When we think about protest, we often associate it with the notion of organized social movements, but studying organized movements only captures a small part of the realities of social protest. Dissent often takes alternative forms, and can be studied from myriad angles. The articles in this issue offer different perspectives on social protest, examining the roles of small activist collectives, organized policing efforts, local private politics, digital communities, and revolutionary vanguards in instances of collective action and political behavior.
Matthew Hayes opens this issue with his article “Never Mind the Ballots: The Edible Ballot Society and the Performance of Citizenship.” In the article, Hayes examines an unusual instance of carnivalesque, humorous social protest, in which an anarchist collective prepared elaborate meals from their ballot papers and publicly ate them in order to reframe the Canadian state as an ongoing political project with pretensions to social control. Hayes’s piece fuses the study of social movements with the study of performance to provide critical insights into the “culture-jamming” practices of contemporary activism.
Binoy Kampmark examines the question of social control, offering a revealing and in-depth analysis of the social control mechanisms that were in place at the Brisbane G20 in 2014. In “Shutting Down Protest: Policing, International Summitry, and the G20 Experiment in Brisbane,” he offers an enlightening assessment of social control and its role in instances of protest. Kampmark explains how public order at the Brisbane summit was achieved at the expense of public dissent. By incorporating protest within a carefully coordinated summit plan, Kampmark argues, policing efforts were able to neuter rather than suppress dissent.
Matthew Ogilvie offers a shift of focus from the international to the local. His article, “Private Politics in the Garden of England: An Atypical Case of Anti-Wind Farm Contention,” presents us with an image of an intensely local form of contention taking place in a Kentish village with a population of fewer than four thousand. This kind of “private politics,” Ogilvie argues, is traditionally situated within the machinations of local bureaucracy, private appeals, and community relations. In the Marden case, local protest escaped these boundaries and “went public,” transferring the same campaign frames used in private negotiations to successfully exert public pressure.
Atypical cases of political engagement do not only happen on a local scale. In “Digital Natives: Making Sense of the Digital Political Landscape, Assessing the Potential for Mobilization versus Apathy,” Patrick Readshaw examines the political engagement of those who live much of their lives online, challenging the assumption that young people are politically apathetic and instead advancing a different vision of political engagement. Using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA), a novel method in the social sciences, Readshaw’s article stresses the profound importance of social media usage in the political and civil mobilization of young people. Through social media, Readshaw notes, young people can obtain political knowledge and build genuine relationships and feelings of solidarity. After his exploratory analysis, Readshaw offers recommendations for future research on the topic, remaining cautiously optimistic about the positive potential of social media.
Meanwhile, Chelsea Starr offers a different vision of social media and political behavior. In “Attack Frames: Framing Processes, Collective Identity, and Emotion in the Men’s Rights Subreddit,” Starr examines the memetic aspects of the online men’s rights movement by means of a carefully coded analysis of 435 memes posted on reddit.com’s Men’s Rights subreddit. She considers the men’s rights movement as an antifeminist countermovement fitting the rubric of an identitarian “new social movement.” In her analysis, Starr finds that, instead of relying on motivational frames, men’s rights activists motivated themselves to protest by means of “attack frames.” Starr develops the concept of attack frames as countermovement frames specifically intended by men’s rights activists to denigrate and ridicule their opponents. These rhetorical devices for the construction of a shared reality, in Starr’s analysis, offer a means to understand the affective processes underlying motivations for protest in countermovements such as the online men’s rights movement.
Having offered five articles that examine social protest in novel and interesting circumstances, this issue closes with an attempt to gain insight into a more established phenomenon: revolution. In an interview with the world-renowned political theorist of revolution, John Dunn, Benjamin Abrams uncovers the progression of Dunn’s thought and his arguments about revolution today.
This issue explores novel methods, settings, and ideological aspects of the study of social protest. Some parts of the issue also extend established arguments in provocative ways. We hope that the articles in this issue generate further discussion and dialogue on many aspects of the study of protest. Contention welcomes commentaries on articles published in our issues, and the themes they raise, from the broader academic community, as well as from activists and practitioners.