Category Archives: Social Movements

On anxiety, social class and who feels comfortable at “top-down” meetings

On anxiety, social class and who feels comfortable at “top-down” meetings

Published on 15 Dec 2013

Some not quite fully thought through speculations. As well as social class, of course, there’s gender, ethnicity, age, ideology to put into the mix. But as an initial stab at answering the question “why are people content to continue with formats that encourage and enforce passivity, even when they proclaim the importance of activity and participation?”, then it will do. For now.

“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.

hypecycle

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.