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Am I way off base here?

Monday, February 21, 2005 by Jeff

1) Correct me if I'm wrong, but to the extent that organizational research has examined social movements, it has primarily been concerned with their effect on (that holy grail of org. studies) organizational forms (cf. work by Rao, Morrill, Zald, Ventresca, Clemens, Lounsbury).

2) And isn't it also true that organizational research has paid relatively little attention to explaining the structure of organizational fields (i.e., patterns of interorganizational relations)?

3) And if that is indeed the case, would it not be important to examine the effects of emerging social movements on the structure of existing organizational fields?

The most compelling vegan message

Wednesday, February 16, 2005 by Jeff

To his credit, John Fluevog is known by many as the premier footwear designer for discerning tastes. To the disdain of cows the world over, Mr. Fluevog is a leather-hungry barbarian. With ten-plus years of animal rights advocacy under my faux-leather belt, I wrote to our friend Mr. Fluevog to sincerely, emphatically (and humorously) express my wishes that he produce some cruelty-free footwear.

Response number 1 came as a disappointment about a week ago. It was the verbatim text lifted from the company's website FAQ page, where it is an answer to the question: Do you make non-leather vegetarian styles? Frankly, after all the work and care I put into crafting that letter (which I would reproduce here if I hadn't deleted it*), I was more than a little disappointed.

Response number 2 came today. I share it here:

> -----Original Message----- > From: John Fluevog [mailto:johnf@fluevog.com]
> Sent: Wednesday, February 16, 2005 3:46 PM
> To: jlarson@u.arizona.edu
> Subject: will fluevog listen with ears like a cow?
> Jeff
> To date yours has prob. been the most compelling
> vegan message.. It got to me!.. but that is not
> to say I will stop my evil ways and repent.
> (at least not right now)
> just what would Jesus do?
> i'm thk'n fish skin's?
> I hv done non leather in the distant past .. and
> they did not work...BUT.. I am on to something
> again.. (not fish skins)..so we will see
> thanks for the interest and thinking of me.. and
> i am thk'n about about what u said.
> John Fluevog
> The Fluevog's wearer is generally nice and can be
> trusted slightly more than others

This is a window of opportunity. I'd love to see a flood of comments find their way to JF's desk! Begin, as I did, here.

* Suffice it to say, my comment was clever, hilarious, and heart-wrenching.

One for the foxes

Sunday, February 13, 2005 by Jeff

The earliest animal protection societies arose in the early 1800s among the "better classes" of industrializing and urbanizing England. The animal protection movement, strongly dominated (although not led) by women, more closely resembled the temperence movement in its membership and evangelical roots than it did other contemporary women's movements of the day. In their earnest desire to end animal cruelty, these distinctly urban-based societies targeted such cruelties as mistreatment of carriage horses and farm animals - that is, targeting working class people and their use of animals.

Flash forward two hundred years and the movement has come back to bite them in the ass. Animal rights (an influential variant that emerged in the Seventies) is still dominated by women, more of whom now hold leadership positions, but who now have more in common with women's liberation movements than evangelical cat fanciers. The center of gravity in the animal protection movement has shifted from elites to the middle classes and as such has turned its attention to the cruel frivolities of the rich.

This week, England will outlaw the grande dame of elite animal cruelty, fox hunting. Whatever the politics involved and what they say about Tony "bomb'em" Blair, this is a bright day for English foxes and hard working animal protectionists on both sides of the Atlantic puddle.

Strength in numbers? More the merrier?

Saturday, February 12, 2005 by Jeff

We must all hang together or assuredly we will all hang seperately. - Ben Franklin

Wisconsin-Madison, Pub Sociology, Urbana-Champaign, Crooked Timber: group blogs, collectively owned and operated, sharing common academic origin and providing one-stop shopping for the interested onlooker. The quality may vary, but in this onlooker's humble opinion, groups are both stronger and merrier.

To fly solo and produce a consistently engaging blog requires both charisma and writing skills that transcend the mundane reality of our academic roots. Some indie bloggers have the upperhand because they've made a name for themselves as transgendered Hollywood mavens, pop culture satirists, actors, or victims of highly publicized indecent-exposure scandals. Among my blogging peers here in Tucson, we apparently prefer the unencumbered liberty of uniblogging to the drunken effervescence of collectiblogging. We fear losing control of our own domains, of limiting our creative impulses and expansionist desires. We think unity is for workers and camraderie for muskateers. We do, however, have an exception among us. Braydenking.com stands quietly to one side, as its author spins long and winding academic tales at the Pub. A question for the rest of us: why have we not followed him?

Is there a community (however small) of blogging sociologists, a latent collective identity pecking at its shell, professing the values of being increasingly "public," and seeking greater cohesion? Is there not one site, one blog, one oneness that can unify and transcend, entertain and inspire? Should there be?

Timing isn't everything

Wednesday, February 09, 2005 by Jeff

At least since the Sixties, social movement scholars have been fascinated by the question why do social movements arise? Case studies (e.g., McAdam 1982) have typically focused on the timing of movement emergence - i.e., why did this movement arise at this time? Others have taken a much broader view and asked why did "the Social Movement" (a particular form of contentious politics) emerge when it did instead of some other form (Tilly 1978, Tarrow 1998)?

