Ethnic Dimensions in Social Movements

Majority and minority protest movements have some structural differences and coalitions between majorities and minorities are fraught with difficulties.

I’ve posted what I hope is close to the final version of my “Ethnic Dimensions in Social Movements” paper on SocArXiv while it awaits review for publication. It began life as a sprawling discussion of race/ethnicity and social movement theory and is still pretty sprawling, but is now down to what I think is a pretty respectable paper that makes some important arguments in three parts:

  1. Race/ethnicity always matters because states are constructed along racial/ethnic lines. In the Americans generally and the US specifically, race is an axis of domination because the US state was built as a White settler colonial nation that conquered and displaced indigenous people, enslaved Africans, and conquered and colonized Northern Mexico, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, the Philippines, and other islands. Whites became and stayed a majority due to conscious immigration policies that welcomed European immigrants but banned or discouraged Asian, Latin American, and African immigration. The majority is in a structural position of domination because that is the way the institutions of government were set up, institutional logics embody the interests of the majority, and majority voters can and do vote to discriminate against minorities. Politicians seeking electoral majorities are more likely to appeal to majority ethnic identities.
  2. Race/ethnicity can (and in the US has) take on the structure of intergenerational segregated networks that create distinct universes of discourse, foster ethnic/racial identities, and lead to segmented and segregated patterns of mobilization. Minority movements are more likely to be coercively repressed both because they are weaker and because their lower network ties to the larger society reduces the potential for backlash against their repression.
  3. Majority, minority, and mixed-majority movements have different dynamics. Majority movements are structurally stronger for the above reasons. Apart from overt White nationalist movements, there is a frequent tendency for White movements organized along different axes (gender, class, populist) to take on an anti-minority dimension and even when they do not do that, they tend to be “clueless” about minority issues. “Issue” movements among the majority are more likely to be organized along associational rather than community lines. Minority movements are more likely to be organized along community lines and to build on oppositional cultures, but have to overcome cultures of subordination. Mixed majority-minority movements have lots of tensions (which I outline).


I hope you’ll check it out.

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