Research on Collective Action, Protests, and Social Movements

My recent work has focused on racial disparities in imprisonment, which you can see in the “racial disparities” section of this web site.

I’m continuing to revise my draft paper “The Ethnic Dimensions in Social Movements.” This is the version that was submitted in January 2016 to the American Sociological Association meeting in August 2016. If you are interested in this paper, please check back for another revision of that paper in the summer of 2016. Abstract: This paper develops a conception of three “ethnic” dimensions derived from scholarship on the social construction of race and ethnicity: domination hierarchies, network relations, and intergenerationality. These abstract “ethnic” dimensions both are critical axes of analysis for all social movements and provide a theoretical account of when and how “ethnic” differences are central axes of movement mobilization. “Ethnic” distinctions, which include ethnicity, race, nationality, caste, language group and sometimes religion or clan, are distinguished from other axes of difference by intergenerational inheritance, ascription, childhood socialization into group membership, and ties to kinship. Some “ethnic” divisions are tied to the deepest foundations of modern nation-states. “Ethnicity” matters when ethnic boundaries are relatively sharp, consequential, and highly correlated with domination structures and social networks. Strong “ethnic” boundaries divide societies into majorities and minorities. Regardless of whether their goals are group-oriented or issue-oriented, all movements have an “ethnic” dimension in the sense that they draw from or map onto one or more ethnic groups. Movements arising from “ethnic” majorities have different dynamics from movements by “ethnic” minorities or mixed-ethnic movements. Processes of group formation derived from theories of the social construction of ethnicity illuminate other movement-relevant group formation processes, including class formation and politicial subcultures. Lying at the intersection of the sociology of social movements and the sociology of race and ethnicity, the “ethnic” dimensions are revealed as a lens for understanding the general problems of group and identity formation and collective mobilization that lie at the heart of both areas.

The PowerPoint slides for my talk “The Ethnic Dimensions: Bringing ethnic divisions & conflict to the center of social movement theory” given at Notre Dame on May 5, 2012 on the occasion of my receiving the John D. McCarthy Award for lifetime achivement in social movements. Here is a PDF of the slides. This is a text write up of the talk.


My paper, “Repression and Crime Control: Why Social Movements Scholars Should Pay Attention to Mass Incarceration as a Form of Repression,” a revision of the paper I presented at the Social Movements Workshop August 9, 2007, explains the link between these two lines of work.


My paper “Talking About Racial Disparities in Imprisonment,” presented at the meeting of the International Sociological Association in Durban, South Africa on July 24, 2006, is in revision for publication in Handbook of Public Sociology, edited by Vincent Jeffries. It discusses my experiences in doing public sociology.


My recent work on research on protests and social movements falls into two somewhat-overlapping projects :

  1. empirical studies of the interrelations of protests, news coverage, and political processes and
  2. development of formal models of the coevolution of social movements and cycles of protest.

Note: work on these projects summarized on this page was supported in part by NSFgrants #SBR9819884, SBR 96-01409 and SBR 95-11748. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


Diffusion and Coevolution Models of Protest

This project involves reframing social movements as coevolving systems of protest, politics, and news coverage. Papers and models are in process.


Critical Mass Theory

My older work on selective incentives and my work with Gerald Marwell on the Critical Mass shows how the problem of collective action cannot be reduced to a problem of individual decision-making but requires a theory of group structure and group coordination and must take account of group heterogeneity. This work is summarized in the collection of abstracts.


The Content and Timing of Media Coverage of Message Events: Cycles and Comparisons

For this project, we have collected data on public events (including protests) from multiple police agencies in Madison, Wisconsin, and searched local newspaper archives to determine which received news coverage. Current work focuses on determining whether protest affects media coverage of issues.


Other Research and Writing About Protest & Social Movements


Protest Research Links

This is a collection of links to organizations that study protest and to collections of information about protest.


Mobilization Links

An incomplete and ad hoc list of protest mobilizing sites.