The Centre on Social Movement Studies


Robert Fishman – “Mechanisms of social movement success: conversation, displacement and disruption”

On February 16th, at 5 p.m., Robert Fishman (Universidad Carlos III, Ma­drid), will discuss his work entitled: Mechanisms of social movement success: conversation, displacement and disruption

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A great deal of social movement scholarship tends to as­sume – and in some cases explicitly argues – that disrup­tion is the primary mechanism through which protest move­ments win major concessions from the holders of power. Nonetheless, some studies and much empirical evidence provide a strong basis to argue that other paths to social movement success also exist. The importance of discourse and framing has also been highlighted in a number of stud­ies but we argue that the full contribution of talk itself to movement success is best captured through the concept of “conversation” and an examination of the preconditions for its viability. The successful displacement of power-holders by protest movements, although a less common pathway to success than disruption and conversation, also deserves conceptual and empirical attention. In this paper we make this set of distinctions conceptually explicit, differentiating analytically between these three mechanisms of movement success and delineating the conditions required for each mechanism to prove viable and ‘useful’. We rely on exten­sive examples drawn from movements and protest events in the United States, Spain and Portugal, using this empirical material, as well as the existing theoretical literature, as our basis for constructing a conceptual argument on the ideal typical distinction between these three mechanisms and the conditions that allow them to operate. We also take up the questions of whether, and when, movement actors can successfully combine these mechanisms or – alternatively – find themselves pressed to pursue one or another of these pathways to success in a relatively ‘pure’ form.

ROBERT M. FISHMAN, CONEX-Marie Curie Professor of Po­litical Science and Sociology at the Universidad Carlos III (Ma­drid), previously taught at the University of Notre Dame and at Harvard University. He works on interconnections between politics and culture, inequality and political inclusion, social movements and democracy – adopting a historical approach to the analysis of these themes. His articles have appeared in the American Sociological Review, World Politics, Annual Review of Political Science, Politics and Society, the Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Comparative Politics, Studies in Comparative International Development and other scholarly journals as well as the New York Times and other newspapers. Fishman’s books include Democracy’s Voices (2004), winner in 2005 of Honorable Mention for Best Book from the American Sociological Association’s Section on Political Sociology. He is currently writing a book onDemocratic Practice: Origins of the Iberian Divide in Political Inclusion



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