee networks among Fortune 1000 companies in relation to shifting opportunities and constraints in four main areas: the wider sociopolitical context, the broader gay and lesbian movement, the media, and the workplace. Next, using the same wide-angle lens, I explain the apparent decline in corporate organizing since 1995. My multimethod approach utilizes surveys of 94 companies with and without gay networks, intensive interviews with 69 networks and 10 corporate executives, 3 case studies, field data, and print and virtual media on gay-related workplace topics. By focusing on not simply political but also broader institutional opportunities, I provide a framework for understanding the emergence and development of movements that target institutions beyond the state.

Many traditional economists view trade unions as monopolies; unions challenge capital by having control over labor as a production input and threatening to withhold it to achieve union goals. Yet, unions also strategize around citizenship and consumer roles with political action and consumer boycotts. Little researched is how unions challenge corporate authority by encouraging workers to defer consumption and become owners of capital through pension funds. This new role as capital owners is leveraged through pension fund activism, which challenges corporate decisions that are not much affected by political action, organizing, or collective bargaining. This chapter puts these developments in the context of familiar theories of the economic effect of trade unions and the history of union pension activism.

Health social movements address several issues: (a) access to, or provision of, health care services; (b) disease, illness experience, disability and contested illness; and/or (c) health inequality and inequity based on race, ethnicity, gender, class and/or sexuality. These movements have challenged a variety of authority structures in society, resulting in massive changes in the health care system. While many other social movements challenge medical authority, a rapidly growing type of health social movement, “embodied health movements” (EHMs), challenge both medical and scientific authority. Embodied health movements do this in three ways: (1) they make the body central to social movements, especially with regard to the embodied experience of people with the disease; (2) they typically include challenges to existing medical/scientific knowledge and practice; and (3) they often involve activists collaborating with scientists and health professionals in pursuing treatment, prevention, research, and expanded funding. We present a conceptual framework for understanding embodied health movements as simultaneously challenging authority structures and allying with them, and offer the environmental breast cancer movement as an exemplar case.

In this chapter we explore the key contributions made by the Authority In Contention (AIC) Project and suggest paths for extension and development of new research and theorizing based on these contributions. We place the AIC project in historical context, discuss three important clusters of ideas suggested by broadening our understanding of authority (the concept of authority, the impact of multiple authority structures, and social control of challenges), discuss the implications for challenger tactics and outcomes, and conclude by calling for a fluid definition of what counts as a social movement.

