Tag Archives: social movements

Are Protests Effective?

liuThe University of Toronto Mississauga’s newspaper, The Medium, recently featured two of our faculty members – Professors Sida Liu and David Pettinicchio – addressing the role and effectiveness of political protest. You can read the entire article online. We have posted an excerpt here.

Are protests effective?

A rise in the number of widespread protests has occurred

David PettiniccioAisha Malik and Mahmoud Sarouji.

Feb. 13, 2017


If you have been following the news lately, it’s hard to miss the abundance of protests and demonstrations occurring globally…

…But are protests effective? I contacted sociology professor Sida Liu, whose focus includes sociology of law, globalization, and social theory among others.

Liu explained that protests are an important factor of a democratic society. The protests in the U.S. not only show discontent with the president, but also reflect on larger global concerns, such as discrimination and the rise of xenophobia. Liu stated, “Skeptics would say that these protests are futile when a government is not listening and a president is too busy tweeting, but they at least raise the collective consciousness of people regarding some vital aspects of our social and political life.”

He went on to explain that protests connect over time, and sometimes only manifest after a longer period of time. Protests rarely have an immediate effect, but they are not isolated events either; rather, they need time to become evident.

In regards to solidarity marches for the Quebec City mosque shooting victims, Liu said that they “demonstrate the Canadian society’s openness, diversity, and care for religious and ethnic minority groups.” They also allow communities to come out and condemn violence against innocent and unarmed individuals.

Liu cited Émile Durkheim, a founding father of sociology who argued, “Punishment on crimes is an indicator of the solidarity of a society.” He further explained, “In this sense, solidarity marches also constitute a form of resistance to the symbolic and physical violence of gender and racial discrimination exercised by xenophobic white males.”

Sociology professor David Pettinicchio, whose focuses include political sociology, social policy, and social movements, also spoke of the impact a protest can have.

Pettinicchio explained that protests allow awareness of issues that don’t seem to be focused on by political leaders. Political activism is important especially now. He stated that “protests help galvanize people around important issues and they can indirectly shape policy directions.

“[Protests] alone may not be enough. For mobilization to be successful moving forward, it requires thinking about long-term and short-term goals and objectives, as well as the use of a multi-pronged approach that can include direct action, as well as systematic efforts to monitor policy, contact policymakers, and for regular citizens to remain engaged in the political process in the long run,” he continued. “The effectiveness relies on unity of ‘political elites’ movement and organizational leaders, activists and regular citizens.”

Read the full article here.

BJS Prize for article on social media in the Egyptian Uprising

bjs-certificateCongratulations to Professor Robert Brym and graduate students Melissa Godbout, Andreas Hoffbauer, Gabe Menard and Tony Huiquan Zhang who recently received the British Journal of Sociology 2016 Prize for their co-authored article, Social Media in the 2011 Egyptian Uprising.

Established in 2009, the BJS award is presented bi-annually to the authors of an article published in the past 24 months that “in the opinion of the judges, makes an outstanding contribution to increasing sociological knowledge.” The article by Brym, Godbout, Hoffbauer, Menard and Zhang was published in May 2014. Professor Brym recently attended the BJS Annual Lecture at the London School of Economics and accepted the prize on behalf of the team. While there, he recorded a short podcast about the paper and the experience writing, publishing and receiving the honour. Congratulations to all five authors!

You can access the winning paper here. The following is the citation and abstract:

Brym, R., Godbout, M., Hoffbauer, A., Menard, G. and Zhang, T. H. (2014), Social media in the 2011 Egyptian uprising. The British Journal of Sociology, 65: 266–292. doi:10.1111/1468-4446.12080

This paper uses Gallup poll data to assess two narratives that have crystallized around the 2011 Egyptian uprising: (1) New electronic communications media constituted an important and independent cause of the protests in so far as they enhanced the capacity of demonstrators to extend protest networks, express outrage, organize events, and warn comrades of real-time threats. (2) Net of other factors, new electronic communications media played a relatively minor role in the uprising because they are low-cost, low-risk means of involvement that attract many sympathetic onlookers who are not prepared to engage in high-risk activism. Examining the independent effects of a host of factors associated with high-risk movement activism, the paper concludes that using some new electronic communications media was associated with being a demonstrator. However, grievances, structural availability, and network connections were more important than was the use of new electronic communications media in distinguishing demonstrators from sympathetic onlookers. Thus, although both narratives have some validity, they must both be qualified.

Happy Independence Day, Tunisia

Brym 2016March 20th is Independence Day in Tunisia, the only democracy that emerged from the Arab Spring and therefore a model for other countries in the region. It is also less than two weeks after an ISIS attack on Ben Gardane, a town on Tunisia’s border with Libya — the fourth such attack in the country in just over a year, bringing the cumulative death toll to 91, excluding the attackers. Tunisians form the largest national contingent of ISIS recruits. Coalescing on the Libyan side of the border, they represent a serious challenge to the fledgling democracy.

