Protest and Politics: The Promise of Social Movement Societies

Protest and Politics: The Promise of Social Movement Societies

Howard Ramos and Kathleen Rodgers, Editors

Reviewed by Miriam Smith

Over the last ten years, Canada has seen recurring waves of protest including Occupy, Idle No More, and Black Lives Matter, among others. This collection provides an account of the role of protest in contemporary politics in Canada in comparative perspective and includes sixteen chapters that cover both the sociological study of social movements as well as empirical topics ranging from the environment and human rights to the role of the state and the policing of protest. Some of the topics are unique to this volume and provide coverage that is not easily found elsewhere. For example, there are chapters on protests over the oil sands, immigrant mobilization, and the deployment of festivals as protest by the creative class.

The collection is centred on an examination of the thesis of the social movement society, pioneered in American sociology by Meyer and Tarrow, updated for this volume by Meyer and Pullum who contribute a chapter updating the original ideas. According to this thesis, social movement protest is an increasingly common and regularized feature of conventional politics, rather than an outside or insurgent phenomenon. In their opening chapter, Ramos and Rodgers consider the thesis as applied to Canada and rightly point out the impact of the state on social movements in Canada, especially with respect to federal funding of various social movement organizations. One of the strengths of the volume is the examination of the shifts in federal policies on advocacy during the Harper period, including a chapter by Corrigall-Brown and Ho which empirically examines the evolution of environmental groups from the Martin to the Harper periods.

While the authors mention the plural nature of Canadian society and Dominque Masson’s chapter specifically explores the pattern of state-movement interaction in the women’s movement in Quebec, this is an aspect that could have been more systematically developed through a comparison of Quebec social movement organizing with that of the rest of Canada. In addition, the book does not specifically consider the extent to which Indigenous political mobilization should be examined from a social movement perspective as compared to, say, a postcolonial perspective (see Ladner 2015). Social media are mentioned throughout the volume, but there is no specific consideration of their role in contestation or of how new forms of political consumerism (Stolle and Micheletti 2013) might contribute (or not) to the social movement society. 

Several chapters merit particular attention. Fetner et.al.’s research on the Christian Right is particularly instructive, pointing to ways in which differences in cultural policy affect the impact of radio in the US as compared to Canada. This chapter expands the reach of institutional analysis to include regulatory and cultural institutions that provide opportunities (in the US) or obstacles (in Canada) for social movement influence. Phillipe Couton’s chapter on collective mobilization by immigrants points to the non-contentious nature of immigrant organizing and its impact on social and political integration as well as on economic success. Suzanne Staggenborg situates anti-globalization protests within the mobilizing structures of cities to identify the factors that facilitate the social movement society in local sites. Randolf Haluza-Delay’s detailed empirical account of contention over the oil sands in Alberta demonstrates that social movement challenges to economic development have not been regularized or institutionalized as the social movement society thesis might suggest.

Overall, this high-quality collection will appeal mainly to sociologists because of its specific focus on the idea of a “social movement society.” It makes an important empirical contribution, especially because of the many chapters that deal with aspects of activism that are not often canvassed in Canadian scholarship. As such, it will be of interest to political scientists and other social scientists who are engaged with the study of contestation in Canadian society. 
 

References

Ladner, Kiera. 2014. “Aysaka’paykinit: Contesting the Rope Around the Nations’ Neck,” in Miriam Smith, ed. Group Politics and Social Movements in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 227-554.

Stolle, Dietlind, and Michele Micheletti. 2013. Political Consumerism. New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

Protest and Politics: The Promise of Social Movement Societies
Howard Ramos and Kathleen Rodgers, editors
Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, 2015.  376 pp. $45.00 paper.