Power and Democracy in Social Movements

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:30-19:20
RC48 Social Movements, Collective Actions and Social Change (host committee)

Language: English

Social movements and the spaces in which they organize have been studied as laboratories or schools of democracy. Scholars tend to highlight the democratic idealism in social movements. At the same time, research shows that activists often epically fail to turn their ideals into reality because power imbalances are not sufficiently addressed. Oligarchic structures and an informal leadership caste stand for the two most prominent non-democratic tendencies in social movements. Since many activists are aware of these tendencies and experiment with organizational forms to tackle them, it remains an important task of researchers to assess and study the complex issues at play: For example, activists need to reconcile (often changing) democratic norms such as equality and plurality with organizational necessities such as an effective decision-making procedure. The dynamic development of social movements also calls for further scrutiny: the effects of new cycles of contention, new generations of activists and different cultural and geographical contexts on movement democracy need to be addressed.

This session invites submissions on the following or related issues:

  • How can we study power dynamics in social movements beyond classic explanations such as given by Michels 'Iron law of oligarchy' or Freeman's 'tyranny of structurelessness'?

  • Is democracy (only) an organizational problem or also and issue of clashing cultural/political norms and power dynamics in social movement networks?

  • How do organizers of (transnational) activist meetings (fail to) reconcile different political cultures and expectations of democratic organizing?

  • In which cases is democratic organizing an asset or an obstacle for social change?

Session Organizer:
Micha FIEDLSCHUSTER, Universität Leipzig, Germany
Micha FIEDLSCHUSTER, Universität Leipzig, Germany
Oral Presentations
Does Democracy Pay? Determinants of Organizational Effectiveness in Labour Unions
Barry EIDLIN, McGill University, Canada; Nathan WILMERS, Harvard University, USA
From Grassroots Mobilization to Professional Protest: How ‘Ordinary Folk’ Become ‘Organized Folk’
Amanda CROMPTON, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom; Justin WARING, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom