Category Archives: Social Movements

“Entrench warfare” or “why I don’t bother with one-off trainings” #smugosphere #inertia

A few years ago I organised a one-off training session on research for activists. It went well and had … no discernible impact on how anyone did anything.  So it goes.  I reflected on this – and other training I have been part of as a punter. And I came to the conclusion that unless you are part of a group that values the new skill/knowledge, then whatever shiny new training you have been on will simply not become embedded, and you and your group will stick to what you know.  This is not a particularly startling observation.  But now at least I have a citation I can back it up with when I am whining about the smugosphere

It’s from a bloody brilliant paper –

Perkmann, M. and Spcier, A. 2008. How are management fashions institutionalized? The role of institutional work. Human Relations, Vol. 61 (6), pp.811-844.

This bit

Zeitz et al. (1999) distinguish between the transitory adoption of a practice and its enduring ‘entrenchment’. Entrenchment is defined as the institutionalization of a practice to the extent that it is unlikely to be abandoned. They argue that while the mere adoption of a practice indicates the exposure to a fashion, entrenchment is required to induce a lasting change of practice. They identify five ‘pillars’ by which a fashionable concept can become entrenched: models (spurring imitation), culture (promoting identification), education (again spurring imitation), regulative/coercive influences (exerting power) and technical-rational influences (providing recipes for improving performance). Assuming that such entrenchment can occur at different levels of analysis, from individual, organizational, interorganizational to the societal level, they propose a set of ‘indicators’ that can be used for empirically assessing as to whether a practice has become entrenched: formalization, compatibility (with other practices), depth, systematic coherence (with other concepts and strategies) and the existence of ‘webs of interdependencies’ (Zeitz et al., 1999).
(Perkmann and Spicer, 2008: 814/5)

And that citation is this – Zeitz, G., Mittal, V. & McAulay, B. Distinguishing adoption and entrenchment of management practices: A framework for analysis. Organization Studies, 1999, 20(5), 741–76.

So,  a while back there was talk of me doing a training or two with a group. But since only one person in that group knew me/valued the training, and he wasn’t going to be sticking around, (he and I) decided it was at best a waste of time, energy and morale for all concerned, and at worst actively harmful (destroys the credibility of innovation, turns it into a ritualistic set-up-to-fail thing).

Doomed, I tell you, all doomed.  So what.

Resources – tangible and intangible

“Resources can be tangible (e.g. equipment, machinery, finance, human resources) as well as intangible. Intangible resources include assets such as technological know-how, the status or reputation of an actor, its social contacts and network ties. Moreover, resources are conceptualized to be controlled not only by organizations but also by entire industries or emerging technological fields.”
(Farla et al. 2012: 994-5)

And what resources do social movements organisations have? What is their plan to increase those resources, to maintain them etc etc? If there are no good answers, just walk away. Or rather, if you ask the questions and get hostility, walk away. Or run – as you see fit.

Inscribed capacity described

“As Allen (1997) has shown, power can be conceptualized in a variety of ways – as an ‘inscribed capacity’, a collectively produced resource mobilized by groups to achieve particular ends, or as a mobile and diffuse phenomenon realized as a series of ‘strategies, techniques, and practices’.”
(Lawhon and Murphy, 2011: 367)

Who does the inscribing? On what material? Sand, paper?  (Latour’s immutable mobiles etc etc).

In invisible ink? On paper that crumbles?  It’s like a fountain, isn’t it – constantly needing new inputs to stay even looking the same, let alone get bigger.  Flows and nos…

And who says organise says tyrannise, according to Bob Michels, anyway… though Osterman, P. 2006. Overcoming oligarchy: culture and Agency in Social Movement Organisations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 1 (1), pp. 63-85 looks like it is worth a read…

“A case study of the Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation is used to examine how a mass-movement social organization has been able to avoid the consequences of an oligarchic leadership structure, which previous scholars have claimed leads inevitably to loss of membership commitment, “becalming,” and goal displacement. The case describes this network of community organizations, which has a very strong and self-perpetuating authority structure but has nonetheless maintained the commitment and involvement of its membership for many decades as it addresses issues such as school reform, living wages, training programs, health insurance, and physical community infrastructure. The case shows how the organization maintained its membership commitment and a clear focus on its original objectives by enhancing the membership’s sense of capacity and agency and building a culture of contestation within the organization that encourages the membership to push back against the elite who dominate the organization.”

Here’s an Allen reference that looks mighty fine. Probably #afterthethesis though…

The costs of collusion with activist bullshit and hype cycles

When a Shiny New Technology is being hyped, it’s in order to pump the stock up, or get venture capital.


That’s how the hype cycle game is played, and it happens among mostly consenting adults. Fair enough you might say. No hype and nothing gets done (maybe).
But when it comes to social movement hype cycles, the rules of the game should be different. We who know better (old farts, or well-read, or generally cynical) should not be enabling the bullshit artists, the naive or the self-aggrandizing sociopaths who promote themselves and their projects as the Next Big and Transformative Thing.

Why?  Because all that happens in a technological hype cycle is that some investors lose money, everyone dusts themselves off, picks themselves off and the game goes on.

But we have an emergency right now, [yes, it has always been an emergency somewhere – for any civilisation or other species that was coming into contact with whitey in the last 500 years for example- now it is planet-wide].  And that means that social movements cannot afford to lose 80 or 90% of their potential recruits in the aftermath of stupidly hyped events/’projects’ which lead to  the dashing of (unrealistic) expectations. The clocks are ticking, and we really really don’t have time for a new generation of potential activists to grow up, or for the burnt-out ones to lick their wounds and forget enough of the last hype cycle to get cautiously involved in the next one.

After a hype cycle people become more cynical, less available for a decent group/project.

And the cynicism ramifies and extends further, to their friends and friends of friends.

We cannot afford this.  We have to call bullshit.  We can’t just say ‘that’s how life works’.

Because it’s not us – comfortable middle-class Westerners with water coming out of our taps and electricity coming out of our sockets, with something vaguely approaching the rule of law and freedom of speech who will suffer in the next twenty years.*  We have a very slender opportunity to create the psychological/social infrastructure for SOME sort of tolerable ‘civilized’ life for some of our species and perhaps reduce the apocalypse of the Sixth Great Extinction.  But that slender opportunity only exists if we refuse to collude in the propagation of shite.


* After that, of course, all bets are off.

Podcast on #Australia #climate policy #auspol

The very cool people at Beyond Zero Emissions, on 3CR (community radio in Melbourne)  interviewed in November.  Here’s a link to their page about it. (it’s cut and paste below)

BZE radio talks to Marc Hudson:

Marc is studying the strategic responses of the Australian coal industry to the challenge of climate change. He is in the final year of a PhD at the Sustainable Consumption Institute: Manchester University. Marc is a regular contributor to The Conversation.

BZE Technology Radio Show: 11 Nov 2016: Podcast:

A historical perspective of contradictory statements from politicians and bureaucrats.

Marc talked about:

  • Coal usage in Australia from soon after White settlement, and the rapidly expanding export of coal to Japan from the late 1950s onwards, which was important for Japan as it rebuilt after World War Two.  Japan was the single most important market until the late 1990s, and is still very important.
  • China becoming a market for Australian coal from 2008 – but these exports have been decreasing as China produces most of its own coal, and is recognising coal as a health risk, and a political one, due to air quality in Chinese cities.
  • The chopping and changing of Australian climate policy, with dizzying peaks and troughs, alongside the basic bipartisan support for increasing coal exports
  • Prime Minister Julia Gillard and our short lived carbon pricing,
  • Malcolm Turnbull’s overt support for renewables until he became prime minister,
  • The election of climate denier Malcolm Roberts of One Nation to the Senate
  • The appointment of climate denier Craig Kelly as Chair of the Federal Environment Energy Committee.
  • The Australian recent ratification of the Paris agreements
    The current Morocco conference
  • The election of Trump in the US
  • Australian climate change activism.

Further reading

Out of step: marching for climate justice versus taking action
(The Conversation: Marc Hudson: 27 Nov 2015)

The sound of silence: why has the environment vanished from election politics?
(The Conversation: Marc Hudson: 23 June 2016)

Beyond Zero Emissions interviewers: Kay Wennagel, Michael Staindl, Natalie Bucknell

Broadcast from Radio 3CR in Melbourne, Australia

Based on a write up by Bev McIntyre

Sexism and social movements….

‘Sexism isn’t the problem: anyone can talk when they want to,” declared one man. “It’s just that some of us have had more experience and can talk more easily in groups.”

“We all support women’s liberation,” chimed in another man.

