Week 1: Collective Action

Source: Tarrow, Sidney. 2011. Power in Movement: Social Movements and Contentious Politics, third edition.  

Social Movements and Contentious Politics (2011)

Preface and Introduction 


  • scholars questioned separation of social movements studies from other studies of contention (McAdam et al. 2001)
  • neo-liberalism
  • 1990s question violent social movements
  • post-1989 governments in East Central Europe shifted away from neo-liberalism (Washington Consensus)
  • contention and dramatic increase of “non-governmental organizations” in global South
  • “contentious collective action”- study of peasant jacqueries, bread riots and grain seizures, slave revolts, ‘rough music’, eighteenth and nineteenth century democratic societies, urban uprisings, artisan blacklists and workshop turnouts, and revolutionary sects
  • “transnational contention” and the internet


Contentious politics — what happens when collective actors join forces in confrontation with elites, authorities, and opponents around their claims or the claims of those they claim to represent

On the issue of Israeli attack on Gaza flotilla:

  1. range of actors goes beyond traditional “social movements” by including states Israel and Turkey as well as Hamas,  pro-Palestinian NGOs, Israeli voters, European Union, and global public opinion
  2. under certain conditions, even small and temporary groups of collective actors can have an affect on powerful states
  3. political opportunities and threats: opens windows to contention such that protesters of the Israeli raid were met with opposition to Israeli rightwing forces
  4. must understand contentious and institutional politics including electoral politics such that one actor may cause another to mobilize 
  5. “modular performances and repertoires” of collective action: understanding modularity forms of contention and their diffusion such as how the boycott’s effectiveness was “learned”; once contention is viewed as viable, it diffuses and becomes modular
  6. importance of transnational networking and mobilization: including the internet, activists come from around the world
  7. “social movement repertoire” and “social movement society”: transgressive (involving a violation of accepted or imposed boundaries, especially those of social acceptability) politics and implications for civil politics

So far I’ve learned that contentious politics is any political struggle usually where the elite or authority is challenged.  I’ve learned the actors may be individuals, elites, or NGOs, etc, agents of all types.  There are agents working against each other and one agent might mobilize another agent on the same or opposing sides.  The internet is also an interesting source for contention because it is global; global networks also a factor in contentious actors.   Boycotts for example are modular, such that after a tactic is shown to work it may be implemented in separate contentious battles.  Civil society is also a factor in what behaviors social movements and contentious politics may take on.

Social movements and contentious politics

  • movements with ordinary people: Civil rights movement, the peace, environmental, and feminist movements, revolts against authoritarianism in Europe and the Third World, and rise of new Islamist movements
  • “social movement”: contentious politics based on social networks, on resonant collective action frames

Contentious Collective Action

  • “contentious collective action”: base of all social movements: protests, rebellions, riots, strike waves, and revolutions
  • can take many forms: brief or sustained, institutionalized or disruptive, humdrum or dramatic
  • collective action becomes contentious when it is used by people who lack representative institutions or formal channels, who act in new claims, and act in challenging ways
  • recourse ordinary people take against elites and authority
  • aggregating people from different backgrounds into collective group, drawing on social networks and common purpose, connective structures to form collective action


Basic Properties of Movements


  • emergence of social movement in 18th century
  • French Revolution and 19th century industrialism
  • 19th and 20th century Social Democratic and Labor Parties against facism, German Nazism, and Soviet Stalinism: violence and extremism
  • ethnic and national tensions after 1989-1992 fall of Communism

Result in extremism, violence, and deprivation (clashes with authorities, police)


social movements: collective challenges, based on common purpose or social solidarities, in sustained actions with elites, opponents, and authorities

  1. collective challenge
        • protest slogans, forms of dress or music, graffiti, new symbolism
        • words, forms of dress or address, private behaviorContentious collective challenges are disruptive to elites, authorities, and other groups and are marked by obstructing or interrupting actions of others.
      1. Movements — “selective incentives” to members, building consensus among prospective supporters, lobbying or negotiating with authorities, and challenging cultural codes with religious or personal practices
        • increase of interests groups in contentious politics
        • movement leaders and their participation in institutions
        • lack stable resources like money, organization, access to the state that interest groups have
        • movements only control contention


      1. become focal point of supporters
      2. gain attention of opponents and third parties
      3. create constituencies to represent
  2. common purpose
    1. people mount together to challenge authorities, opponents, or elites
      1. may arise out of class interests
      2. overlapping interests or values basis of common action
    2. takes common purpose to spur people to take on risks of mobilization
  3. social solidarity
    1. realization of common social interest spurs group into action
    2. mobilization consensus among group
    3. feelings of solidarity and identity
    4. often classist
  4. sustained interaction or contention
    1. common purposes, collective identities, and identifiable challenges help contentious politics form social movements
    2. individuals in groups perceive constraints and this mobilizes to action

