Pro Bloc v. Pro Monastery: On the Application of Social Movement Techniques

When pundits say they don’t understand what OWS is about, what that means is that OWS is a cross-(99%) stratification coalition of liberals and social democrats and the extremely marginalized and anarchists and socialists who are refusing to deny each other. That is to say, OWS is a functioning social movement bloc.

The unity of the opposing bloc of the 1% + its loyal hairy old man Teabag minions + its militarized police has probably helped to make the OWS bloc comparatively robust.

On the applicability of social movement techniques: 
Process-oriented communication

Barbara Epstein wrote a crucial book based on her study of the late twentieth century peace movement in the Pacific Northwest, Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 80s, and Paul Lichterman wrote a study examining how social movement organization practices, such as a hierarchy-less organizational structure of empowered individuals, can put off key coalition partners and snuff out mobilization. Together these studies suggest that, under some circumstances, process-orientation can be at the root of social movement organizations’ ineffectiveness. The Epstein book in particular is a necessary read for people interested in social and political-economic change because it offers insight into the limits of prefigurative politics, and process-oriented communication social movement tactics–insight which corrects for the contemporary-era progressive community’s a-contextual idealization of these tactics.

Some cities’ Occupy movements this past fall have provided some support for the claim that perhaps the tactical innovations–including process-heavy communication techniques–can, in the context of adequate critical mass, effectively facilitate a coalition bloc. Elite concerns with predicting and managing social movement organizations are going to color how elite scholars look at social movements–for example in a too-short time frame. Perhaps the story is that it took people 40 years of practical R&D to innovate a social movement technique that can secure a bloc, but requires an adequate degree of preexisting critical mass to function as bloc glue and to ignite further mobilization.

This is to say that communicative process-orientation is a social movement technique that requires critical mass (cross-community participation) before it can be employed effectively. Without the critical mass precondition, communication process-orientation is not an effective social movement technique, see Epstein & satellite Occupy demonstrations without critical mass. Without adequate critical mass, process becomes counterproductive overkill as a social movement technique.

Without adequate preexisting critical mass, you’re left with a small, rather repulsive, and ineffective  assemblage of personalities that tend to get furiously frustrated in their failed efforts at micromanaging other people’s communication. But perhaps such a group can be more generously regarded as a sort of small monastery–not capable of mobilizing a movement, but monks of a social movement technique or two.

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