Interviewing Dissent: Outlining the Third Section of my Exploration into New Social Movements

This weekend, I began reading the “Strategy of Social Protest” by William Gamson. He analyzes a random sample of 53 American social movements between 1800 and 1945 that fit into what he defines as an “opposing group.” He seems to be focusing on mainly the outcomes, and has distinct categories for measuring when a group can be considered “successful” in their challenge of a defined antagonist. While this work certainly provides a foundational backbone for the sociological study of social movements, it needs to be complemented by an interactional study of the micro-processes that comprise a social movement, including the role of culture and the frames of the individual protesters.

So far, the outline of my project includes a content analysis of virtual spaces and participant observation of material spaces. However, these material and virtual worlds are inseparable, linked by the networks joining all actors involved I agree with what Castells’ statement from “Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age”:

“In our society, the public space of social movements is constructed as a hybrid space between the Internet social networks and the occupied urban space; connecting cyberspace and urban space in relentless interaction, constituting technologically and culturally, instant communities of transformative practice.” (11)

While the first two sections would certainly assist in my analysis of this “hybrid space” and it’s components, I felt that I needed a third section of my project to bridge the virtual and material worlds. Thus, I will be doing an interview project to supplement the social media analysis and street protest ethnography that comprise the other sections of this project.

I am interested in exploring the subjective experiences of activists involved in the new social movements at protests and rallies in material space, as well as their habits and practices in virtual activist spaces. Exploring the frames of individual participants will provide deeper insight into the subjective meanings and experiences that they create through virtual and material interactions in activist spaces. While I am starting off focusing on participants in the movement pushing for a $15 minimum wage, I hope to eventually expand the scope of my analysis to capture a more general but thick experience of being an activist in the 21st century.

My interview project has multiple objectives. First, I aim to understand how participants define terms which are shared among members of the movement, including general codes like community and solidarity, as well as more specific terms which are frequently used by members of the $15 per hour minimum wage movement. I will need to conduct a content analysis on materials distributed and shared by the movement before I decide what specific terms to include. Comparing the responses of different members will be useful for determining if these meanings are generally agreed upon or if there are variations in their subjective understanding. I also strive to find out where participants have seen these words in relation to the movement, which will help uncover how terms become shared among those involved and which mediums are most vital to the creation and diffusion of these codes.

Another important objective of the interview aspect of my project is to uncover the presence of the movement in the lives of participants. Specifically, I am interested in how these activists use the Internet in their everyday lives, both in relation to the movement and in general. Thus, I ask questions about their internet habits, especially how they use social networks and blogs, which are two popular virtual activist spaces. This is vital for studying these movements as digital networks provide mobilization opportunities which connect events and other interactions in material spaces. To complement this focus on daily Internet usage, I want to uncover the subjective experience of the participants at protests, rallies, and other events. The participants should provide at least one description of an event that they’ve attended including what their role was and how the event made them feel.

A third objective of this section of my project is to uncover how the activists view themselves in relation to the movement. What do they perceive to be their role in the struggle? What do they value as their major contributions? Included in this objective are questions regarding how activists view the movement and it’s future goals. What is their definition of ‘success’ in terms of the struggle for $15 per hour? What are their hopes for the future of the movement? Do they have any broader goals as an activist?

While these first three objectives are indeed vital in uncovering the essence of 15 Now and related group, there is another important topic which must be explored more fully to capture the effects of movement mobilization. I will be asking each participant how they became involved in the movement. This will provide insight into which tactics are successful in bringing in new members. I also want to inquire about how the participant first heard about the movement, and focus on the process of how they became more deepl involved.

Finally, I want to study how radicalization efforts affect participants on an interactional level. Have they become more involved over the trajectory of the movement? What are their motivations for staying engaged in the struggle? How do they think that their personal views have changed over the course of their involvement? This will put the focus on the movement’s efforts to radicalize participants into becoming more dedicated and committed to taking action.

I think that this initial outline provides an adequate starting point. The next question to consider in a future entry would be specific methods on how to conduct these interviews. Should these be voice recorded, in-person interviews with activists? What about an open ended survey that is posted to virtual spaces which are vital to the movement? How will I find these participants and what paths should be taken to begin this exploration into the subjective experience of new social movements?

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