Movements are a type of contentious collective action made when a network of individuals gather for a common purpose with common interests (common goal) organizes and mobilize to challenge opponents, elites, and authority.  Movements lack the funding and organization that interest groups have.  Mobilization is risky and it often involves violence or deprivation.  Individuals in movements share common interests such that classism may be a factor.  Many factors influence why movements start as individuals and grow to be movements where individuals are mobilized into action.  Actors and groups may have an effect in challenging authority despite the size of the agent.  Smaller actors have proven to have an effect on the actions of opponents, elites, and authority.

Lecture notes:

  • “This course will explore the literature regarding collective action by socially, economically and politically subordinate groups within nations and in a transnational context.”
  • “Ordinary people often try to exert power by contentious means against national states or opponents. . . . They often succeed, even when they failed, their actions set in motion important political cultural and international changes.” (p. 31)
  • We are going to examine four categories of social movements using the theoretical framework articulated by Dr. Tarrow
    1. understand how social movements begin and evolve
    2. how influenced by culture
    3. what factors influence success in movements achieving their goals
  • Prohibition: an example of a social movement acting within the constraints of the existing political system that was at first successful but then failed in the long term
  • MADD: an example of a successful social movement acting within the constraints of the existing political system
  • Easter Rebellion: 
    1. in the short term unsuccessful in its attempt to supplant the existing government
    2. the second campaign for Irish Independence that took place in the early 1920s
      that was partially successful

Prohibition, Civility, and Political Discourse lecture



  • demonization of minorities and immigrants
  • loss of civility
  • role of government and relationship to citizens
  • warrantless wiretaps
  • feminist movement

18th Amendment: The Eighteenth Amendment (Amendment XVIII) of the United States Constitution effectively established the prohibition of alcoholic beverages in the United States by declaring the production, transport, and sale of alcohol (though not the consumption or private possession) illegal.  Only amendment that curtailed rights.


  • Alcohol as a social problem
  • Anti-Saloon League: interest group
    • From 1893 to 1933, the AntiSaloon League was a major force in American politics. Influencing the United States through lobbying and the printed word, it turned a moral crusade against the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol into the Prohibition Amendment to the United States Constitution.
    • Goal: eliminate alcohol
    • Anti-licor propaganda
  • Prohibition became a way to solve society’s ills and was bipartisan.  Industry and labor groups were for prohibition.  NAACP was for prohibition.  Local movements.
  • 16th Amendment: The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
    • redistributing wealth
    • income tax on alcohol
    • WWI: German beer and treason; Anti-Saloon League and Government anti-alcohol propaganda
      • renamed sour kraut liberty cabbage
  • Passed prohibition amendment
    • “city on the hill” passsing amendment would cure social ills
    • states ratified in record time
    • 1919 Amendment became law

Temperance: restrait, virtue; gave women vote, vote against alcohol566213e3210000c9005ac5d7

Gangsters, flapppers, danger, Al Capone, ordinary citizens broke the law, doctors, lawyers, lobbyists all breaking the law.  Organized crime and prohibition, female alcoholism.

Loss of civil discourse

  • democracy is politics of half-loaf; never get it all.
  • demonization of recent immigrants
  • generous and greedy, sincere and hypocritical, Saturday night and Sunday morning


Burns is cautious of issues that promise “city on the hill” such to be cautious of societal cures.  Alcohol was a huge social problem in 1920 when Prohibition went into affect.  Prohibition was passed was because a broad wave of people thought Prohibition was a solution to a societal problem.  Not left or right issue, but human, societal issue.

Parallels with marijuana and prohibition

  • marijuana largest cash crop, in difficult economic times look for potential of revenue, violence in distribution
  • alcohol is accepted in most societies historically
  • marijuana is not universally socially acceptable
  • violence because connected to cocaine and heroine trade
    • majority of Americans disapprove of above


Quiz Responses week-1-quiz

Explain in narrative form, in your own words, the lessons Tarrow draws from the Gaza Blocade.

Tarrow draws many lessons from the Gaza Blockade.  First, there are many actors or agents involved in the movement such as states Israel and Turkey as well as Hamas, pro-Palestinian NGOs, Israeli voters, the European Union, and global public opinion must also be considered.  As we have learned from individual activists in the movement, even small actors may have an effect on elites, authorities, and opponents of the actor’s goal and interests; protesters of the Israeli raid clashed with Israeli rightwing forces and had an effect.  Israeli protests caused right wing to mobilize as retaliative action.

