Violence, Social Movements, and Black Freedom Struggles

Ten Theses toward a Research Agenda for Scholars of Contention Today

in Contention
AK Thompson Visiting Professor of Social Movements and Social Change, Ithaca College, USA

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George Floyd's murder by police on 26 May 2020 set off a cycle of struggle that was notable for its size, intensity, and rate of diffusion. Starting in Minneapolis, the uprising quickly spread to dozens of other major cities and brought with it a repertoire that included riots, arson, and looting. In many places, these tactics coexisted with more familiar actions like public assemblies and mass marches; however, the inflection these tactics gave to the cycle of contention is not easily reconciled with the protest repertoire most frequently mobilized during movement campaigns in the United States today. This discrepancy has led to extensive commentary by scholars and movement participants, who have often weighed in by considering the moral and strategic efficacy of the chosen tactics. Such considerations should not be discounted. Nevertheless, I argue that both the dynamics of contention witnessed during the uprising and their ambivalent relationship to the established protest repertoire must first be understood in historical terms. By considering the relationship between violence, social movements, and Black freedom struggles in this way, I argue that scholars can develop a better understanding of current events while anticipating how the dynamics of contention are likely to develop going forward. Being attentive to these dynamics should in turn inform our research agendas, and it is with this aim in mind that I offer the following ten theses.

Contributor Notes

AK Thompson got kicked out of high school for publishing an underground newspaper called The Agitator and has been an activist and social theorist ever since. Currently a Visiting Professor of Social Movements and Social Change at Ithaca College, he is the author and editor of numerous books including, most recently, Premonitions: Selected Essays on the Culture of Revolt (2018).

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The Multidisciplinary Journal of Social Protest

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  • Jasper, James M., and AK Thompson. 2016. “Did Someone Say Riot? James M. Jasper in Conversation with AK Thompson.” Social Movement Studies 15 (2): 216230. doi:1080/14742837.2015.1131975.

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