When sociologists first began to study social movements and protest, in the 1950s, they were viewed as an ‘irrational’ challenge to democracy. After all, if democracy is working properly, why would people need to protest? Why weren’t citizens content with just voting? Today, social movements are viewed differently. They are seen not as a threat to democracy but as the place where new democratic ideas and values often first appear. Social movements raise radical demands – e.g. for freedom, justice and equality – which political parties and politicians are reluctant or (by their institutional nature) unable to consider. Social movements are now seen as laboratories of democracy and social progress. Throughout recent history it has been social movements – e.g. the Suffragettes or the Civil Rights Movement – that have put new political ideas on the table and forced the political system to adopt change.
This course focuses on three of the most important recent social movements: environmentalism (particularly in the form of climate activism), feminism (particularly in the form of the #MeToo movement), and the legacy of the civil rights movement in Black Lives Matter.
We look at how these social movements organize, who joins and supports them and why, their ‘tactical repertoire’, how they convey their message to the public, what successes they have had and what challenges they face. We study not only street protests and their tactics but also how social movements use media: manifestos, placards, banners, campaign videos as well as social media. Finally we consider how social movements both shape the internet and are shaped by it.
Case studies from the USA and the UK form the empirical core of the course. This is for good reason: social movements there are protesting against what they see as extremes of climate injustice, institutional racism and sexism. But we also compare these two countries with Germany and see what lessons can be learned from the American and British experience.
The prerequisite for examination on the course is active participation (thorough demonstrable reading of the seminar literature, regular attendance and involvement, and the submission of a short presentation/thesis paper/seminar summaries). The course will be in English. Introductory meeting (to talk about course content and examination) is on 20.5.22.