Power and Resistance: Social Movements in Theory and Practice
Social movements face countless challenges, both internal and external. History demonstrates that ordinary people can create significant change, yet in many cases, their aspirations for transformation go unrealized. Why do social movements sometimes succeed, and why do they sometimes fail? This course is the attempt to grapple with these basic questions. Proceeding historically and theoretically, we will examine the landscapes social movements frequently traverse as we attempt to come to a systematic understanding of how and why social movements originate, operate, and succeed or fail (to a complete or partial degree). We’ll look particularly at activist movements that seek change by challenging or pressuring existing political and economic systems. Developing a more robust understanding of power, we’ll assess the potential points of leverage that social movements possess; reflect upon the importance of skills, grievances, and choices to movement emergence and outcomes; and delve into questions of movement tactics, strategy, and dilemmas related to the exercise of violence and non-violence in the pursuit of social change. We will ask: What explains the rise of a social movement? What role do activists, organizers, and agencies more broadly play in the emergence of a movement? Are liberal democracies more responsive to social movement action? What role do authoritarianism and coercion play in fostering and organizing resistance? Does a movement’s organizational structure affect its chances of success? How can struggles be sustained across time? Can we anticipate when movement tactics and strategy will backfire?
Course readings will be drawn from the social movement and the civil resistance scholarship, including works by Frances Fox Piven, Sidney Tarrow, James Jasper, and Kurt Schock. Case studies and movement-produced literature, such as manuals and toolkits, may also be considered.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
April 08 — April 29, 2021