Media, Movements, and Political Change: Volume 33


Table of contents

(16 chapters)

It has become somewhat of a tired truism to note that there has been a revolution in media formats and technologies and that it is changing much about our lives. Of course it is also altering how social movements organize, communicate, and build communities, and how individual activists become active, contribute to communities online and elsewhere, and communicate about their activism. The truism about media revolutions is tired because it goes back at least 30 years – reflecting an unbroken, tightly linked chain of democratization in media technologies.

Much ink has been spilled about the selectivity and quality of newspaper data (Earl, Martin, McCarthy, & Soule, 2004; Oliver & Maney, 2000; Ortiz, Myers, Walls, & Diaz, 2005) and we do not intend to rehearse those arguments here. Instead, this volume focuses on pushing research forward by (1) expanding the domains considered in scholarly work and (2) providing a better understanding of the dynamics of social movement media coverage.

Purpose – This paper extends research on social movement media by focusing on the use of a literary genre – realist fiction – namely, the labor problem novel in the context of the labor movement and countermovement in late 19th-century America.

Methodology – I do a close reading of a significant early dialogical cluster of such novels to address three key questions: (1) Field position of authors – What was the position of these labor problem authors in relation to the movement field and literary field and how did that positioning matter? (2) Genre selection – What was it about the realist novel that attracted labor problem partisans to it? (3) Internal content – How did authors shape the internal structure and content of their stories?

Findings – As literary activists, authors pivoted between the movement field and literary field selecting the novel for the special powers that it possessed relative to other historically available media. Authors produced stories with a good/evil binary attached to characters that stood for emerging social categories in young industrial America. During the Gilded Age (and beyond) the novel played an important role as medium for the labor movement and its opposition – characterizing collective actors, dramatizing forms of action, providing materials for claims of injustice or threats, solutions to social problems, and new categories and collective identities – all with powerful emotional appeal and entertainment value.

Implications – This study suggests that social movement scholars might expand their purview of cultural media used by movements and also take genre and its selection by activists seriously.

Originality – This study demonstrates how literature – realist fiction – has been shaped by movement agents and played an important, but under-appreciated, role in the struggle over cultural supremacy in the context of movement–countermovement dynamics.

Purpose – Although scholars have long been interested in how social movements use mass media to forward their goals, sociological research almost exclusively focuses on the ability of activist groups to get their ideas and organizations in general audience, mainstream media coverage. This paper contributes to a more systematic understanding of media coverage outcomes by broadening the range of outlets considered relevant to political discourse. In addition to mainstream venues, we consider conservative and liberal/left outlets in our analysis of social movement organization media coverage.

Method – Using negative binomial regression, we analyze how organizational characteristics, organizational frames, political elites, and event type affect the rates of social movement organization media coverage in mainstream and partisan news venues.

Findings – We find that the independent variables play very different roles in mainstream and partisan media coverage outcomes. Specifically, while organizational characteristics and frames often enhance the media coverage outcomes of activist groups in mainstream venues, political elites have no effect at all. In contrast, organizational characteristics and frames do not affect social movement media coverage in partisan outlets, whereas political elites and event type do.

Originality of the paper – Conceptually, this research broadens how scholars think about the relationship between social movement groups and mass media as well as the factors that influence media outcomes.

Purpose – To theorize and research the conditions under which a high-profile social movement organization (SMO) receives newspaper coverage advantageous to it.

Design/methodology approach – To explain coverage quality, including “standing” – being quoted – and “demands” – prescribing lines of action – we advance a story-centered perspective. This combines ideas about the type of article in which SMOs are embedded and political mediation ideas. We model the joint influence of article type, political contexts and “assertive” SMO action on coverage. We analyze the Townsend Plan's coverage across five major national newspapers, focusing on front-page coverage from 1934 through 1952, using fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analyses (fsQCA).

Findings – We find that only about a third of the Townsend Plan's front-page coverage was initiated by its activity and very little of it was disruptive. The fsQCA results provide support for our arguments on coverage quality. Disruptive, non-institutional action had no specific influence on standing, but its absence was a necessary condition for the SMO expressing a demand; by contrast, assertive action in combination with movement-initiated coverage or a favorable political context prompted the publication of articles with both standing and demands.

Research limitations/implications – The results suggest greater attention to a wider array of SMO coverage and to the interaction between article type, SMO action, and political context in explaining the quality of coverage. However, the results are likely to apply best to high-profile SMOs.

Originality/value – The paper provides a new theory of the quality of newspaper coverage and finds support for it with fsQCA modeling on newly collected data.

Purpose – Movements typically have great difficulty using the mass media to spread their messages to the public, given the media's greater power to impose their frames on movement activities and goals. In this paper, we look at the impact of the political context and media strategies of protesters against the 2009 G-20 meetings in Pittsburgh on media coverage of the protests.