Around the room, reactions spanned a wide range: resentment, distraction, passive interest, eagerness and anxiousness.

At last week’s meeting, one woman confronted the men with her frustration at their domination of the group. A couple of people had supported her, but most seemed unaware or remained passive. Defensive anger had surfaced in several of the men, despite their best intentions.

The woman who spoke out last week is absent tonight. The group has been dwindling in size since shortly after its founding last year. Many excited newcomers have attended one or two meetings and never returned. Others stuck it out for months before fading away. The group of some 30 members has shrunk to half of that; of the original 15 women, five remain.


A hypothetical situation – but a real problem, and all too familiar to those of us who have participated in progressive organizations.

And this quote is from  the first version of ‘Overcoming masculine Oppression in Mixed Groups’ by Bill Moyer, Bruce Kokopeli, Alan Tuttle, and George Lakey.  Published in… 1977. Oh, how very very far we have come.  Not.

What do we want?  Grumpy old men at the National Library of Australia (book launch!)

What do We Want?Last night at the National Library of Australia two grumpy old men talked about social movements and protest.  That doesn’t sound too enthralling, does it? But the event – hosted by the NLA, and the launch of the book “What Do We Want: the story of protest in Australia”    was a thoughtful, passionate and even (perhaps!) inspiring event.

After the normal welcomes and acknowledgement of country, Clive Hamilton took to the podium to graciously list all the people who’d been involved in the realisation of the rather beautiful book (think a cross between a solid piece of academic research and a coffee table book, lavishly illustrated with brilliant photos and images; I only don’t have a copy because if I bring one more book home, the Amazing Wife will d.i.v.o.r.c.e me).  He admitted that three years ago he’d turned down the initial suggestion he write it, but a month later changed his mind, and was very glad, having ‘never had so much fun in the writing and selecting images’.  He especially thanked the NLA staff and his research assistant Jemma Williams.

Hamilton then sat and had a conversation about the book and the history of Australian social movements/protests and their impacts with Jack Waterford, a journo and raconteur.  The two have known each other since the Vietnam War Moratorium mobilisations in 1970, recalling that a senior Liberal politician characterised the marchers as ‘political bikies pack-raping democracy’).  Waterford riffed on this, invoking the Marlon Brando movie ‘The Wild Ones’ and the famous ‘what are you rebelling against/what have you got?’ line.

The conversation ranged freely, and it’s impossible to capture the nuance. So, some bullet points-

  • Hamilton pointed out that all movements have a cautious ‘don’t scare the horses/let’s show how respectable wing’’ and a ‘we’re sick of waiting’ wing, and that over time the cautious wing (institutioanlised, funded) has won out.
  • Waterford responded to this with reminisces of the ‘Black Power’ rhetoric and imagery of some indigenous activists (see here too), and how in response the mainstream papers were suddenly saying ‘yes, Aborigines have legitimate grievances x, y and z, but this is too much’ – where previously grievances x,y and z had not been admitted.  [Another example of what the pointy-headed academics who study this stuff call ‘the radical flank effect’]
  • In a conversation about a possible lack of humour/mockery in the movements nowadays “BUGA Up” (which the author remembers well) were billboard defacers from Sydney, who took careful and accurate aim at the tobacco and drinks industries.  Nowadays it’d be called ‘culture jamming’.  Personally, I was always more astonished by the ‘Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’.
  • Waterford reminisced about a magistrate (Pat O’Shane, my squiggles say) acquitting protesters who had been charged with defacing advertisements by agreeing that indeed yes, the adverts were sexist.
  • Hamilton offered ‘three cheers for political correctness’, tracing its roots back to the (self-mocking) days when Maoists carried around their little red book, pointing out that it’s about showing respect and not being a douche (my words), no matter how the term has been hijacked by the right as a handy tool of opprobrium.
  • Hamilton pointed out that while the left won the ‘cultural’ battles, the right has won the economic arguments [up to – and weirdly beyond – 2008].  Of the five movements he covers in the book – peace, feminism, LGBT, indigenous and environment) they both agreed that the LGBT has been the most successful.  In talking about the George Duncan case (a gay law lecturer killed by off duty police in Adelaide when they threw him in the Torrens, not realising he couldn’t swim), Waterford pointed out that it was the editor of the ANU’s student newspaper, Woroni, who went to Adelaide, came back to Canberra and wrote a piece naming names who got things moving. His story was then picked up by the Adelaide Advertiser (back then, still a proper newspaper) and pressure mounted for something to be done.  There was an interesting discussion about Hanson’s One Nation, Trump and Brexiters as a response to the cultural changes (from the left) and the economic changes (‘economic rationalism/neoliberalism’) people feeling disorientated and not consulted on these changes.
  • Waterford pointing out that in 1981/2 John Howard, in the Liberal Cabinet, was challenging Malcolm Fraser’s position on apartheid (Fraser was up for sanctions, Howard wasn’t).  He pointed out that the culture wars are unable to turn the clock fully back, but the right-wing culture warriors have become adept at throwing a dead cat into the room to cause outrage, and that Howard was good at creating distractions (getting the Age to fulminate about the wrong thing).
  • The final topic was the fraught one of how social media does (not) help with changing minds and mobilising.  Clicktivism etc etc.  Hamilton urged protestors to take a risk and have a sense of humour.  Hamilton suggested that if the Galilee Basin goes ahead (and the Queensland government seems very determined then the protests may outstrip the Franklin Dam protests. We shall see…

