Persuasion and Social Movements

Preface and chapters 1 and 2 from: Stewart, Charles J. Craig Allen Smith, and Robert E. Denton, Jr. Persuasion and Social Movements. Sixth Ed. Long Grove: Waveland, 2012. Print.

In this book, Charles, Smith, and Denton explore the persuasive tactics of social movements in the United States. In Chapter 1, the authors discuss what is and what is not a social movement and then unpack the characteristics of what makes a social movement. Social movements are “at least minimally organized”  and have an identifiable leadership. A series of protests across the country, then, wouldn’t constitute a social movement–it could be little more than a trend or fad. Social organizations make up social movements, and these organizations host social campaigns, carefully structured events that end at a specific time determined by the social organizations.

To study a whole movement, then, one must study multiple social organizations. Social movements are always considered out-groups by the public and those in power because these movements promote or oppose changes in societal norms. Social movements must identify a villain–a group, a person, a behavior, an idea that creates a moral struggle and makes them seem to be the victim or hero. In order to conceive a movement and grow a movement, the collective must follow six requirements: transform perception of reality, alter the self-perceptions of the protestors, legitimize the movement, prescribe courses of action, mobilize action, and sustain the movement. Social movements can use bargaining, coercion, and persuasion as strategies of negotiation.

In Chapter 2, the authors offer a theoretical approach to studying social movements as communication. They draw from existing theories of communication to build their own framework. Parts of communication process, communication network, and communicay systems models figure into their Interpretive Systems Model. This approach to studying social movements as communication helps us see the controversies that arise within social movements, interpret structures as created and learned through communication, and understand how structures affect communicative choices. The Interpretive Systems Model relies on five ways of interpretation: needing, symbolizing, linking, reasoning, and preferencing. For the authors, a close study of a social movement require a close study of its people. 


One thing I took away from the first chapter (and this point actually ties into their second chapter) was that there are different levels of, for lack of a better word, resistance. Protests aren’t movements. They are just protests, although protests can be a strategy of a social campaign, which belong to a social movement. I’m interested in how movements can lead to multiple social movement groups. They all have the same mission but they aren’t working as one. I’m interested, then, in any kind of dialogue that happens between social groups. Do they ever partner up? Do they argue and if so over what? I guess the Civil Rights Movement answers my question. Dr. King and his group had very different ideas from Malcolm X and his version of black resistance.

Published by aabyrd

I'm the instructor for WCATY's Media Studies in a Digital Age course for Summer 2015.

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