Movement Outcomes

When social movement theorists study the consequences of a social movement, they are predominantly concerned with three types of outcomes:

  • Political: changes in policy, political discourse, political parties, etc.
  • Biographical: effects on the lives of social movement participants, such as career path, attitudes towards subsequent movements and political ideas.
  • Cultural: changes in culture, which could be evident in anything from fashion to media discourse.

This week the class read about how our understanding of these types of outcomes is shifting, how various types of outcomes are related and other categories of outcomes that might exist.

Our discussion began with an example of biographical outcomes: the case of an MIT student, who was heavily involved in campus activism in the late 60s and early 70s, and later became the president of a community college. As a result of their experience with social movements, they became more sympathetic to student concerns on campus, as well as issues in their community.

This raised the question of what happens when social movement participants pursue career paths within the institutions that they once protested and become targets of movements themselves. It is possible, for instance, that their previous movement participation will make them more tolerant of a social movement, even when they are its target. However, if the social movement participant has become disillusioned by their previous experience, it can make them even less tolerant.

Another student commented on the difficulty of retaining activist commitments throughout a lifetime, suggesting that, in Puerto Rico, this does not always seem to be the case. Often people use social movements as a stepping stone to a political career and subsequently lose sympathy for the social movements that they had participated in.

Another student expressed skepticism about our ability to measure movement outcomes. What constitutes evidence for social change, they wondered, and how accurately can it be tied to social movements?

In effort to answer these questions, the class worked as a group to brainstorm the ways in which social movement theorists might attempt to measure outcomes of various types. We came up with lists for possible dependent variables for measuring biographical, cultural, political, mobilization and infrastructural outcomes.

In response, a student raised the question of how to show causality. In other words, they wanted to know how properly controlled studies could be performed in context where a variety of factors could be influencing the dependent variables being measured. Along these lines, they wondered whether the dependent variables being studied actually indicated the outcome being measured. As in the case of Twitter, social movement scholars sometimes make the mistake of assuming that discussion on Twitter is representative of discussion offline.

The class took on the challenge and attempted to design a controlled study to measure personal learning as evidence for a biographical outcome. We determined that interviews and surveys could constitute evidence for skills learned and knowledge gained, but it would be difficult to show causality without conducting surveys both before and after the activism took place.

It was also pointed out that, in the context of social movements, some scholars reject the notion that it is necessary or useful to show causality, since social movements always take place in complex environments under the influence of complex combination of interrelated factors. Other social movement scholars turn instead to studies of new ideas, concepts and theories being generated by social movements, such as feminist activism and its relation to the history of feminist thought.

Our discussion concluded with infrastructural outcomes, on often overlooked consequence of social movements, which merits further study. Examples included how the access to infrastructure is often won as a result of the demands of social movement actors; as well as how online resources, such as mailing lists and software, created for activism can be applied in other contexts.

Book Report: Campus Wars

Campus Wars: the peace movement at American state universities in the Vietnam era

In Campus Wars, Kenneth Heineman aims to tell the lesser-known story of anti-war activism at state schools from 1965-70, arguing against the traditional narrative that this activism originated and was centered at elite schools. He does this through a comparison of activism at state and elite universities, as well as case studies of four state schools that played an important role in campus activism of the era: Michigan State University, Kent State University, State University of New York at Buffalo and Pennsylvania State University. Additionally, Heineman is interested in how demographic and cultural qualities of activists affected types and quality of activism, a concern that he addresses through discussion and comparison of demographic statistics across the four campuses and at elite schools.

In the first three chapters, Heineman describes the conditions in which anti-war activism arose, pinpointing the factors working either in favor of or against campus activism. He first discusses this from the perspective of the administrators, describing a Cold War environment in which the government and academic administrators saw higher education and its products as an anti-Communist weapon. To this end, in 1968, a third of the money spent on university research and development had either a military origin or purpose, and university administrators often worked for the government, often in defense-related positions. The academic community expected its members to, at least publicly, support these goals. As a result, free speech was suppressed on campuses and it was customary to discipline activist faculty and students. FBI and police surveillance of activists was also common. Ultimately, these were all factors that often fueled activism; the fact that universities were so intimately involved with the war machine gave students and faculty a stronger sense of obligation. Similarly, when their professors were fired merely for expressing dissenting views, students became more engaged and mobilizations increased. Heineman also proposes that, in comparison to elite schools, activism was more difficult at state schools because administrators were less tolerant. In some cases, though, state schools were ahead of their elite counterparts, such as the early adoption of the teach-in tactic and emergence of an SDS group at Michigan State.