While they spoke, dozens of images from the book were flashed up behind them, an inducement – if any were required – for the large (and largely grey) audience to part with some of their super for a super book.


There was only time for three questions, sadly.  The first came from Blair Palese of She asked if the attacks on charities today are unprecedented.

Waterford thought they were, but argued that the ‘left’ had set themselves up for it by accepting government cash.  Hamilton recalled that after he gave a critical speech at an event 15 or so years ago, a government minister had approached one of the event’s organisers and said ‘why do you bite the hand that feeds you’.

[FWIW, I would argue that while the attacks are bigger, the 2002-4 efforts by the Howard government, where they hired the IPA to be their goons in an attack on charitable status, are a fair precursor.]

The second question was on the Iraq War demonstrations of 2003, and their effect, given how much bigger they were than the Vietnam War protests.

Hamilton talked about how governments are now more adept at handling these things, and Wateford pointed out that the difference was the Vietnam War had actually been popular until the late 60s, with the ALP getting slaughtered on the issue in the 1966 Federal election.

The final question (from me) was about hope – I said that it had been possible to believe you could transform/democratise the State, but now, with the juggernaut of climate change as well, things looked bleak – what would you say to someone who said ‘why bother?’

Waterford admitted that a council of despair is possible, but we must remember that movements DO sometimes succeed.  He also lamented the lack of charismatic politicians in Australia of late, with Pauline Hanson about as ‘good’ as it gets.

Hamilton made a good observation, using feminism as an example.  After first wave feminism won the vote, things went quiet, but there was still activity (what the social movements guys call ‘abeyance).  And if you could speak to a feminist activist in 1960, they would say ‘nothing is going to change, the patriarchy is too entrenched, there’s no hope’

That was a wrap, and then there was wine and (too few!) nibbles upstairs.  Future events at the NLA look good (see here).   Call me a crushing snob – Jodi Piccoult?!

Addendum – What DO we need, then?
I was unconvinced by the answer to my question.  Charismatic leaders are a perhaps necessary but certainly not sufficient answer to the ‘what do we need’ question.  I think we need social movement organisations that are capable of growing, learning, organising and winning.  That are capable of not becoming dependent on either the State’s money (always with strings, and the strings can become a noose) or its good graces.  That are capable of escaping the stale repertoires of marches and rallies and other emotathons.  That are able to escape the smugosphere – where things are done not because they might succeed, but because they are in the comfort zone of organisers looking to attain or sustain their status within their own particular mileu.

We need movements where people can stick around, and WANT to stick around, even when they become busier with kids/sick parents/heavy workloads, where they are able to exercise the skills and knowledge they have and acquire NEW skills and knowledge.  Here’s a blog post about how a social movement organisation could –  in a fun way – go about identifying skills and knowledge that it had and that people in a room wanted…. See also here.

All the while, of course, the carbon dioxide accumulates.  (The Australian centre that measures that accumulation has the appropriate name Cape Grim.)

Other books readers may find useful

Verity Bergmann’s 1993. Power and Protest: Movemetns for Change in Australian Society.  I haven’t read  Power, Profit & Protest: Australian Social Movements and Globalisation, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2003, but it is probably very good!

Allen, Y and Noble, J. 2016. Breaking the Boundaries: Australian activists tell their stories. Adelaide: Wakefield Press