Activists used the internet as a transnational contentious action and encouraged boycott of Israel products and services.  Boycotts have become a form of learned behavior learned and used in the civil social network of Pro-Gaza activists.  Activists come from around the world.  Boycotts and protests have become a form of civil politics.

Movements are a type of contentious collective action made when a network of individuals gather for a common purpose with common interests (common goal) organizes and mobilize to challenge opponents, elites, and authority.  Movements lack the funding and organization that interest groups have.  Mobilization is risky and it often involves violence or deprivation.

In the case with Gaza, the common purpose of the activists are the treatment of Gaza citizens, how the blockade affects the economy and living conditions of the Gazans.  The activists goal is for Palestinian autonomy and activits will challenge Israeli elites, authorities, and Anti-Gazan groups.

Individuals in movements share common interests such that classism may be a factor.  Many factors influence why movements start as individuals and grow to be movements where individuals are mobilized into action.  Actors and groups may have an effect in challenging authority despite the size of the agent.  Smaller actors have proven to have an effect on the actions of opponents, elites, and authority.

Since Pro-Gazan activists come from around the world, it is hard to distinguish what common factors bind them since it is not stemming from classism.  It could come from a stance on the universality of human rights, and activists collectively assembling.  There could also be influence from NGOs and interest groups.  There is also backlash against the boycott movement as opponents of the boycott movement and Pro-Israeli agents and actors will argue the boycott movement is anti-Israel and anti-semetic.

Explain in your own words the lessons about single issue politics Ken Burns says we can draw from studying Prohibition.

Burns explains Prohibition can be explained through theory about single issue politics.  Alcoholism was seen as a societal problem and Prohibition was seen as the “cure” or solution to the societal problem.  Democratic and Republican lawmakers, industry leaders, interest groups and labor unions all agreed restricting alcohol sales and consumption would solve society’s problems of alcoholism, crime, and unemployment.

Burns discusses how alcohol, unlike marijuana, for example has been widely accepted throughout history and it is hard to break human habits.  Prohibition was a time when even professionals broke the law by purchasing and consuming alcohol; purchasing and consuming alcohol was an illegal and therefore rebellious act.  Speakeasies were places where alcohol was sold, purchased, and consumed and speakeasies were places of contention based on breaking the law.

Due to the illegality of alcohol after the passing of the 18th amendment in 1919, the sale and distribution of alcohol became and informal economic activity which brought violence due to the clash with authorities, opponents, and elites who were against the underground alcohol trade.  Infamous gangsters as depicted in popular culture were alcohol producers, smugglers, and sellers.

Burns makes the argument that the 18th Amendment was the only amendment that restricted rather than granted rights.  Burns is cautious of restrictions of rights, especially alcohol because it is universally socially accepted activity humans have been doing throughout history for thousands of years.  Burns criticizes “cures” to social problems because no one solution will create the “city on the hill” society.  Society will always have issues and Prohibition didn’t cure societies problems but left a vacuum for the informal economy and contentious politics to enter the frame.

While Burns is critical of applying cures such as right’s restrictions to solve societal problem like alcoholism, he fails to apply the same single issue political discourse to the marijuana debate.  Burns agrees revenue is a societal problem and legalizing marijuana is a way to generate revenue, and acknowledges the crime that the illegal marijuana trade brings.  Burns however fails to approach the lessons marijuana legalization can borrow from the Prohibition era such that legalizing marijuana will keep citizens from breaking the law as well as ending the informal economic market.  Marijuana is an illegal good and therefore ending the illegality will reduce rebellion from widespread usage and the violence and deprivation that are attributed to crime.

Submitted quiz: 10:00 PM 171psc53514402

Paper project:

“Post your proposed movement topic along with the citations for the 10 scholarly sources to the Discussion Forum on our Blackboard site by midnight on Sunday, February 5th.  By 5:00 p.m., February 12, I let you know whether it is approved.  You can earn 10 points by having an approved topic by the scheduled date.”

Movement: Communist Rebellion During Brazil’s Military Dictatorship (1960s)

In Brazil during the military dictatorship of the 1960s, authority elites were arrested individuals that partook in a communist revolution.  There were several communist revolutionary groups of several people.  The rebels have kidnapped ambassadors as a tactic for political bargaining, and the military authority exchanged prisoners with rebels and granted them asylum.  The rebels would often rob banks to fund the revolution.  The communist rebels ended up overthrowing the military dictatorship in the 1980s.  Film: Four Days in September (1997).



