Movement structure

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
(Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken… or can we take both roads?)
To discuss movement structure, we focused primarily on two readings:
Staggenborg, S. 1988. “The consequences of professionalization and formalization in the pro-choice movement.” American Sociological Review 53(4):585–605. 


Here are some notes on the discussions we had.

The Tyranny of Structurelessness
About the text:
  • Context: it’s coming out of the women’s movement in the 1970s, Second Wave. It’s been very influential, it’s read very widely. 
  • The insights apply to social movements but, really, any context where you have people trying to make decisions together.
  • “For everyone to have the opportunity to be involved in a given group and to participate in its activities the structure must be explicit, not implicit” is the tweet-length summary of this article.
  • It’s not just a take down of these dynamics; she actively proposes ways to address them in her principles of democratic structure.
  • Interesting responses: The tyranny of tyranny by Cathy Levine (“this all may be true, but does it mean we should abandon the ideal of creating horizontal spaces?”)
  • We know that the creative innovations that have ignited the most successful movements in history, and they didn’t come from formal structures…
  • The emergence of charismatic leaders.
    • Rhodes: media assigning leadership roles externally; meme pages aren’t transparent about their organization.
  • Engaging in online action: does it make it easier/harder to understand an organization’s structure?
    • Use of tactics to circumvent surveillance, like social steganography (d. boyd)
  • Layers of invisible creation of leadership (resources: money, time, education, network, cultural capital).
    • How social media amplifies this: Occupy Wall Street tried to come up with tactics to overcome this.
The consequences of professionalization and formalization in the pro-choice movement
About the text:
  • In relation to the last text, it is a “yes, and…”
  • This paper is a counter to resource mobilization theory which was big at this time.
  • Bottom-up, emergent volunteer processes ignite the movements that then become professionalized over time (and which learn how to sustain the work).
  • Who were the professionalized and the ad-hoc stakeholders in the movements you are studying?
  • Social movement theory as a way out of despair.





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