An important difference between the two approaches is their definition of social movements. The former usually defines movements something like this:

A social movement is a set of opinions and beliefs in a population which represents preferences for changing some elements of the social structure and/or reward distribution of a society (McCarthy & Zald 1977: 1217-18).

This "set of opinions" could conceivably take any form at all, from violent riots to poetry readings to op-eds in the newspapers. What is important is not the means of changing social structures but the ideas. Contrast that to the following:

[A social movement] consists of a sustained challenge to power holders in the name of a population living under the juridiction of those power holders by means of repeated public displays of that population's worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment. (Tilly, in Giugni et al. 1999)

Here the emphasis shifts from the set of beliefs and opinions to the "public displays" of WUNC (worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment), i.e., the form of contentious politics. Tilly and others examine the emergence of this form from a macro-level of analysis - e.g., the social movement arose as a form of claims-making when state power shifted from king to parliament, work shifted from patron-client to wage labor arrangements, restrictions on association, public assembly, and speech gave way to "sustained challenges to power holders," and so on. The social movement repertoire - which includes demonstrations, petitions, special purpose associations, press releases, and marches - was more congruent with the political and economic structures of the 19th century than were attacks on houses, forced illuminations, rough music, grain seizures, and the like. The importance of this approach has been to challenge the assumption implicit in much case study research that launching social movements was the only option for agrieved populations when it arose, but what is left out is the great variation among organizations in their adherence to the social movement model.

Why do some organizations sometimes employ social movement forms or tactics when other tactics (e.g., lobbying, running political campaigns, guerrilla warfare, etc.) are also available? This is the organizational analog to the question posed above. By framing it in this way I think I may be able to tap some unanswered questions in the organizations literature that might benefit from this ongoing theoretical discussion of social movements. How do cross-institutional ties affect organizational behavior? Can organizations jump from one organizational field to another? What are the sources of legitimacy for social movement organizations? Under what conditions can/do organizations resist institutional pressures of conformity? Now that I've spent some time trying to convince you that this is an interesting question, what do you think? Is it? Is it worthy of sustained attention in the form of, say, a dissertation?

To my students who read this blog:

Monday, February 07, 2005 by Jeff

Ten ways to make better use of your time than by reading this blog:

  1. read for our next class
  2. poke around the internet for social movements that you never knew existed
  3. introduce yourself to a local activist
  4. question the value of all this economic development
  5. learn how to be a culture jammer
  6. read the stuff CNN, Fox, and MSNBC won't cover
  7. make documentary films
  8. plan a trip to the next World Social Forum
  9. go vegan (or find out what it means)
  10. get your own blog

Since we last spoke...

Sunday, February 06, 2005 by Jeff

Oy vey! Too much time has elapsed since my last post - un-for-givable! I know the blog rules of etiquette - at least the basics - and two weeks absence is simply way too long. My apologies to all four of you.

Since we last spoke I've been developing a paper with Sarah "multiple-regression" Soule that seeks to redefine the very core of our understanding of social movements. We're taking the literature by the throat and saying, "Listen, if you want keep on navel-gazing, that's your business, but take your case studies and comparative analyses and step the fuck outta the way - our N is bigger and we're taking it to a higher level!"

That's what we say in private, but the paper will have much more tact.

An old, old question for social movement scholars is how can we explain levels of protest. Pretty straightforward stuff.

The answers so far? Strain: the more dire the social strain on a population, the more protest you'll see. Resource mobilization: the more resources available to social movements, the more active they'll be. Political opportunities: the weaker the repression, the greater the access to decision-makers, and the more ties to a divided elite, the more social movement action you'll get.

The similarities of these theories? They all tend to look at one or two movements (or subsets thereof) and the conditions within them, or the political context they face.

The problem: movements and the organizations that constitute them are not unified entities that react to strains or political opportunities to the same extent, and resources - obviously - are not distributed equally.

A solution: look at the whole sector of social movement organizations over time and examine the changing dynamics of interorganizational relations - i.e., it's our nod to organizational theory.

What we find is weak and contradictory support for existing social movement theories, and evidence of a density dependence effect. That is, organizations that resemble a mid-range number of other organizations in the social movement sector - no matter what issues they endorse - will be more active than their peers that adopt more unique or more common forms. For organizational theories, the finding (which follows Olzak & Uhrig 2001) is interesting because we take organizational form to mean the set of tactics in an organization's repertoire. This changes yearly, so that organizations can adapt to changing circumstances, despite the claims of Population Ecologists. "Tactical overlap" is the extent to which the tactics in an organization's repertoire are used by other organizations in public events that year. Come on, this is fascinating stuff!

As I revise and clean up this analysis, I will (should) post questions and thoughts here in hopes that the blogging medium really truly is a place for collaboration and improvement. And who wouldn't love to start including in the acknowledgement section of our papers such startling names as "Drek," or "Alan?"

I've done other things over the past two weeks too, but I've run out of time and space. Another time, another day.


Jeff A. Larson
Sociologist, Arizona.


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