In contrast to the administrators, faculty views were often less homogenous and more polarized in their view of the war in Vietnam. There were, for instance, many scientists whose careers could be advanced by an anti-communist foreign policy and military research. This state of affairs began when academics were called to action in WWI and again in WWII. Whether as a result of patriotism or of reliance on government funding, being an academic became politicized in support of the status quo. Younger faculty, who joined after the World Wars, became disillusioned and were more likely to speak out against the Vietnam War than older academics. Another factor associated with academics’ political views was their area of study: dissent was much more common among faculty in the humanities and social sciences, as opposed to science and business, where research was often related to the war effort. It was not uncommon for faculty to be punished for expressing dissent, and faculty were often victims of McCarthyism.

For students, higher university endowments in the cold-war era meant student activists could benefit from more low-income students could, more students overall, and a more diverse student body. Students were mobilized by moral obligation to oppose military research and recruiting on campus, as well as spillover from civil rights and other movements. Institutions unwittingly created more activists by placing increased emphasis on the study of social sciences, making students more politically aware and engaged than their peers studying business or science. In addition, students were moved to action when they felt alienated by the impersonal quality created by increased enrollment and the in loco parentis administration. Heineman goes into demographic statistics of activists in great detail in order to show their diversity. His most emphasized finding is that, contrary to mass media portrayals, not all anti-war activists were middle- or upper-class and privileged. Different avenues of action were available to privileged students than working-class students: the latter usually attended state schools, while the former were more likely to attend elite schools. Different schools differed in tolerance toward activism; thus, privileged students were more likely to get away with violent tactics and have parental support networks that were unavailable to working-class students.

After describing the conditions in which activism arose, Heineman dedicates the next three chapters to a chronological description of major events on campuses across the country. The account begins with the years 1965-67, when anti-war activism got off to a slow start. Initially, pro-war activists collected more signatures and, in popular conservative media, branded anti-war activists as traitors or communists. Even peaceful protests were poorly attended and often suppressed entirely, yet activists were optimistic at first. They overestimated the power of popular opinion and thought that President Johnson merely needed to be made aware of their dissent for the war to be put on hold. Meanwhile, Johnson increased troop commitments and draft calls, as well as the grade requirements for draft deferment, amplifying discontent among students. In response, mobilizations increased and students formed new groups, such as Students for Democratic Society (SDS) and anti-draft unions. Two factions began to emerge: many students were increasingly radicalized while others continued to advocate for a more moderate movement. some students were alienated by use of violent tactics. Heineman also distinguishes between activists elite and state schools, claiming (without much evidence) that violent forms of protest immediately propagated at elite universities, while students at state schools were forced to engage in less drastic forms.

With the discouraging outcomes of the Tet Offensive, political assassinations of MLK and others, and the increased polarization of American society, the period of 1968-69 was one of increased intensity of activism, causing many activists to turn to radicalization and violence. The main focus of student activism at the time was protesting ROTC and on-campus military research and recruiting. In response, administrators attempted to crackdown on student activism, increasingly involving policing, FBI surveillance and seeking punitive actions. In addition, this was a period of increased activity among Black, gay and women’s groups, which was at times not well received or supported by anti-war activists. The lack of solidarity between anti-war and other movements contributed to divisions among activists, which resulted in the fracturing of the SDS and other student groups. One of the factions of the SDS formed the Weathermen, a violent revolutionary student group, which led a bombing campaign targeted at government buildings and invaded campuses to tell the coming of the revolution.

In 1970, anti-war activism on campus reached its climax with a period of chaos and violence. A number of campuses became combat zones as a result of riots, police occupation of campuses, and firebombing of ROTC buildings. Perhaps the most extreme example is the case of the Kent State shootings. In May, Riots on campus and throughout Kent had caused the National Guard to occupy the Kent State campus. When student activists did not back down and continued rallies, National Guard fired 61 rounds into non-violent crowd gathered for a rally, wounding nine and killing four. In response to these shootings and continued military occupation of Kent State, as well as the invasion of Cambodia, over four million students across the nation mobilized for the largest student strike in American history. Police responded to continued protests with more unprovoked violence.

