Movement Building Analysis As Method: The Case of the Wisconsin Uprising

Friday, 20 July 2018: 18:45
Oral Presentation
Ben MANSKI, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
The Wisconsin Uprising was not only the early riser of the U.S. protest wave of 2011, it was both militant and mass based, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people in building occupations and labor and student strikes, and roving pickets. To most outside observers at the time, as well as some participants, the Uprising seemed spontaneous. To this day, the full meaning of Wisconsin continues to be lost to scholars and activists alike. I show that the Wisconsin Uprising provides an important case for studying the process and consequences of the activist process of movement building. I draw on semi-structured interviews and archival research as well as my personal history as a protagonist in the popular movements of Wisconsin over 25 years. I show how key elements of the Wisconsin Uprising were constructed in the greater period of struggle that began in the early 1990s, arguing that the wave of 2011 was a product of purposive actions in the course of that struggle. In so doing, I introduce a theoretical framework and a method of movement building analysis for explaining the trajectories and outcomes of movements in struggle. Uprisings and other significant events that become visible as waves of contention surface into public view are poorly described by theories that fail to account for the strategic choices activists make as they are engaged in struggle over time. Movement building activities are not always readily available to empirical analysis, yet they occur nonetheless, producing many of the forces that enter play in times of heightened conflict.