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Since we last spoke...

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.

“Since we last spoke...”

  1. Blogger Drek Says:

    Glad to hear you're taking the general linear model out for a spin, Jeff. I look forward to seeing what you and Sarah manage to do with it in an area that is in need of some non-case study research.

    There's something that keeps coming to might here *cough*McPherson & Ranger-Moore 1991*cough* but I can't seem to think of what it is...

  2. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    So you're saying that the set of organizations with a tactical overlap that is neither too high nor too low participate in comparatively more events? (Thinking of the Protest Data, here.) How does tactical overlap relate to absolute size of tactical repertoire?


    - Alan

  3. Blogger Brayden Says:

    Interesting Jeff. You know I have an affinity for ecological models, so I like the idea you're proposing here. But I'm not sure I understand your density dependence finding. Usually density arguments are explained by the dynamics of competition and legitimation. Why would SMOs compete with other organizations that have the same tactics but not with those that cover the same issues? Or is there no competition and it's just a matter of legitimation?

    I probably should just read your paper.

  4. Anonymous Anonymous Says:

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Blogger Jeff Says:

    Drek: McPherson's stuff has never explicitly taken the field of social movements into consideration, although the dynamics may indeed be the same. Since we have no data on individual-level characteristics, we can't say anything about Blau space. Also, he's interested in shifting memberships, while we're interested in levels of organizational activity. What would ol' Mac have to say about that?

    Alan: Perceptive. Tactical overlap and repertoire size are intimately related, so the latter makes a cameo as a control variable in this analysis.

    Brayden: Organizations that take the same form (i.e., they use the same tactics) compete for media attention, members, funding, and the like, somewhat independently of the claims they're making - that's the kicker here. Moreover, if your's is the only organization using a particular tactic, it is likely to suffer from low levels of legitimacy. Mobilizing resources will then be that much harder. If you take Pop. Ecology seriously, the "content" of organizations is trumped by the "forms" that they take. Looks like we have some evidence to back that up.