Methodology – We employ field observations, interviews with activists and reporters, and a content analysis of print coverage of the demonstrations by the two local daily newspapers, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Findings – We find that protesters were relatively successful in influencing how they were portrayed in local newspaper stories and in developing a sympathetic image of their groups’ members. Specifically, we find that activist frames were present in newspaper coverage and activists were quoted as frequently as city officials.

Research implications – We argue that events such as the G-20 meetings provide protesters with opportunities to gain temporary “standing” with the media. During such times, activists can use tactics and frames to alter the balance of power in relations with the media and the state and to attract positive media coverage, particularly when activists develop strategies that are not exclusively focused on the media. We argue that a combination of political opportunities and activist media strategies enabled protest organizers to position themselves as central figures in the G-20 news story and leverage that position to build media interest, develop relationships with reporters, and influence newspaper coverage.

Purpose – Scholars of social movements have tended to focus on the social movement organization (SMO) as the primary unit of analysis, documenting a trend toward its professionalization. This trend, typified in the abortion rights movement, has facilitated the survival of movements, but is associated with a reduction in tactical and strategic innovation. Innovation is associated with movement entrepreneurs, like the body of lone activists that characterizes the antiabortion movement. However, work on online activism offers evidence that SMOs are not the dominant organizing structures in online mobilization, leading to general questions about innovation and the role of SMOs online.

Methodology – I analyze quantitatively content-coded data for the role of organizations and for innovative uses of the web for protest in the online abortion rights and antiabortion movements.

Findings – The two movements have different online footprints, with organizations dominating the former but not the latter, and an overall larger volume of antiabortion claims-making. Unlike in offline activism, organizationally affiliated sites are not less likely than those without an organizational affiliation to leverage innovative uses of the web for claims-making. Organizational composition may matter in other ways, though: the greater representation of antiabortion claims online, especially by individual activists, may be a lingering effect of the abortion rights movement's offline professionalization.

Research implications – These findings point to the importance of attending to variation across movements when they migrate online in investigations of new media for protest and for rethinking the role of SMOs in social movements.

Purpose – We build on prior research of social movement communities (SMCs) to conceptualize a new form of cultural support for activism – the social movement online community (SMOC). We define SMOC as a sustained network of individuals who work to maintain an overlapping set of goals and identities tied to a social movement linked through quasi-public online discussions.

Method – This paper uses extensive data collected from Stormfront, the largest online community of white nationalists, for the period from September 2001 to August 2010 totaling 6,868,674 posts. We systematically analyzed the data to allow for a detailed depiction of SMOCs using keyword tags. We also used Stata 11 to analyze descriptive measures such as persistence of user presence and relation of first post to length of stay.

Findings – Our findings suggest that SMOCs provide a new forum for social movements that produces a unique set of characteristics. Nevertheless, many characteristics of SMOCs are also in line with conventional offline SMCs.

Originality of the paper – This research broadens our understanding of the differences between online and offline SMCs and presents the special case of the SMOC as a way for scholars to conceptualize and study social movements that use the Internet to form their collective identity.

Purpose – The purpose of this study is to analyze how campaigns, movements, new media outlets, and professional journalism organizations interact to produce political discourse in an information environment characterized by new actors and increasingly fragmented audiences.

Design – To do so, this chapter offers a rare inside look at contemporary strategic campaign communications from the perspective of staffers. Twenty-one open-ended and semi-structured interviews were conducted with former staffers, consultants, and vendors to the 2008 Obama campaign.

Findings – During the primaries the Obama campaign worked to create and cultivate ties with activists in the mediated “netroots” movement, what Todd Gitlin has referred to as the “movement wing of the Democratic Party.” The campaign sought to influence the debate among the principals and participants in this movement, given that they play an increasingly central role in the Democratic Party networks that help shape the outcome of contested primaries. During the general election, when the campaign and its movement allies shared the goal of defeating the Republicans, sites in the netroots functioned as important conduits of strategic and often anonymous campaign communications to new specialized journalistic outlets and the professional, general interest press. It is argued that campaigns and movements have extended established and developed new communication tactics to pursue their goals in a networked information environment.

Implications – This chapter's contribution lies in showing how much of what scholars assume to be the communicative content of amateurs is often the result of coordination among organized, and often hybrid, political actors.

Purpose – In this paper, we contribute to the study of conservative, reactive mobilization through a study of the ex-gay movement in the United States.

Design/methodology/approach – Using state-level event history analyses over 25 years, we examine the role of threat, resources, and political opportunity in the formation of the first ex-gay organization in each state.

Findings – Our results demonstrate the importance of threat, particularly perceived challenges to traditional definitions of morality, in the formation of ex-gay groups. We find little support for either resource mobilization or political opportunity.

Research limitations/implications – This study indicates a need for further research on sociocultural threat and the ex-gay movement.

Originality/value – It expands scholarship on countermovement emergence, conservative and reactive countermovements, and the role of threat (especially sociocultural threat) in movements.

Edwin Amenta is a professor of sociology, political science, and history at the University of California-Irvine. He is the PI of the NSF-funded “Political Organizations in the News” project and the coeditor of the forthcoming Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Political Sociology.

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Book series
Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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