Rebecca Gasior Altman is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at Brown University. Her focus is on medical sociology, environmental sociology, organizational theory, and social movement theory. Her current research projects analyze narratives about community toxics activism, environmental advocacy support organizations, and medical waste.Phil Brown is Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies at Brown University. He is currently examining disputes over environmental factors in asthma, breast cancer, and Gulf War-related illnesses, as well as toxics reduction and precautionary principle approaches that can help avoid toxic exposures. He is the author of No Safe Place: Toxic Waste, Leukemia, and Community Action (Phil Brown & Edwin Mikkelsen), co-editor of a collection, Illness and the Environment: A Reader in Contested Medicine, and editor of Perspectives in Medical Sociology.Daniel M. Cress is Associate Professor of Sociology in the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences at Western State College of Colorado. His research and teaching interests include social movements – particularly among poor and marginalized groups, environmental sociology, and globalization. His published work has focused on protest activity by homeless people.Jennifer Earl is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research areas include social movements and the sociology of law, with research emphases on the social control of protest, social movement outcomes, Internet contention, and legal change. Her published work has appeared in a number of journals, including the American Sociological Review, Sociological Theory, and the Journal of Historical Sociology.Myra Marx Ferree is professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work on social movements has focused on women’s mobilizations and organizations in Germany, the U.S., and transnationally, most recently looking at interactions between American and Russian feminists (Signs, 2001), German and American abortion discourses and the definition of radicalism (AJS, 2003), and the European Women’s Lobby in relation to transnational women’s organizations on the web (Social Politics, 2004).Joshua Gamson is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of San Francisco. He is author of Freaks Talk Back: Tabloid Talk Shows and Sexual Nonconformity (Chicago, 1998), Claims to Fame: Celebrity in Contemporary America (California, 1994), and numerous articles on social movements, gay and lesbian politics, popular culture and media. He is currently working on a biography of the disco star Sylvester.Teresa Ghilarducci is Associate Professor of Economics and Director of the Higgins Labor Research Center at the University of Notre Dame. She is author of Labor’s Capital: The Economics and Politics of Private Pensions (MIT Press) and Portable Pension Plans for Casual Labor Markets: Lessons from the Operating Engineers Central Pension Fund (with Garth Mangum, Jeffrey S. Petersen & Peter Philips). She is a former Board of Trustees member of the Indiana Public Employees Retirement Fund, a former advisory board member for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, and a Fellow of the National Academy of Social Insurance.Brian Mayer is a doctoral student in the Sociology Department at Brown University. His interests include environmental and medical sociology, as well as science and technology studies. His recent projects include an investigation of the growth of the precautionary principle as a new paradigm among environmental organizations and a study of social movements addressing environmental health issues.Sabrina McCormick is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at Brown University. She is a Henry Luce Foundation Fellow through the Watson Institute of International Studies. Her main interests are environmental sociology, medical sociology, and the politics of development. As a Luce Fellow, she is engaged in comparing environmentally-based movements in the U.S. and Brazil. Additional special interests include the social contestation of environmental illness, the insertion of lay knowledge into expert systems, and the role of social movements in these struggles. She has recent publications by Ms. Magazine and The National Women’s Health Network related to these areas.Rachel Morello-Frosch is an assistant professor at the Center for Environmental Studies and the Department of Community Health, School of Medicine at Brown University. As an environmental health scientist and epidemiologist, her research examines race and class determinants of the distribution of health risks associated with air pollution among diverse communities in the United States. Her current work focuses on: comparative risk assessment and environmental justice, developing models for community-based environmental health research, children’s environmental health, and the intersection between economic restructuring and environmental health. Her work has appeared in Environmental Health Perspectives, Risk Analysis, International Journal of Health Services, Urban Affairs Review, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, and Environment and Planning C. She also sits on the scientific advisory board of Breast Cancer Action in San Francisco.Daniel J. Myers is Associate Professor, Chair of Sociology, and Fellow of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He has published work on collective violence, racial conflict, formal models of collective action, urban poverty, and the diffusion of social behavior in the American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, Journal of Conflict Resolution, and Mobilization. He is also author of Toward a More Perfect Union: The Governance of Metropolitan America and The Future of Urban Poverty (both with Ralph Conant), and Social Psychology (5th edition) with Andy Michener and John Delamater. He is currently conducting a National Science Foundation-funded project examining the structural conditions, diffusion patterns, and media coverage related to U.S. racial rioting in the 1960s.Sharon Erickson Nepstad is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Duquesne University and the author of Convictions of the Soul: Religion, Culture, and Agency in the Central America Solidarity Movement (Oxford University Press, 2004).Francesca Polletta is Associate Professor of Sociology at Columbia University. She is the author of Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements (University of Chicago, 2002) and editor, with Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper, of Passionate Politics: Emotions and Social Movements (University of Chicago, 2001). She has published articles on culture, collective identity, emotions, law, and narrative in social movements, and on the civil rights, women’s liberation, new left, and contemporary anti-corporate globalization movements.Nicole C. Raeburn is Assistant Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of the book, Changing Corporate America from Inside Out: Lesbian and Gay Workplace Rights (University of Minnesota Press, 2004). Her new research project compares the adoption of gay-inclusive workplace policies in the corporate, educational, and government sectors.Leila J. Rupp is Professor and Chair of Women’s Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. A historian by training, her teaching and research focus on sexuality and women’s movements. She is coauthor with Verta Taylor of Drag Queens at the 801 Cabaret (2003) and Survival in the Doldrums: The American Women’s Rights Movement, 1945 to the 1960s (1987) and author of A Desired Past: A Short History of Same-Sex Sexuality in America (1999), Worlds of Women: The Making of an International Women’s Movement (1997), and Mobilizing Women for War: German and American Propaganda, 1939–1945 (1978). She is also editor of the Journal of Women’s History.David A. Snow is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. He taught previously at the universities of Arizona and Texas. He has authored numerous articles and chapters on homelessness, collective action and social movements, religious conversion, self and identity, framing processes, symbolic interactionism, and qualitative field methods; and has authored a number of books as well, including Down on Their Luck: A Study of Homeless Street People (with Leon Anderson), Shakubuku: A Study of the Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist Movement in America, 1960–1975, and The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements (edited with Sarah Soule & Hanspeter Kriesi). His most current research project involves an NSF-funded interdisciplinary, comparative study of homelessness in four global cities (Los Angeles, Paris, São Paulo, and Tokyo).Sarah A. Soule is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona. Her research examines U.S. state policy change and diffusion and the role social movements have on these processes. Current projects include the NSF-funded “Dynamics and Diffusion of Collective Protest in the U.S.” from which data for this paper come; an analysis of state-level contraception and abortion laws; an analysis of state ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment; and an analysis of state-level same-sex marriage bans. She has recently completed an edited volume, The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements, with David Snow and Hanspeter Kreisi.Verta A. Taylor is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is coauthor with Leila J. Rupp of Drag Queens at the 801 Cabaret (University of Chicago Press) and Survival in the Doldrums : The American Women’s Rights Movement, 1945 to the 1960s (Oxford University Press); co-editor with Laurel Richardson and Nancy Whittier of Feminist Frontiers VI (McGraw-Hill); and author of Rock-a-by Baby: Feminism, Self-Help and Postpartum Depression (Routledge). Her articles on the women’s movement, the gay and lesbian movement, and social movement theory have appeared in journals, such as The American Sociological Review, Signs, Social Problems, Mobilization, Gender & Society, Qualitative Sociology, Journal of Women’s History, and Journal of Homosexuality.Nella Van Dyke is currently an Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department at Washington State University. Her research focuses on the dynamics of student protest, social movement coalitions, hate crimes, and the factors influencing right-wing mobilization. Her recent publications include articles in Social Problems and Research in Political Sociology. She is currently conducting research on the AFL-CIO’s Union Summer student internship program and its influence on student protest, how the tactics of protest change over time, and how movement opponents influence the collective identity of gay and lesbian movement organizations.Stephen Zavestoski is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of San Francisco. His current research examines the role of science in disputes over the environmental causes of unexplained illnesses, the use of the Internet as a tool for enhancing public participation in federal environmental rulemaking, and citizen responses to community contamination. His work appears in journals such as Science, Technology & Human Values, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Sociology of Health and Illness, and in the book Sustainable Consumption: Conceptual Issues and Policy Problems.

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Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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