  1. Fausto, Boris. (1999) A Concise History of Brazil. Cambridge University Press.
  2. Baiocchi, Gianpaolo. (2003) Radicals in Power. Zed Books, Ltd.
  3. Baiocchi, Gianpaolo, Patrick Heller, and Marcelo K. Silva. (2011) Bootstrapping Democracy. Standford University Press.
  4. Levine, Robert M. (1998) Father of The Poor. Cambridge University Press.
  5. Kingstone, Peter R. and Timothy J. Power. (2008) Democratic Brazil Revisited. University of Pittsburgh Press.
  6. Cohen, Y. (1987). Democracy from above: the political origins of military dictatorship in Brazil. World Politics, 40(01), 30-54.
  7. Skidmore, T. E. (1990). The politics of military rule in Brazil, 1964-1985. Oxford University Press.
  8. Huntington, S. P. (1993). The third wave: Democratization in the late twentieth century (Vol. 4). University of Oklahoma press.
  9. Green, J. (2010). We cannot remain silent: opposition to the Brazilian military dictatorship in the United States. Duke University Press.
  10. Sznajder, M., & Roniger, L. (2009). The politics of exile in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  11. Leacock, R. (1990). Requiem for revolution: the United States and Brazil, 1961-1969 (No. 3). Kent State University Press.
  12. Samuels, D. (2004). From socialism to social democracy: Party organization and the transformation of the workers’ party in Brazil. Comparative Political Studies, 37(9), 999-1024.
  13. Freeman, J. (1999). On the origins of social movements. Waves of protest: Social movements since the sixties, 101, 7.
  14. Failure in Brazil Skidmore, Thomas E. Journal of Contemporary History; Jul 1, 1970; 5, 3; ProQuest pg. 137
  15. Arrests in Brazil Placed at 7,000:  Authorities Assert Revolt Saved the Country From Coup by Communists ARRESTS. 1964 By EDWARD C. BURKSSpecial to The New York Times
  16. Anti-Red Law Asked By Military in BrazilBRAZIL‘S MILITARY FOR ANTI-RED LAW. 1964 By EDWARD C. BURKSSpecial to The New York Times
  17. Brazil’s New Regime. 1964. New York Times
  18. Levine, R. M., & Crocitti, J. J. (1999). The Brazil reader : History, culture, politics (The Latin America readers; Latin America readers). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  19. Ribke, N. (2011). Telenovela writers under the military regime in Brazil: Beyond the cooption and resistance dichotomy. Media, Culture And Society, 33(5), 659-673.
  20. Baiocchi, G. (2006). The Civilizing Force of Social Movements: Corporate and Liberal Codes in Brazil’s Public Sphere*. Sociological Theory, 24(4), 285-311.
  21. Soifer, H. D. (2013). State Power and the Economic Origins of Democracy. Studies In Comparative International Development, 48(1), 1-22.
  22. Roberts, C., Popping, R., & Pan, Y. (2009). Modalities of Democratic Transformation. International Sociology, 24(4), 498-525.
  23. Cowan, B. A. (2016). Securing sex : Morality and repression in the making of Cold War Brazil. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Submitted: 20 January 2017 thread_-communist-rebellion-during-brazils-military

From Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazilian_military_government#cite_note-17

The fall of João Goulart worried many citizens. Many students, members of the Catholic church, Marxists, and workers formed groups that opposed military rule. A minority of these adopted direct armed struggle, while most supported political solutions to the mass suspension of human rights.[16] In the first few months after the coup, thousands people were detained, while thousands of others were removed from their civil service or university positions.
In 1968 there was a brief relaxation of the nation’s repressive politics. Experimental artists and musicians formed the Tropicalia movement during this time. However, some of the major popular musicians Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, for instance were arrested, imprisoned, and exiled. Chico Buarque left the country, in self-proclaimed exile.[citation needed]
The first signs of resistance to this repression were seen with the appearance of widespread student protests. In response, the government issued the Fifth Institutional Act in December 1968, which suspended habeas corpus, closed Congress, ended democratic government, and instituted other repressive features.
In 1969 the Revolutionary Movement 8th October kidnapped Charles Burke Elbrick, the U.S. ambassador to Brazil. The resistance fighters demanded the release of imprisoned dissidents who were being cruelly tortured in exchange for Ambassador Elbrick. The government responded by adopting more brutal measures of counter-insurgency, leading to the assassination of Carlos Marighela, a guerrilla leader, two months after Elbrick’s kidnapping. This marked the beginning of the decline of armed opposition. In 1970, Nobuo Okuchi, Japanese consul general in Sāo Paulo, was kidnapped, while Curtis C. Cutter, U.S. consul in Porto Alegre, was wounded in the shoulder but escaped kidnapping. Also in 1970, Ehrenfried von Holleben, West German Ambassador, was kidnapped in Rio and one of his bodyguards was killed.[17]
19 January 2017

