Why would anyone participate in a social protest? In other words, why do social revolutions exist? In this Tuesday’s talk, Dr. Perez, a postdoctoral fellow at the department of sociology, interpreted the phenomenon of social activism from the perspective of functionalism, rationalism, and more.
The functionalist’s basic argument is that there is a purpose for everything that exists in our society. However, this opinion fundamentally contradicts the purpose of social activism: for something to change.
The rationalist paradigm focuses on a different aspect of social activism: the “how” of social mobilization. They see social activism and part of the political process and due to the constant grievance, this phenomenon would always happen.
Nowadays a third theory, a post-rationalist paradigm start to gain popularity. It argues that social movements are not just normal and political; it contains cultural expressions, emotional dynamics, and identity politics. People who participate in social activism are not solely motivated by structural reasons; it is also a form of expressing who they are.
This brings up the century-long controversy: is social activism a form of agency, or embedded in a structure?
During this election cycle, with polarized political voices, social activism is seen expressed in both sides. People were very involved in the standardized political process, including attending rallies, etc.; however, protest was a very common form, from the beginning of the presidential campaigns all the way to now, as President Trump would soon become a reality.
The first wave of protests was climaxed right before the election: both candidates of the major parties were considered “deeply flawed” by many, while the third-party candidates also rendered disappointing performances. As a result, people felt more strongly against a certain candidate than for a candidate, and voted as a measure of damage control rather than positive control. Even on our own Colby campus, I remembered many organized and spontaneous protests against a certain candidate, through marches, gatherings, and even Facebook groups, events and posts. On a liberal arts college campus, people are very conscious about the concept of dictatorship and hyper-masculinity; and during the election, as Trump started to display both traits, students started to protest and mobilize people both based on cultural identities and academic studies. On a diverse campus, Trump’s both racist and misogynic rhetoric was not tolerated, and students went out of their ways to put up signs and events to convey that both messages are very harmful to future of the US, while professors demonstrated through their research that Trump’s hyper-masculine rhetoric is outdated and detrimental to our society.
The second wave of campus protests came after the election, when Trump has secured his presidency. During this phase, the focus of protests has shifted from opposing a certain candidate to try to advance equality causes under a strongman administration. The topics of the protests mostly consist of the fight against xenophobia, homophobia and inequality, and students found protests provide more of mutual, healing atmosphere as we dealt with the aftermath of the election than a mobilizing, political one.
I certainly appreciate having the opportunity to attend a liberal arts college where educated people are supportive of science and progression. I believe that social activism, as big as nationwide ones and as small as the ones occur on Colby campus, truly is a platform that is both a form of structure and agency, that pushes our society forward.