Just say no! f2014

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JUST SAY NO! Social protest and the politics of resistance

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    Social protest and the politics of resistance

  • Today we will

    Introduce the sociology of resistance

    Consider whether democracy remains an effective means of political participation

    Discuss the role of digital media in protest, particularly in regards to the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring

  • Our questions

    1. Given the divides within society, why is there not more deviance, disobedience and resistance?

    2. Do existing political and social mechanisms allow for effective political participation and representation?

    3. What are the most effective means of contemporary political resistance?

    Essay questions: Using the case studies discussed in the module, critically examine the relationship between communication technology and social protest.

  • The agents of resistance

    Cultures establish relatively fixed patterns of behaviour that are difficult to change: we generally repeat and reproduce what is expected of us

    Resistance seeks to break from these patterns and occurs whenever social norms, structures or institutions are rejected or disrupted (transformative action)

    What counts as resistance or deviance is socially defined: alternative fashions might be transformative, but not deviant what might be deviant use of social media in Saudi Arabia is not in Britain

  • Forms of disobedience


  • When was your last act of resistance/


  • If you disagree with what Im saying, what someone else is saying, or with the social norms in the class,

    how do you resist?

    What would the most effective means of

    resistance be?

  • Virtual resistance

    Resistance is an everyday element of life, from social disagreement to physical protests

    Because social media allows for active audience participation, it facilitates resistance to dominant or received messages

    We see this process in the responses to famous twitter personalities

  • Disorder from order

    Resistance may be an everyday element of life, from social disagreement to physical protests, but resistance doesnt necessarily mean disorder

    Resistance is embedded within effective means of power: our institutions and social norms often encourage and allow resistance, within certain boundaries

    For resistance to create conflict and disrupt the established way of doing things, it needs to break the existing norms of resistance

  • Democratic participation

    Democracy is the political organisation within which members have an equal say in collective decisions

    The are a large range of democratic mechanisms in Western societies democracy tends to involve a designated group of people voting to choose someone to represent them

    Democracy thus allows legitimate resistance: if you disagree, you have a voice and the mechanisms to express it, provided that you follow the rules and have sufficient support

    The democratic ethos extends to participation in civil society, including freedom of speech, independent media, freedom of assembly (protest) and trade unions

    Ultimately it is the state, through government control of violence, who decides what the rules are for legitimate resistance

  • Why disobey in a democracy?

    Democracies are open to resistance in that they do not demand obedience to a single way of being

    Indeed, both capitalism and democracy thrive on counter-culture

    Protest and resistance can be sanitised through legitimate channels but, if those you are resisting allow you to resist, is there any point in protesting?

  • Should all protest be agreed to by government authorities?

  • Union resistance

    At various times whilst you have been at Brunel, the University and College Union has been on strike

    The principle of unions is that workers can have power over their employers if they act collectively collective bargaining

    In the UK, union members are permitted to take industrial action when negotiations with employers break down

    In order for the strike to be lawful, unions must ballot their members and receive the support of the majority of voters

  • Striking back

    The purpose of a strike is to disrupt the regular operation of an employer

    This disruption places pressure on the employer and changes the political conditions under which negotiations occur

    Workers lose pay, but cannot be dismissed

    Unions were powerful advocates for working people until they were broken during the 1970s and 1980s.

    Regular strikes are being held, but their influence is mixed

  • Has your life at Brunel been disrupted by


  • Consumer activism

    The place of people-power has shifted from production to consumption

    We have influence over corporations not by withdrawing work, but by withholding purchases

    This has been seen recently in corporate tax avoidance cases

    The shift from productive to consumptive activism has individualised protest and has placed more power in the hands of the wealthy

  • Which mode of resistance is most likely to have an


  • New Social Movements

    Social movements are organised collective activities that are designed to bring about lasting political change

    The Civil Rights movement and Gay Rights movement are two of the most notable

    Social movements lie outside of institutional mechanisms, particularly those new social movements that emerged after World War II

    These movements have been particularly effective in democratic societies, especially when demands can be incorporated within the existing system

  • Political disobedience

    In the reading, Harcourt distinguishes between civil and political disobedience in regards to the Occupy movement

    Civil disobedience seeks to right injustices within the system, such as by highlighting issues and raising consciousness

    Political disobedience suggests that the system cannot be justly reformed by the mechanisms it provides and must seek alternative forms of resistance

  • Direct action

    Direct action is a form of resistance that produces immediate intervention into a socio-political issue

    These actions can include non-violent actions like sit-ins and occupations or direct violence

    Direct action was particularly effective in colonial India and in the Civil Rights movement in the United States, and is common in the contemporary Green movement

  • If you were working for the NUS campaign to reduce fees, what methods would you


  • Democracy: A discussion

    Do you vote?

    Do your politicians represent you?

    Does democracy work for some more than others?

    Is democratic participation still a relevant form of political engagement?