Four Days in September

Film (1997)


The film is “loosely based” on the 1979 memoir O Que É Isso Companheiro? (in English: What’s This, Comrade?), written by politician Fernando Gabeira.[3] In 1969, as a member of Revolutionary Movement 8th October (MR-8), a student guerrilla group, he participated in the abduction of the United States ambassador to Brazil, negotiating to gain release of leftist political prisoners. MR-8 was protesting the recent takeover of Brazil by a military government and seeking the release of political prisoners. But, the military increased its repression of dissent, MR-8 and ALN members were tortured by the police, and democracy was not re-established in Brazil until 1989.[3]

Gabeira later became a journalist and politician, elected as congressman from the Green Party.


The film is a fictional version of the dramatic events of the 1969 abduction of the American ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick (played by Alan Arkin) in 1969. Elbrick was taken in Rio de Janeiro by the Revolutionary Movement 8th October (MR-8) with help of Ação Libertadora Nacional (ALN). Gabeira (played by Pedro Cardoso and named Paulo in the film) as a student joins the radical movement after the military takeover of the Brazilian government. He and his comrades, led by Andréia, gradually decided to kidnap the ambassador as a protest, and are shown mostly planning and executing the kidnapping. Paulo is portrayed as “the most intelligent and uncertain of the kidnappers.”[4]

The film explores Paulo’s love affair with Andréia, the guerrilla leader. It suggests a kind of friendship developing between Paulo and Elbrick. The ambassador is portrayed as a decent man who shares some of his kidnappers’ frustrations regarding the Brazilian military dictatorship, but who feels obligated to follow orders he might disagree with.

An epilogue touches on political history after the kidnapping, when repression continued.


The main characters include:

Revolutionary Movement 8th October


During the military dictatorship in Brazil, it was formed by Brazilian Communist Party members who disagreed with the party’s decision not to take part in the armed resistance against the military government, the so-called Dissidência da Guanabara (DI-GB). The name Movimento Revolucionário 8 de Outubro was taken from another organization, which had been recently destroyed by police repression. As the dictatorship’s propaganda boasted about police efficiency in the suppression of “terrorists,” the DI-GB started taking actions under the same name, as a way to demoralize the regime. The new organization defined itself as Marxist-Leninist. It was the main force behind the kidnapping of American ambassadorCharles Burke Elbrick in 1969, the basis of the film Four Days in September.

In the late 1970s, it conducted a thorough autocriticism for its participation in the armed resistance against the dictatorship. Under the leadership of Daniel Terra, it defined the struggle for “democratic liberties” as the main task for the Brazilian left. As such, it became active inside the MDB, the party of the “allowed opposition,” under the leadership of Orestes Quércia. It had an important role in the reawakening of the students’ movement in 1976-1977.

However, in 1978, the MR-8 again shifted its policies. It came to believe that the “national issue” was more important than the “democratic issue.” It never abandoned the struggle against the dictatorship, but it became increasingly aggressive against other leftist tendencies, particularly the Trotskyists, frequently seen as antinational and supportive of “petty-bourgeois issues” like feminism, environmentalism, and gay rights. Then, the MR-8 became increasingly isolated within the left, prompting alliances among most other tendencies against its provocative actions.

While it had played an important role in the students’ movement in 1977, when the working class and unionist movement came again into political play in 1978, the MR-8’s role was marginal or even frequently negative. Then, it developed an intense political enmity towards the unionist leadership of the ABC Region, which later gave birth to the Workers’ Party. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and other leaders of the party and its union branch, the Central Única dos Trabalhadores, were described as social-democrats,yellow unionists, imperialist agents and accused of dividing the opposition against the dictatorship, the MDB.

With the end of the dictatorship, it was the only significant part of the Brazilian left to remain within the PMDB, the continuation of the MDB. Most other tendencies joined the Workers’ Party while the Brazilian Communist Party and the Communist Party of Brazil relaunched themselves as independent political parties. As such, the MR8 is a bit of an oddity in Brazilian politics, as it considers itself “Marxist-Leninist” but is not organized under democratic centralism and operates within a bourgeois centre-to-left political party, in direct contradiction to the Marxist-Leninist tenets of independence from bourgeois organizations.

In the late 1990s, it somewhat Became a reformist like the other leftist tendencies and became a more moderate socialist group, even supporting Lula’s successful run for presidency in 2002 and later his government. At the same time, it increased its nationalist streak.

It publishes a twice-weekly newspaper, Hora do Povo.


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