The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements

The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements

The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements

The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements

Synopsis

In The Art of Moral Protest, James Jasper integrates diverse examples of protest--from nineteenth-century boycotts to recent movements--into a distinctive new understanding of how social movements work. Jasper highlights their creativity, not only in forging new morals but in adopting courses of action and inventing organizational forms. "A provocative perspective on the cultural implications of political and social protest."--Library Journal

Excerpt

For a long time, most scholars of protest were skeptical that anything of interest went on inside people's heads. Grievances were always present, and so could not explain the rise and fall of social movements, which were determined by "objective" factors such as resources and political structures. Recently, an explosion of work from a cultural perspective, or demanding a cultural perspective, has yielded insights that cannot be ignored. Too often in this reassessment, though, scholars have reduced culture to a few variables to be added to models alongside more structural (read "objective") factors, without using this new viewpoint to rethink existing findings and theories. For example, are political opportunity structures objectively there, independent of people's interpretations and definitions of them, so that those interpretations can be either accurate or inaccurate? Is rationality a set process, from which culture occasionally causes people to deviate? Are resources independent of what people think about them, and how they decide to use them? Do social networks matter beyond the meanings and affective loyalties they represent?

Culture consists of discrete, measurable items, such as beliefs or rituals, but it is also a filter through which all action occurs. It should not be contrasted with structural factors, because it is fused with them. Cultural sensibilities and processes help define the most "objective" factors as well as subjective ones, but the continual presence of culture need not make it invisible. We can discern its various components and dimensions, isolate it analytically from the resources and political structures it helps to define, and see how it varies across social contexts. It is amenable to rigorous definition, observation, and argumentation.

A concern with mental life leads not only to culture but to individuals, with their complex biographies, personalities, and idiosyncracies. They matter enormously to protest, especially when they found new groups or make key strategic decisions. Sometimes they even protest on their own, outside of organized groups. Then there are the issues . . .

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