Collectives may protest, but how do authorities respond?


This chapter argues for greater research attention to be paid to the behaviour of the authorities who are the targets of collective protest. Drawing on George Herbert Mead’s concept of the social act, it argues that our conceptualisation of collective protest needs (a) to attend to the behaviour of authorities as much as the behaviour of the crowd, (b) to analyse the behaviour of each party as a response to the behaviour of the other, unfolding in time, and (c) to interpret the behaviour of each party as a self-conscious, strategic response, crafted to achieve desired results. This position is illustrated drawing on case material from studies of the efforts of sex workers’ organisations to influence the behaviour of police and politicians, and studies of successful social movements’ strategies for being heard by politicians with the power to effect change. Both cases show grassroots groups very strategically and self-consciously positioning themselves to influence the powerful, either by offering them concrete favours, or by defining their cause in such a way as to attract public (and thereby political) support. From this perspective, to fully understand dynamics of protest and social change, we need to expand the social psychological gaze, to the discomfort of the authorities, to understand the behaviour of the powerful in enabling or preventing change. The chapter concludes by suggesting new questions to advance this new agenda.


Cornish, F. Collectives may protest, but how do authorities respond? In: Wagoner, B.; Jensen, E.; Oldmeadow, J.A. (Eds.), Culture and social change : transforming society through the power of ideas. (2012) ISBN 9781617357589

Collectives may protest, but how do authorities respond?

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