Ultimately, the anti-war movement declined as a result of ideological and cultural divisions, as well as an increasingly unsupportive academic environment (though supportiveness of environment depended largely on the institution). A majority of Americans despised the campus peace movement and loathed the war; they often viewed against student activists as justified and, in extreme cases, thought more students should have been killed at Kent state. In the face of such intolerance, the price of activism was incredibly high. Additionally, activists groups were fractured from within as radical activists alienated those who wanted to pursue less extreme tactics. This led to the decline and dispersion of SDS and other student groups.

Heineman does not discuss the long-term impact of the movement in much depth. In the end, he emphasizes that the anti-war movement was one of unprecedented diversity, which led to the creation of more diverse social movements. However, the anti-war movement was far from true intersectionality, and diversity was often cause for disputes. It was not uncommon, for instance, for woman and minorities to be alienated in anti-war groups and for movements like women’s liberation to be rejected by anti-war activists. Additionally, Heineman points to the record-breaking size of mobilizations across the country to emphasize its importance and impact for large portions of the population, even in the face of fierce opposition. Finally, Heineman links the extent of student anti-war activism to changes in campus culture, such as the eventual acceptance of the necessity student activism.

Social Action Coordinating Committee

Project Proposal: MIT Social Action Coordinating Committee

The Social Action Coordinating Committee (SACC), originally known as the Science Action Coordination Committee, was a student activist group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1969 to 1973(?). Initially, the group tasked itself with collective action in opposition to military research at MIT and the war in Vietnam, employing a variety of tactics. In attempt to broaden its scope, the group later turned to support the women’s movement, as well as the Black Panthers. A large archive of documentation of its activities, including meeting minutes, correspondences, and the media they produced or circulated exists in the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections. In this study, I will work closely with the documentation of the group, performing in-depth case analysis and producing information for comparison with larger student movements of the period.


Research Question

Generally, I am interested in evaluating the tactics, particularly media, employed by the SACC in terms of various measures of effectiveness. As I learn more about the movement, the question will become better defined. For instance, I may consider broadening the temporal scope of the question to account for how its change in tactics might have resulted in its decline of the group. Alternatively, I might want to do a study of effectiveness of strategies used for antiwar movements compared to those used for more general movements.


Case Selection

My position as an MIT student allows access to the institute archives, which facilitates an intimate knowledge of the group which would not otherwise be feasible. With this knowledge in-hand, the case of the SACC is of interest for a number of reasons. It is an instance of a thriving student activist group at an institute that has virtually no record of activism otherwise. Further, MIT’s position as a leading research institution biases the mass media towards it and makes it a potential role model for other schools, suggesting a high likelihood for tactical diffusion. Perhaps most importantly, MIT received huge (90) percentage of its funding from the Department of Defense, potentially catalyzing forms of activism that might be otherwise unprecedented at other universities.



The research will take the form of a case study proceeding in an exploratory fashion. Findings will primarily based upon archival research and literature review, though there is potential to contact movement participants and conduct interviews.



To be able to recognize qualities unique to the MIT movement, it will first be necessary to acquire a working knowledge of overall antiwar movement of SACC’s contemporaries.

Once this is accomplished, I will turn to the MIT Institute Archives, where I will conduct the majority of my research. This will involve an initial reading through the four boxes to determine the relevant documents, which will then be analyzed deeply and comparatively. Afterwards, if it appears that there is relevant information which is not available in the MIT archives, I will attempt to locate it in other sources, such as interviews, books, newspapers or other archives.

Throughout this process, I will be open to criticism and inspiration from my peer researchers.

Introduction: Jessica

Hi everyone. I’m Jessica, a junior studying creative writing. I’m interested in social movements because I am interested in a world that is a lot less lame (and the use of media to make it so). In addition to the wealth of social movements happening today, I have a particular interest in the relationship between religious communities and social movements. In my experience, religious community can be the source of an additional layer of oppression, imposing outdated, often discriminatory values on its members. However, it is clear that this doesn’t have to be the case, and I’m interested in researching the ways in which communities that form around religion can provide the basis for positive social change. Another, closely related interest of mine is social movement inside of a religious community, e.g., a feminist movement to allow women to become priests/monks/rabbis.