Thursday, September 25, 2008

More Comparative Criticism

Here's another thing that puzzles me about Ryan Quinn and Monica Worline's "Enabling Collective Courageous Action" (Organization Science, 19 (4), 2008, pp. 497-516). They suggest that "Given the problems of collective action aboard Flight 93, a useful literature for helping explain events comes from the study of social movements" (498). They also spend a substantial amount of time at the end of the paper identifying their "contributions" to this literature.

I don't know very much about social movements, but I did immediately check two of their references which, as I expected, deal with things like the civil rights movement and the nuclear disarmanent movement, in one case applying this to a study of shareholder rights activists.

Quinn and Worline do nothing to explain how the crew and passengers of UA93 might reasonably be compared with civil rights activists, nor how their revolt constitutes "collective action" in the sense used in that area of research. But surely a group of people merely in motion together, even towards a common end, does not in and of itself constitute a "social movement"? So what social movement (in the sense that the literature they cite adopts) were the passengers and crew participating in?

Benford and Snow's review article "Framing Processes and Social Movements" (Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2000. 26:611–39) is especially puzzling as a reference. "Collective action frames," they say, "are action-oriented sets of beliefs and meanings that inspire and legitimate the activities and campaigns of a social movement organization (SMO)" (614). Here they tie the definitions of both "collective action" and "social movements" to particular kinds of organizations, namely, SMOs. But surely there were no SMOs involved in the UA93 episode (except of course al-Qaeda, whose "courage" the authors are definitely not trying to explain). As I understand it, an SMO is a "formally organized component of a social movement".

Like I say, and as my citing of Wikipedia demonstrates, I'm no expert on social movements. But shouldn't a reviewer have demanded that the authors who cite this literature on large social and historical processes make explicit its relevance to an isolated and doomed act of spontaneous resistance?

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