The Structure of Social Protest, 1961-1983

Bearman, Peter Shawn; Everett, Kevin D.

The inherent duality of protests — the fact that groups protest on issues — is exploited to model the social structure of group to group relations for all groups which protested in Washington DC over five periods, 1961–63, 1967–68, 1971–73, 1976–78 and 1981–83. The structural positions of groups are identified over time and we show that a group's position influences the protest repertoire employed. Central groups in all periods define which repertoires are most dominant and more peripheral groups appear as innovators. Using the structural positions of groups as a test of their salience, some of the predictions of the new social movement theory — that identity has replaced interest as the determinant of social protest, and that organized labor's role has declined — are tested. We find support for the first claim, and falsify the second. While new social movement groups have become more central in the world of social protest, the role of labor has not changed relative to its position in the early 1960s. Finally we develop some of the implications of the modeling strategy employed. Basic is the recognition that movement scholars be more sensitive to the context in which protests occur. This context is the structure of social protest.

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Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics
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April 24, 2019