Week 2: Collective Action

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


Chapter 1

When such contention spreads across an entire society – as it sometimes does – we see a cycle of contention. When such a cycle is organized around opposed or multiple sovereignties, the outcome is a revolution.

The solutions to the problem of mobilizing people into campaigns and coalitions
of collective action depend on shared understandings, social networks,
and connective structures and the use of culturally resonant forms of action.

Marx and Engels: People will engage in collective action, they thought, when their
social class comes into fully developed contradiction with its antagonists.

To Lenin, it seemed that organization was the solution to the collective action problem of the working class.

For Gramsci, it would be necessary to develop the workers’ own consciousness, and he
therefore conceived of the workers’ movement as a “collective intellectual,” one of whose prime tasks was to create a working-class culture.

Grievances and Collective Behavior Theory

  • Collective behavior theory posited that movements were little more than the most well-organized and most self-conscious part of an archipelago of “emergent” phenomena, ranging from fads and rumors, to collective enthusiasms, riots, movements, and revolutions.

Rational Choice and Resource Mobilization

  • In the traces of microeconomics, for many scholars the problem for collective action came to be seen not as how classes struggle and states rule, but as how collective action is even possible among individuals guided by narrow economic self-interest.

Cultures of Contention

  • Thompson invented the culturally enriched concept of “the moral economy” to indicate that people do not revolt in mechanical response to grievances, but only when such grievances are empowered by a sense of injustice.

Contentious politics is produced when threats are experienced and opportunities
are perceived, when the existence of available allies is demonstrated, and
when the vulnerability of opponents is exposed.

Chapter 2

Repertoire of Contention: “the ways that people act together in pursuit of shared interests”

  • learned behaviors of contention; sit-ins, protests, strikes, modern behaviors versus public meetings, petitions, arson, earlier: food riots
  • Tilly argued the behavior needed to be understood by others as contentious action
  • violence as a means of contention
  • “collective bargaining by riot”
  • failed to form a rebellion
    • “small in scale, leaderless, and carried on by unarmed men, women and children, the food riot rarely consolidated into a larger rebellion”

It was only when religious fervor joined with peasant revolt, dynastic ambition, or interstate conflict that rebels against religion gained access to tools that began to resemble the modern social movement.

Peasant revolts

Death as a form of collective action; the funeral: institutionalized, ceremony, solidarity

Demanding bread, asserting belief, claiming land, and mobilizing around
death – in all four areas of contention, collective action was violent and direct,
brief, specific, and parochial.

Boycott and early American colonists; mass petitioning in England; barricades in France

Innovation and Counter-innovation

  • The evolution of the barricade brings us to a strangely under-researched issue
    in the study of contentious politics: the relationship between innovations in
    the repertoire and changes in the strategies of repression.


Lecture Notes

  • social movements with single-issue goals
  • relationship between elite and mass political behavior
  • single-issue: “any issue that generates a significant amount of single-minded behavior among some public, where singly-minded behavior is described as the willingness of an individual to allow one issue to guide his or her participation in politics.”
  • issue framing: referential symbols refer to issue and define them in concrete terms
    • condensational symbols used to describe in emotionally charges terms
  • symbols focus on community, social norms, formal roles and organizations, and situational settings

‘Repertoires of Contention,” which he adopted from Charles Tilly who defined them as, “The ways that people act together in pursuit of shared interests.” Tarrow adds to Tilly’s definition saying, “The repertoire involves not only what people do when they are
engaged in conflict with others but what they know how to do and what others expect them to do.”

political culture as the shared values of a society about phenomena that make up the political world and about what makes something part of the political world rather than the private sphere.

  • Part of every society’s political culture is a set of beliefs about what are and are not appropriate modes of political action within their system. In American political culture, voting, campaigning, even nonviolent protesting are all legitimate modes of political action. Violent protests, property damage or assaults on persons are considered illegitimate modes of political action.


Quiz 2

Explain the distinction between hard issue voting and easy issue voting. Why is it important to an understanding of social movements?

With “hard issue” voters, voting is a very rational process.  Voters research information on the candidates, and their positions on policy issues.  Hard issue voters calculate the costs and benefits of voting and vote in their best interests.  Hard issue voters are more informed and engaged with the political process in general.

Easy issue voters vote based on emotion rather than rationality.  These voters tend to vote with their “gut” reactions rather than calculated choice.  Easy issue voters are mobilized from emotional responses to policy and politicians and focus on their ideologies rather than an informed decision.

The two types of voters, hard issue and easy issue, are important concepts for social movements because they impact an individual’s behavior and whether or not one would decide to pursue action in the form of mobilization or collective action.  While a vote is a vote, and as Conover agrees single issue voters might be rational, contentious political action is not rational such that there is no utility in contention.  Because of time, resources, and the costs of violence, contention is not a rational decision to make.  Collective action activists are likely to be easy issue voters such that they react using emotional symbols rather than rational decision making.  Easy issue voters are more likely to engage in collective action because of emotional reasons because of their emotional response to grievances.  In contentious scenarios, the costs outweigh the benefits therefore the action of contentious collective action is an irrational one.

Tarrow defines repertoires of contention. What does he mean by that term? Provide an example from modern politics that isn’t an example Tarrow provided.

Tilly defined Repertoires of Contention as “ways that people act together in pursuit of shared interests”, and Tarrow adds that it “involves not only what poeple do when they are engaged in conflict with others buy what they know how to do and what others expect them to do.”

Repertoires of Contention are learned behaviors that evolve over time.  For example, Tilly explained the evolution of first riots, public meetings, arson as early forms of contention and later evolved to sit-ins, protests, and strikes as more modern behaviors.  Whatever the behavior, it had to be understood as contentious by others such that contentious symbols would be recognized.  If the acts failed to communicate contention they would have no affect.  Any behavior that could be understood by other as contentious would serve the purpose of collective action as long as the individuals had the network and the organization to produce the behavior and the behavior was understood.

Modern forms of contention might hactivism.  Hactivism is defined as any activity where illegal computer programming is used to promote a social or political agenda.  Modern hactivist break into computer systems illegally and gain information and trade as a form of bargaining or are used in massive black out protests where an entity would be denied access to their own computer systems much like a massive sit-in only using a computer network.  Modern hacktivist have learned their own repertoire of contention such that behaviors have evolved to include modern day technology.  Hacktivists incorporate computers in their repertoire and it has been proven to be a very powerful tool against elites and authority.

Quiz submitted: 17sp-collective-action


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