New Dimensions of Social Movement/countermovement Interaction: The Case of Scientology and Its Internet Critics

By Peckham, Michael | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

New Dimensions of Social Movement/countermovement Interaction: The Case of Scientology and Its Internet Critics


Peckham, Michael, Canadian Journal of Sociology


* I would like to thank Stephen A. Kent for his suggestions and assistance with the preparation of the manuscript. I also wish to thank Susan A. McDaniel, Nico Stehr, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. Thanks also to Joane Martel for the abstract translation and Jeff Bowlby for stylistic suggestions.

Abstract The interaction between social movements and countermovements is a key aspect of resource mobilization theory, yet researchers have devoted comparatively little study to it. This article uses the conflict between Scientology and its Internet critics as a case study in movement/countermovement interaction, concentrating on resource deprivation and damaging actions. The uniqueness of Internet communication, however, requires adjustments to traditional resource mobilization theory in order to theorize this conflict, and this article proposes two refinements. First, the study of Internet movement/countermovement interaction involves the displacement of the normally-central role of the state in resource mobilization theory. Second, a rethinking of the definition of resources to include "virtual" resources facilitates movement/countermovement analysis on the Internet.

Resume: L'interaction entre les movements sociaux et les contre-mouvements est au fondement meme de la theorie sur la mobilisation des ressources, pourtant les chercheur-e-s y consacrent relativement peu d'attention. Cet article utilise le conflit entre la Scientologie et ses critiques internautes a titre d'etude de cas des interactions entre mouvements et contre-mouvements et s'interesse particulierement a la privation des ressources ainsi qu'aux actions prejudiciables. Cependant, le caractere unique de la communication internaute necessite d'ajuster l'elaboration traditionnelle de la theorie sur la mobilisation des ressources de maniere a expliquer ce conflit particulier. Le present article propose donc deux rafinements importants a la theorie. D'abord, l'etude de l'interaction internaute entre les mouvements et les contre-mouvements necessite un deplacement du role habituellement central devolu a l'Etat dans la theorie sur la mobilisation des ressouces. Ensuite, l'inclusion des ressources "virtuelles" dans la definition meme du concept de ressources facilite l'analyse de l'Internet en termes de mouvements/contre-mouvements.

Introduction

In the 1970s, McCarthy and Zald (1973, 1977) formulated a new approach to theorizing social movements and participation in political activism. Resource mobilization theory was a response to social psychological theories that focused on grievances and viewed movements as collective identities (Eyerman and Jamison, 1991: 13; Stotik et al, 1994). The resource mobilization approach contextualized people's actions in a rational choice framework (Stotik et al, 1994), and the theory postulated that much of a social movement's activity involves procuring and organizing resources in order to maintain its viability and effect social change (Zald and McCarthy, 1987). Researchers have used resource mobilization to study all manner of social and political movements such as environmentalism (Kaminstein, 1995), "fathers' rights" groups (Bertoia and Drakich, 1993; Coltrane and Hickman, 1992), religious movements (Bird and Westley, 1988; Bromley, 1985), and abortion rights (Staggenborg, 1988).

A central but largely unexplored feature of resource mobilization theory is its treatment of opposition among social movements (Meyer and Staggenborg, 1996). (1) As one social movement begins mobilizing resources toward its goals, individuals and institutions who oppose those goals or whose resources are threatened coalesce around opposing goals into countermovements. The movement in favour of unrestricted access to abortion clinics, for example, faces opposition from the "pro-life" movement (Meyer and Staggenborg, 1996). Movement/countermovement interaction involves one group mobilizing resources to meet its own agenda while at the same time countering the actions of the opposing movement. …

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