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Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970

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McAdam, Doug. Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. Chapters 1,2, 3, 6, 9

Summary by Brian Asner


Two Items:

-I had already summarized chapters 1 and 2 previously, so I have included them in gray. Chapter 1 provides a criticism of Classical Models of social movements, while Chapter 2 provides limited praise and extensive criticism of the Resource Mobilization Models.


a)McAdam sees Tilly (and Gamson) as exceptions, criticizing most earlier sociologists for ignoring the political process (2) i)He also criticizes political scientists for largely ignoring any political interactions which take place outside institutionalized channels.

Structural Strain ? Disruptive Psychological State ? Social Movement

c)Classical models make numerous problematic assumptions: i)Based on a pluralist model of political power (1)Assumes that political power is widely distributed among many competing groups (2)As a result, social movements are viewed as pathological because groups should be able to pursue their concerns diplomatically through institutionalized channels (3)Ignores the fact that power is generally concentrated in the hands of few people ii)Assume that movements are a response to systematic strain

(2)Ignores the widespread presence of strain and discontent (3)Ignores how system strains change over time iii)Assume that movements are spontaneous aggregations of discontented individuals (1)Assumes movement participants have abnormal psychological characteristics or are socially marginal (a)Ignores studies that indicate that movement participants are often more integrated to their communities than non-participants

(3)Ignores the point that social movements are collective phenomena iv)Assume that movements are more concerned with managing psychological tensions than achieving political goals

(2)Ignores the surrounding political context of social movements, and how this context determines the success and approach of social movements (3)Ignores the understanding of social movements as vehicles of social change


a)Resource Mobilization model claims that strain is essentially constant over time; the rise of resources available to a movement determines when social movements occur b)McAdam argues that Resource Mobilization models are a significant improvement over Classical models, but are better for explaining organized reform efforts within normal institutional channels as opposed to social movements c)Strengths of Resource Mobilization Model over Classical models i)Redefines social movements as political (and sociological) phenomena rather than psychological ii)Social movement participants are viewed as rational people pursuing political goals instead of being psychologically deviant iii)Acknowledges the effect of external groups on movement successes d)Weaknesses of the Resource Mobilization (RM) model i)Good for explaining a certain class of actions, but inadequate as a general explanation for insurgency broadly defined

ii)The model emphasizes the importance of attracting resources from external elites (1)RM theorists argue that elites would assist social movements in order to co-opt them and channel them into non-threatening channels for verbalizing grievances (i.e. bureaucratic structures that are dominated by elites in the first place) (2)Elite support is only likely if the insurgency poses no threat to the established structure of polity membership (3)McAdam claims that this is an overly broad definition of social movements, as he sees movements as fundamentally bypassing institutionalized political channels (4)McAdam argues that elite involvement is more likely to cause the demise of a social movement as opposed to its success (27) (a)Elites have distinctly different goals than the disenfranchised movement participants (b)Elite support may demand control over the movement, ultimately making it an appendage of the sponsoring organization (c)Elites would not support any movement that appeared to be making legitimate social changes iii)The RM model ignores the potential capabilities of the mass base (1)RM theorists view non-elite groups as politically impotent (2)McAdam argues that while non-elite groups do lack the positive inducements which elites have, RM theorists ignore the power of negative inducements (30) (a)In other words, groups lacking material resources can still threaten strikes, disruptions, and other negative actions in pursuit of their interests (3)RM theorists also undervalue the indigenous resources of deprived groups (a)These existing organizations can provide communications networks, a recruiting base for leaders, and a framework for developing an ideology and movement strategy

(1)Researchers can always retroactively find an increase of some type of resource (2)Resources may also be mobilized without leading to social movements v)RM theorists completely dismiss the concepts of grievances (1)RM theorists are correct that objective inequality is relatively constant (2)McAdam argues that subjective grievances are not constant (a)There are fluctuations in the tendency for people to recognize their situation as unjust, and to believe in the potential to change their situation


i)Political: The same factors that shape institutional political processes also influence social movements; social movements are inherently political, not psychological phenomena ii)Process: Movements are continuous processes rather than series of discrete stages

ii)But elite theory of power assumes that elites have virtually unlimited power in political and economic matters, while assuming that the excluded have none c)McAdam prefers a Marxist interpretation of power, which sees a latent political leverage existing in the population i)Social structures require a routinized exercise of structural power; therefore, threats to this power threaten the structures themselves

iii)In other words, those subject to structural power have latent revolutionary power

ii)Members are characterized by conservatism; they are interested in continuous exclusion of challengers and maintaining member-challenger stratificationiii iii)McAdam argues that the improbability of member-supported insurgency indicates that indigenous groups can develop social movements independently (39)

f)Three crucial factors explain the emergence of social movements: i)Structure of Political Opportunities available for the group (1)Opportunities vary over time (2)Any event that undermines the structure of the political establishment can be a political opportunity. (3)Movements are generally indirect responses to political opportunities that develop over a long period of time (4)Polit. opportunities can either undermine an entire political system (encouraging collective action by many groups) or increase the leverage of one particular group (5)Polit. opportunities benefit social movements in two ways: (a)Reduction in power discrepancies improve the chance of movement success (b)Improved insurgent position makes it riskier for other groups to try to suppress the movement ii)Indigenous Organizational Strength of the insurgent population (1)Rather than relying on elite support, indigenous organizations and resources are necessary to take advantage of political opportunities (2)Indigenous organizations provide four crucial resources: (a)Members are recruited from established networks of interaction (i)Those who are most integrated in community are most likely to participate