Yet little is known about Tunisians’ attitudes toward democracy. To shed light on this issue, University of Toronto sociologist Robert Brym and Western University sociologist Robert Andersen conducted a SSHRC-funded nationally representative poll of 1,580 Tunisian adults in late February and early March 2015. The results of the survey have just been published in International Sociology, the flagship journal of the International Sociological Association. Their main findings:

  • Most of the country’s citizens are ambivalent about the Arab Spring’s benefits or believe that it was harmful.
  • Support for democracy and freedom of speech has weakened since the Arab Spring.
  • Increased support for women’s rights is key to consolidating democracy in Tunisia. Most analysts agree that Tunisia is the most progressive Arab country when it comes to upholding women’s rights. However, popular support for women’s rights is weak in Tunisia compared to such support in Indonesia, a non-Arab, Muslim-majority country at a similar level of economic development.
  • In Tunisia, support for democracy is not associated with gender but it increases significantly with age and education and is stronger in small towns than in big cities.

Recent terrorist attacks in Tunisia have led to crackdowns on Islamist groups, new restrictions on various democratic freedoms, and growing skepticism among Tunisians about the benefits of democracy. Just how deep the reaction will be and how long it will persist is unclear. It is evident, however, that the reaction represents another hurdle that Tunisian democracy will struggle to overcome. The door on democracy remains ajar in Tunisia but it will take much effort over many years to push it wide open and keep it in that position.

The Size of Others’ Burdens

ES bookProfessor Erik Schneiderhan has recently published a new book studying the tension that exists in American society between the ideals of individualism and the goal of helping others.

The publisher has this to say about Professor Schneiderhan’s book:

Americans have a fierce spirit of individualism. We pride ourselves on self-reliance, on bootstrapping our way to success. Yet, we also believe in helping those in need, and we turn to our neighbors in times of crisis. The tension between these competing values is evident, and how we balance between these competing values holds real consequences for community health and well-being. In his new book, The Size of Others’ Burdens, Erik Schneiderhan asks how people can act in the face of competing pressures, and explores the stories of two famous Americans to develop present-day lessons for improving our communities.

Although Jane Addams and Barack Obama are separated by roughly one hundred years, the parallels between their lives are remarkable: Chicago activists-turned-politicians, University of Chicago lecturers, gifted orators, crusaders against discrimination, winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Addams was the founder of Hull-House, the celebrated American “settlement house” that became the foundation of modern social work. Obama’s remarkable rise to the presidency is well known.

Through the stories of Addams’s and Obama’s early community work, Erik Schneiderhan challenges readers to think about how many of our own struggles are not simply personal challenges, but also social challenges. How do we help others when so much of our day-to-day life is geared toward looking out for ourselves, whether at work or at home? Not everyone can run for president or win a Nobel Prize, but we can help others without sacrificing their dignity or our principles. Great thinkers of the past and present can give us the motivation; Addams and Obama show us how. Schneiderhan highlights the value of combining today’s state resources with the innovation and flexibility of Addams’s time to encourage community building. Offering a call to action, this book inspires readers to address their own American dilemma and connect to community, starting within our own neighborhoods. See publisher’s page

Protesting Publics in South Korea

Jennifer_Chun-8In January 2011, Kim Jin-Suk a former welder and union activist, climbed atop Crane 85 located 35 meters above ground at a Hanjin shipyard near the Korean port city of Busan. There, she lived without running water and endured subzero temperatures and monsoon rains for ten consecutive months (309 days) to protest the layoff of 400 shipyard workers.

This year, Professor Jennifer Chun received a SSHRC Insight Grant to study people like Kim Jin-Suk. The project asks: Why do people engage in the kinds of public protest that involve exceptional sacrifice and a high level of social suffering?

Though her case is extreme, Jin-Suk is actually part of a broader trend that is particularly pronounced in South Korea where crackdowns against more traditional forms of labour activism have resulted in the emergence in new, highly dramatic forms of protest. In addition to people like Jin-Suk who protest alone, high above the ground, other protesters have engaged in solitary hunger strikes where one person is committed to the entire duration of the hunger strike, whilst other participants join the protest for part of the time. Yet others use Buddhist prostration rituals as a form of protest. One-person protests help evade legal prohibitions against political assembly by asserting the power of one where the one person is a single node in a long sequence of many.

By examining the cultivation of new protest practices during a period of intensifying inequality and market-driven change, Professor Chun is advancing understanding of the kinds of expectations and aspirations that motivate people to seek justice and the ways in which they connect individual experience with group suffering and public engagement.