K. Fahlenbrach u.a. (Hrsg.): The Establishment Responds

The Establishment Responds. Power, Politics, and Protest Since 1945

Fahlenbrach, Kathrin; Klimke, Martin; Scharloth, Joachim; Wong, Laura
Palgrave MacMillan Transnational History
Basingstoke 2012: Palgrave Macmillan
251 S.
€ 25,01
Rezensiert für 'Connections' und H-Soz-Kult von:
Marica Tolomelli, University of Bologna

The red line that goes through the essays collected under the title The Establishment responds emerges from the attempt to give an answer to one of the core questions of the research on social movements: the impact of social movement on the institutions that they challenge. The question is directly connected with the more general problem of assessing the different kinds of impact that social movements might exert, i.e. the effects they can trigger. Social scientists and historians who have been dealing with this matter for years have shown that the question is by no means so banal as it appears. The main difficulty at this juncture lies in the fact that social movements normally generate dynamics of reactions and counter-reactions that sometime evolve in totally other directions than their aims and expectations.1

Social movements are collective actors whose agency develops within national, international and/or transnational contexts. Their action is always directed towards or against the milieu in which they mobilize in order to effect social change, so that they always provoke the involvement of other social groups or institutions – in terms of defensive reaction as well as support and solidarity. As Veronika Kneip in her article on Corporate Reaction to Anticorporate Protest (pp. 211-27) quoting Charles Tilly remarks, social movements can trigger multiple causal chains, that “lead to a plethora of possible effects in a situation where influences other than social movement activity necessarily contribute to the effects”.2

It is therefore empirically very difficult to distinguish between the direct outcomes of a social movement and the consequences that result from the interaction with other collective actors or institutions. It has furthermore to be considered that social movements often pursue radical or even utopian aims, so that the question whether a social movement succeeded or failed turns out to be a false one. To abandon the usual dichotomist approach in favour of a more sensitive theoretical frame is in fact the principal methodological premise that goes through all the essays collected in this book. Breaking through such binary thinking enabled the authors to pose the question of the consequences of social movements in new terms and, to acknowledge a wide spectrum of possible outcomes.

Another methodologically very useful criterion adopted by this book lies in the decision to concentrate the empirical analysis on only one of the possible interlocutors of a social movement, in this case the establishment, in order to acknowledge the linkages between movement activities and particular types of effects in their material evolution in the second half of the 20th century,. The project required obviously to clarify the term establishment, used to gather under a single noun the complex of the existing power structures in society, i.e. “the centres of official power” as well as “the whole matrix of official and social relations within which power is exercised” as the editors explain by recalling the definition of a British journalist (p. 3).

The book offers innovative insight from different points of view: 1) it considers cases of social protest in the American and European context since 1945 overwhelming the traditional focus on the Western European countries, so that the reader can assert that the “iron curtain” has really begun, although very slowly, to disappear from current analytical frames. In her essay on Youth Fashion in Poland in the 1950s and 1960s (pp. 197-210) Anna Pelka illustrates how in totalitarian Poland banal things like dressing could become a political vehicle to express protest or to try to control it: as fashion was used by young people to voice their dissent towards the communist regime, the latter tried to withdraw the political potential of fashion. The Finnish historian Kimmo Rentola in The Year 1968 and the Soviet Communist Party (pp. 139-156) points up how important were the events of 1968 in the Soviet Union, where for a short time strategists in foreign affairs believed that the students’ upheaval would really forge, at least in some contexts, a political shift in favour of the left-wing forces and eventually in favour of the emergence of new socialist countries.

2) The case studies treated in the book consider social movements within a historical perspective, not just as they emerge. This aspect is important as consequences are only seldom immediate. Collective actors often need many years to achieve their aims, because latter generally result from processes of social change (and reforms) that can hardly be effected in a short time. The case study handled by Manfred Berg, Race and Reform. The Establishment Responds to the African American Civil Rights Movement (pp. 77-90) illustrates in a very convincing way how long it took before in the USA the claim for equality could be allowed, translated into juridical principles and finally become “a fact”. Even though racial conflicts continue to be a problem for US American society, “the civil rights reforms have made race a permanent item in the American agenda” (p. 86), and the social sensitivity toward this matter could consolidate. Such results can therefore also be recorded under the topic “impact on the establishment”. Another exemplary case of temporal distance between protest and outcomes or consequences provides the essay on Politics of Reproduction in a Divided Europe written by Lorena Anton, Yoshie Mitobe and Kristina Schulz (pp. 103-20), who handle the different relationship between abortion legislation, women’s movements and state intervention in some Western and Eastern European countries.

3) The few essays devoted to the topic media and communication – Ralph Negrine, Professionalizing Dissent: Protest, Political Communication and the Media, pp. 29-42; and Nicole Doerr, Simon Teune, The Imagery of Power Facing the Power of Imagery, pp. 43-55) highlight efficiently the relevance of the new media to understand the changed communication conditions that social movements have to face in order to exert public protest and political pressure. As Negrine remarks, protesters do not any more necessarily need ‘old-style, full-frontal assaults’ to challenge the establishment, as nowadays it can suffice to release information that undermines the credibility of institutions. What remains to be considered is whether and how in our epoch the oversupply of communication possibilities can be also counterproductive, because it can dramatically raise the number of collective actors trying to obtain the attention of the public eye.

The interdisciplinary approach adopted by the editors and authors of this book – historians, sociologists, media and linguistic scholars – enriches the horizon of the research on social movements with different, stimulating new points of view and new questions. The establishment responds to social protest. Yes, the essays collected in this book give a compelling confirmation of that. A confirmation that could attain even stronger historical depth, if we would elongate the perspective back to the middle of the long 19th century, as social protest began to organize and to exert pressure on the establishment in order to enable the growing subaltern classes emerged together with the development of the industrial societies to enter and affect the arena of institutional politics.3

1 Doug McAdam and Mayer N. Zald devoted many studies to this subject. See also the article of Marco Giugni / Lorenzo Bosi, The effects of Protest Movements: Theoretical and Methodological Issues, in this book, pp. 17-28.
2 Charles Tilly, Conclusion: From Interaction to Outcomes in Social Movements, in: Marco Giugni / Doug McAdam / Charles Tilly (eds.), How Social Movements Matter Minneapolis 1999, p. 268.
3 An important effort in this sense has accomplished Geoff Eley, Forging Democracy: The History of the Left in Europe, 1850-2000, Oxford 2002.

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