(c)Communication Network provided by existing organizations

(d)Leaders of indigenous organizations are often the first to join new movements, and can offer their prestige and organizing skills iii)Insurgent Consciousness of the potential for successful insurgency

(b)A subjective element is necessary to cause individuals to participate (2)Cognitive liberation is subjective recognition by the movement participants that the environment is favorable for protest (3)Participants must believe the political system is unjust and vulnerable to change (4)Collective attribution: organizations help individual participants recognize the commonness of their grievances (5)Also reiterates the strength of the indigenous organization iv)All three factors are required together for movement emergence:

v)Most social movement theorists stop their analysis at the point of insurgency (1)But, social movements are a process; they must continue to utilize their newly acquired political leverage over time (52)

(3)Organizational Strength must be sustained (a)Indigenous organizations are not (typically) protest groups, so a new insurgent organization must be created (b)Developing a new organization creates new movement obstacles:

(ii)Increasing need for resources may lead to co-optation 1.External groups providing support may try to influence movement goals 2.Also, participants may become more hesitant to offend sponsors (iii)Increasing ties to external groups may weaken internal cohesion (4)Social Control Reponses will increase as movements encounter more successes (a)However, external groups encounter increasing costs (in a political sense) of repressing the movement (b)Elites will have one of three responses to emerging movements (i)Elites sensing a threat will try to neutralize or destroy the movement (ii)Elites who can advance their interests (or attack rival interests) through the movement will offer cautious support (iii)Elites who feel unaffected by the movement will remain uninvolved (c)Movements can either pursue institutionalized or non-institutionalized tactics

(ii)By avoiding institutionalized channels, movements symbolically reject established institutional mechanisms and deprive elite groups of their typical institutionalized powers (d)Movements can either pursue reforming or revolutionary goals (i)Reforming goals seek piecemeal adjustments to existing institutional structures 1.Reforming goals only stimulate opposition from a small number of elites who are directly affected by the structure in question (ii)Revolutionary goals fundamentally challenge the existing political and economic structures of society 1.Revolutionary goals typically mobilize a united elite opposition (e)While institutionalized tactics and reforming goals will both reduce opposition to a movement, the potential impact of the movement is also reduced

a)McAdam applies the Political Process Model to explain the generation of Black Insurgency from 1955-1960 b)Earlier models are inadequate for explaining this situation i)Classical models (rising expectations, relative deprivation, sharp fluctuations in economic status) may correlate with the rise in movements between 1955-1960, but these did not always lead to protests during the period of 1948-1976 ii)Resource Mobilization models are insufficient because increases in external resources occur after increases in protest activity [suggesting that successful protests increase potential for success, and thereby attract more resources] iii)Many explanations failed to distinguish between participants and non-participants, making broad assessments which applied to both groups (128) c)As the most organized segments of the southern black population, the NAACP, black churches, and black colleges provided the key indigenous resources i)Enabled rapid recruitment of members from existing organizational networks

ii)Provided pre-existing leadership for the movement (1)Established local leaders gave the movements legitimacy and importance (2)Often appropriated existing leadership strategies rather than starting from scratch (a)Evidenced by the consistency of protest styles: NAACP generally used institutionalized actions (since NAACP has legalistic ideology), whereas students utilized sit-ins and other non-institutionalized methods (3)Important to note: The NAACP, students, and churches were segments of the black community that were relatively protected from white economic pressures iii)Provided pre-existing communication networks for the movement (1)Communication is required both within a particular group and between various indigenous groups so that a movement can grow and spread iv)Also provided other resources (1)Church participation provided meeting places for participants (2)High presence of lawyers in NAACP groups provided legal strategies v)This evidence contrasts the importance of external resources in the Resource Mobilization model (141) (1)Black insurgency did not rely on willing, aggressive elite sponsorship (2)Despite disadvantaged status, black insurgency possessed numerous indigenous resources to encourage a successful social movement vi)Social Control Responses to black insurgency (1)On a local level, southern white supremacists mobilized in response to increasing success of black protests (2)At the larger, institutionalized level, southern state legislators attempted to combat increasing federal support for integration

i)Structure of political opportunities improved from 1930-1954 ii)Led to growing sense of political efficacy among the population iii)Simultaneous growth of black churches, black colleges, and NAACP

b)Other models are inadequate for explaining the insurgency i)Pluralist models ignored the reality that southern blacks were institutionally powerless and required non-institutionalized methods of protest in order to succeed (1)The experience shows that both non-institutionalized political action and force/violence are necessary for disadvantaged groups to achieve their goals. ii)Elite models ignored the fact that despite being a disadvantaged population, southern blacks (or any group for that matter) possessed latent disruptive powers and strong indigenous organizational resources


In addition to the points below, it should be mentioned that any social movement piece which discusses resource mobilization or organizations can also apply to readings from the Formal Organization section.

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