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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Mobilizing for the cause: Grievance evaluations in social movements
by Bergstrand, Kelly, Ph.D., The University of Arizona, 2015, 161; 3702713
Abstract (Summary)

The role of grievances in drawing public concern and activist support is a surprisingly understudied topic in modern social movement literature. This research is the first to parse grievances into core components to understand whether some grievances are more successful than others in evoking mobilizing, affective and cognitive reactions that can ultimately benefit social movements. I find that not all grievances are created equal when it comes to concern, support and interest in activism, and that the content of grievances can be studied in systematic ways to identify the types of grievances likely to be more powerful injustice events.

This dissertation bridges social psychology and social movements by applying concepts from Affect Control Theory (such as evaluation ratings and deflection) to grievance evaluations. To understand the differential effects of grievances, I break grievances into three basic building blocks—a Perpetrator (Actor), the act itself (Behavior), and the victim (Object). I then use measures of cultural perceptions of the goodness or badness of behaviors and identities to investigate how people react to different configurations of good or bad perpetrators, behavior and victims in injustice events. I posit that two mechanisms—concern about the wellbeing of others and desire for consistency in meanings about the world—drive reactions to the goodness or badness of elements in a grievance. I test hypotheses using an experimental design, specifically a vignette study.

I find strong support, across outcomes, that bad behavior, particularly when directed toward good victims, constitutes a form of grievance that promotes strong mobilizing, affective and cognitive reactions. I also find that the perpetrator matters for many outcomes, but that the effect of perpetrator is weaker than the effect of behavior and its target, tends to be insignificant for measures specific to behavioral activism, and largely disappears in cases of bad behavior toward good victims. In general, bad perpetrators produce higher levels of concern and emotion than do good perpetrators. The results also show that while concerns about the wellbeing of others dominate grievance evaluations, expectations about how the world should be (and deflection from those expectations) are useful for understanding reactions to perpetrators and to injustice events involving good behavior.

The conclusions from this dissertation contribute to a number of social movement arenas, including participation, movement outcomes, framing and emotions. Further, it has the real world implications of suggesting how well particular social issues might fare in attracting public concern and activist attention. This provides insights into both the types of movements more likely to be successful as well as the types of social problems less likely to draw public attention, increasing the chances that such problems persist.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Molm, Linda, Mayer, Brian
Commitee: Beyerlein, Kraig, Leahey, Erin, Stryker, Robin
School: The University of Arizona
Department: Sociology
School Location: United States -- Arizona
Source: DAI-A 76/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Sociology, Public policy
Keywords: Affect control theory, Framing, Grievance, Justice, Social movements, Social psychology
Publication Number: 3702713
ISBN: 978-1-321-74153-7
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