Textbook Notes (368,720)
Canada (162,105)
Sociology (1,053)
SOCA02H3 (310)
Chapter 21


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Sheldon Ungar

WEEK 11: CHAPTER 21 (COLLECTIVE ACTION AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS) How to Spark a Riot The Study of Collective Action and Social Movements  Under what social conditions do people act in unison to change, or resist change to, society?  Collective action occurs when people act in unison to bring about or resist social, political, and economic change o Some collective actions are “routine” which tend to be nonviolent and follow established patterns of behaviour in bureaucratic social structures (i.e., MADD) and others are “non-routine” which tends to be short-lived and sometimes violent (i.e., mobs and riots) o It is widely believed that people who engage in non-routine collective action lose their individuality and capacity for reason  However, this deflects attention from the social organization and inner logic of extraordinary sociological events  Social movements are collective attempts to change all or part of the political or social order by means of rioting, petitioning, striking, demonstrating, and establishing pressure groups, unions, and political parties o Much of the history of social movements is the history of attempts by underprivileged groups to broaden their members’ citizenship rights and increase the scope of protest from the local to the national to the global level Non-Routine Collective Action The Vancouver Riot of 1907  A.E. Fowler reinforced and inflamed prejudice toward the Chinese, starting an uncontrollable riot in Chinatown, hurling insults, throwing rocks through windows, and beating and occasionally stabbing any Chinese people who were unable to flee or hide  According to the papers, the riot resulted less from local social conditions than from the incitement of foreign hoodlums, the half-crazed Fowler foremost among them o The newspapers suggested good white Canadian citizens could not be responsible for such an outrage Breakdown Theory: A Functionalist Approach to Collective Action  Until 1970, sociologists believed that one of three conditions must be met for non-routine collective action to emerge o A group of people must be socially marginal or poorly integrated in society o Their norms must be strained or disrupted o They must lose their capacity to act rationally by getting caught up in the supposedly inherent madness of crowds  Breakdown theory suggests that social movements emerge when traditional norms and patterns of social organization are disrupted o Variant of functionalism, for it regards collective action as a form of social imbalance that results from various institutions functioning improperly  Pre-1970 sociologists would have said that the Vancouver riot was caused by one or more of the following factors o The discontent of socially marginal people – “foreign agitators”  Breakdown theorists often single out such socially marginal people, outside agitators as a principle cause of riots and other forms of collective action o Violation of norms (sometimes called a strain – breakdowns in traditional norms that precede collective action)  Two norms were violated: cultural and economic. Asians were regarded as a threat to cultural integrity  According to breakdown theorists, it is not grinding poverty or, absolute deprivation (condition of extreme poverty), that generates riots so much as relative deprivation – an intolerable gap between the social rewards people feel they deserve and the social rewards they expect to receive o Inherent irrationality of crowd behaviour – in a crowd an individual is transformed into a “barbarian” a “creature acting by instinct possessing the “spontaneity, violence, and ferocity” of “primitive beings”  Le Bon argues that this transformation occurs because people lose their individuality and willpower when they join a crowd and gain a sense of invincible group power that derives from the crowd’s sheer size  Called the Contagion Theory Assessing Breakdown Theory  Social Marginality o In most cases of collective action, leaders and early joiners tend to be well-integrated members of their communities, not socially marginal outsiders  Contagion o Non-routine collective action is usually socially structured by the predispositions that unite crowd members and predate their collective action o Socially structured by ideas and norms that emerge in the crowd itself o Structured by the degree to which different types of participants adhere to emergent and pre-existing norms o Pre-existing social relationships among participants structure non-routine collective action  Strain o Post-1970 research shows that, in general, levels of deprivation are not commonly associated with the frequency or intensity of outbursts of collective action o Deprivation may be viewed as a necessary, but not sufficient condition o The Vancouver riot was ultimately the result of the way social life and, in particular, the labour market were organized in the city  Collective action is often not a short-term reaction to disorganization and deprivation. Instead, it is a long-term attempt to correct perceived injustice that requires a sound social-organizational basis Social Movement  Social movements emerge from collective action only when the discontented succeed in building up a more or less stable membership and organizational base o They typically move from an exclusive focus on short-lived actions to more enduring and routine activities (i.e., establishing a public bureau, founding a newspaper, etc) Solidarity Theory: A Conflict Approach  Social breakdown often does not have the expected short-term effect because several social- structural factors modify the effects of social breakdown on collective action  Solidarity Theory suggests that social movements are social organizations that emerge when potential members can mobilize resources, take advantage of new political opportunities, and avoid high levels of social control by authorities  Resource mobilization refers to the process by which social movement crystallize because of the increasing organizational, material, and other resources of movement members (i.e. French unionization)  Political opportunities for collective action and social movement growth occur during election campaigns, when influential allies offer insurgents support, when ruling political alignments become unstable, and when elite groups become divided and conflict with one another  Social control refers to methods of ensuring conformity, for example, the means by which authorities seek to contain collective action through co-operation, concessions, and coercion Strikes and the Union Movement in Canada  When blue-collar and white-collar workers go out on strike, they withhold their labour to extract concessions from employers of governments in the form of higher wages an improved social welfare benefits Resource Mobilization  Research shows that in Canada between mid-1940s and the mid-1970s, strike activity was high when unemployment was low, union membership was high, and governments were generous in their provision of social welfare benefits  Workers are inclined to strike when business activity is robust because they know employers and governments can afford to make concessions  A high level of unionization is also conducive to more strike activity because unions provide workers with leadership, strike funds, and coordination  Strong social ties among workers and access to jobs and money increase challenges to authority  In the 1970s, Canada was the most strike prone country in the world because it as a period of prosperity, low unemployment, expanding state benefits and increasing unionization o In 1973 when economic crisis struck, inflation increased and unemployment rose creating a heavy burden that the government felt obliged o cut various social welfare programs, introduce laws and regulations limiting the right of some workers to strip and putting a cap on the wage gains that workers could demand o Strike action was made more difficult after the free trade deal was signed in 1994  It was possible for some workers to threaten to relocate in the face of protracted strikes Political Opportunities  Opportunities for union growth are lower when privileged groups are socially cohesive and are backed by strong institutions  Union density is the number of union members in a given location as a percentage of non- agricultural workers. It measures the organizational power of unions o In 2009, 29.9% of non-agricultural employees were members of a union because the NDP used its political leverage to convince the government to extend full union rights to public-sector workers, including the right to strike and bargain collectively  Union density increased after the mid-1960s because political forces mad unions attractive vehicles for furthering workers’ interests  The union movement has been more successful in Canada than in the United State
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