  • Social (media) movements

    Traditional protest movements have relied on the physical and local presence of protestors

    Contemporary social movements are often generated, controlled and sustained through social media

  • Advantages and challenges

    Social media also allows groups to circumvent traditional means of communication, particularly the mass media, in order to get its message across to a diverse audience

    Through mechanisms like Twitter #hashtags, a greater sense of connectedness can be developed as individual concerns become more identifiably common

    The speed of social media, along with the possibility of collective communication, allows protests and movements to move rapidly the Occupy movement is a strong example of this

    However, although social media protests can be highly decentralised and participatory, without leadership they can struggle to produce demands or negotiate with those in power as seen in the Arab Spring

  • Occupy

    The Occupy movement begun when people occupied Zuccotti Park beside Wall Street in New York on 17/11/2011, although organising meetings had been previously held

    Occupys initial motivation was to protest corporate influence over democracy, beginning with the slogan We are the 99%

    Occupy soon became an international movement, including Occupy London outside of St.Pauls Cathedral, and is evidence of the abilityof social media to transcend location

  • Do you feel part of the 99%?

  • Occupying

    Through direct action as part of a global movement, Occupy sought to evoke collective solidarity amongst the majority

    The Occupy movement has been defined by its non-hierarchical organisation and a commitment to participatory democracy, which required the physical presence of activists

    The group has also refused to posit specific alternatives and demands, which has been the subject of significant criticism

    Whilst the momentum of the movement has slowed considerably, at the time it tapped into popular dissent over economic conditions and bankers

  • Occupied

    The movement was also one of the first in the Western world to utilise the potential of social media

    Through this use of social media the initially small occupy movement was able to mobilise activists outside of the mainstream media

    Social media also allowed the ideas to change through participation and spread to other parts of the country

    Occupy demonstrated how a counter-hegemonic cause could challenge dominant government, corporate and mass-media messages, this time predominately through Facebook

    Nonetheless participation was far higher amongst the young, particularly college students

  • Creating solidarity

    Occupy sought to create connections through social media, but required a physical presence to be successful

    The occupations produced strong reactions from authorities, often arresting protestors and clearing sites of activists

    These clearance were often violent and solidarity required strong commitment from the activists

  • Maintaining occupation

    Such was the necessity of maintaining social media contact, the Occupiers used a stationary bike to fuel battery chargers (Deborah Gambs, 2012)

    That they didnt want to leave to charge phones, but required phones to maintain the movements, demonstrates the difficult balance of the movement

  • Have you ever felt motivated to engage in any form of

    organised resistance?

  • Arab Spring

    The Arab Spring was a series of political uprisings in the Arab world

    These begun in Tunisia with the death of a street trader and most notably spread to Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen

    These movements were built on mass demonstrations, occupations and direct action

  • Springing social

    Building on the movements in Moldova and Iran in 2009, the Arab Spring was the first widespread revolutionary movement engaged with social media According to Emma Hall, Facebook users in Egypt increased from 450,000 to 3

    million in the six months following the revolution, and have now risen to 5 million

    Government censorship in the Middle East had made control of

    information one of the most powerful weapons

    Protestors were able to communicate with each other outside of the state and gain a wider audience through collective solidarity, but also act as citizen journalists for the rest of the world

  • Mediating sources

    For many journalists, the most direct information in chaotic situations comes from social media, particularly following popular hashtags such as #iranrevolution

    Indeed, during the attempted Iranian revolution of 2009, the majority of the tweets were from the Western world

    Whilst those invested in the events and engaged with social media might investigate social media for themselves, we still rely on mass media reproductions of these events

  • Organising information

    Social media allows for potentially greater control of the message by activist, even though the most influential information comes from a small range of sources

    Because internet access was often shut down, information often came from key nodal points outside of the protests and these key tweeters and media organisations dominated the discussion and were most often retweeted

    Information via social media user is by definition partial and it can be very difficult to capture the full story as it is difficult to trust internet sources and rumours often spin out of control, and thus trusted sources remain dominant

    Nonetheless, access to social media was a powerful tool against state propaganda and control of information during the Arab Spring

  • Getting physical in Egypt

    Alex Choudhary argued social media was a powerful device for establishing emotional connections amongst demonstrators in Egypt by sharing stories

    Twitter and YouTube in particular were able to convey counter-hegemonic messages

    Yet, it is easy to exaggerate the impact of social media

  • How social was the Arab Spring?

    Social media usage is particularly low [.26% in Egypt] in Arab countries leading to the possibility of a Dissident Elite that is not representative of the general population

    As twitter usage is very low in poorer countries (Tunis 0.10%, Libya 0.07% and Yemen 0.02%) and in censored regions such as China, these methods of social protest may not be available to those who might need it the most

    Social activism requires a deep commitment (strong ties) and social movements have always built from person to person communication, as well as through mass media

    Most of the gains made can be attributed to the physical presence of protestors in the face of government violence

    The problems of elite resistance, along with creating positive demands, were very evident in the Arab Spring

  • Clicktivism

    The internet is often said to bring in a whole new wave of means of social resistance and political participation

    The other side of digital activism is clicktivism in which internet users can engage in passive resistance (slacktivism) by liking pages or signing petitions

    This form of engagement makes us feel like we are participating and resisting without actually having to do anything

  • Estimate how many social media connections you have

    Who would you sacrifice anything for the rest?

  • Chaotic conclusions

    Whilst resistance is an everyday occurrence, some forms have more capacity to disrupt power

    Resistance through participation is embedded within democratic systems

    Digital protest has changed the dimensions of resistance, but generally requires a physical presence

  • Next Week




    Payne, G. (2006) Social Divisions as a Sociological Perspective. In G. Payne (Ed.) Social Divisions (second edition), Basingstoke: Macmillan.