Tag Archives: collective action

Dissertation on Niger Delta women and the oil movement published

For a link to my final dissertation, please see:




grounded theory

Resistance (III): The Expansion of Culture—Developing World Movements and Gender

The focus on the cultural dynamics of resistance paved the way for analyses of social movements in the global south and for a focus on mobilization and gender specifically. In a study of the former, Clifford Bob asked what inspires powerful transnational networks to spring up around particular movements. He aimed to demonstrate that hard calculations of costs and benefits in the competitive marketplace for recognition and aid appear to outweigh sympathy and emotion in determining which of the world’s myriad of oppressed groups profit from globalization (Bob 2005). The book underscores the elements of competition over cooperation, interest over principle, and strategic and structural advantage over the justice of a group’s cause. Paradoxically though, his “global civil society approach” notes the emergence of principled forces arrayed against various injustices. These principled forces play a large part in the story of transnational advocacy networks (TANs).

In their grounded theory study, Keck and Sikkink concentrated on these TANs, groups often omitted from traditional social movement research, that have proliferated across the globe.  In some ways their narrative is rationalist in nature. TANs use techniques such as information politics and leverage politics. They engage in creative use of strategic information and are employed by NGOs in sophisticated political strategies for their campaigns.  On the other hand, they also employ culturally symbolic politics and accountability politics. They all have principled ideas at their core as well as the belief that individuals can make a difference. TANS often advocate for purely moral causes that are not their own and causes in which they, at least initially, don’t have much of a stake. Furthermore, the authors point out that the biggest challenge to the environmental movement is lack of a “face of victimhood” while the greatest strength of gender-based violence movements is that there is an instinctive, transcultural repugnance of “practices that result in bodily harm to vulnerable individuals” (Keck & Sikkink 1998, 195). In other words, activists attract outside participants and supporters partly by globalizing their rhetoric to make it seem as sweeping as possible rather than particular and contingent (Jasper 1997, 292). So, although Keck and Sikkink cited rationalist scholars such as Tilly and Tarrow, their account is largely cultural.

Fully embedded in the cultural camp, Sally Merry has emphasized the “translation” necessary for gender violence activists navigating both international law and their local communities in the developing world. NGO workers must frame their issues in a manner acceptable to global north donors at world conferences, legal hearings, briefings, and UN meetings, all while speaking in the lingua franca of international human rights, English. Additionally however, activists must then “translate” those same global human rights laws into local social movements and rights awareness through cultural transformation and mother tongue communication (Merry 2006).


Along with the research on social movements outside the West, gender has come to the fore as an important dimension of social movements studies. Espoused by Bahati Kuumba, Susan Staggenborg, and Verta Taylor, this lens assumes that gender is a basic organizing principle in human society and that gender roles, relations, and inequalities impact social processes in complex ways. The power, resource, and status differentials between women and men in broader social structures like economies and political systems, as well as in individual lives, must be taken account at each stage of the social movement analysis. Furthermore, it assumes that gender interacts with other systems of stratification, such as race, ethnicity and sexuality, which mediate the institutional context, organizations, and collective identities and strategies of movements (Taylor 1999, 26). Social movement outcomes can be both liberating and subordinating for women at the same time.  Gender hierarchy is so persistent that, even in movements that purport to be gender-inclusive, the mobilization, leadership patterns strategies, ideologies, and even the outcomes of social movements are gendered (Taylor 1999, 9). Sites of resistance can also be sites of exclusion, such as when many women were left out of anti-apartheid struggles (Meth 2010).

To this end, there is now increased emphasis not only on the role women in social movements, but also of non-Western women as well.  Ifi Amadiume shifts the discussion of social movements from the usual gender-neutral state-civil society paradigm (alá Mamdani’s Citizen and Subject) to the concept of women’s anti-power, anti-state movements. In other words, these are political struggles which are not out to wrest power from anyone, but simply to defend and maintain their autonomy. African women’s movements have been a perfect example of these anti-power efforts, struggling against domination and violation without seeking to take power or resources from others. Women have struggled to defend their autonomous organizations, as well their structures or systems of self-rule since the colonial era and continue to do so today (Amadiume in Mamdani & Wamba-dia-Wamba 1995, 35-60).

Women’s unique forms of mobilizations have only recently been the subject of increased study. Overall, the rationalist explanations for resistance strategies that focus on structure and opportunity ignore the largely female ways of mobilizing that include grassroots networking and organizing people (Christiansen-Ruffman 1995). The dominant literature has gendered the political as “male,” emphasizing the importance of top-down speech-making over organizational bridging, that latter of which is more common in women’s activism (Robnett 1997). When women are political in their own ways it is viewed by academics and laypeople alike as “working for their communities” and not using conscious political tactics. Tarrow argues that politics of order (non-violent sit-ins) and disorder (roadblocks) are women-friendly while politics of violence are male and this has been overlooked (Kuumba 2001).

Four scholars claim that regardless of how women choose to mobilize, their best chance for organization always comes after a conflict.  Conflicts are politically empowering to women because women do not have as many male incumbents to contend with since many of those men have fallen to violence.  Conflict also offers women an opportunity to mobilize on one side of the struggle and thus empowers them, and women are not willing to give this up just because the conflict has ended. Moreover, in post-conflict environments, Western international donations go up and with those the pressure to include women in politics increases as well. Their last explanation is long recognized in the work on post-WWII gender dynamics: women take up men’s business roles in conflict and want to protect those business interests during peace as well (Tripp, Casimiro, Kwesiga, Mungwa 2009).

For an excellent perspective on The Women’s Colloquium in Liberia, the only African country with a female head of state, please see:

Resistance (II): A Cultural and More Emotive Perspective

A change in rationalist modeling of how resistance functions was preceded by those espousing a more cultural and emotive perspective at least a decade earlier. The first cultural analysis to emerge on the framing of resistance movements was not incompatible with notions of opportunities. This stressed the effort that goes into symbols creation, establishment of solidarity, and portrayal of grievances. Framing, including identity shaping, is an important process that determines who joins a movement based on whether issues resonate with potential recruits, the media, outside leaders, and the public at large. Acknowledging that framing was a central dynamic in understanding social movements, Benford and Snow focused on how collective action frames have been conceptualized, framing dynamics and processes, contextual factors that constrain and facilitate framing, as well as framing outcomes (Benford and Snow 2000). They later agreed with Oliver and Johnston that frames and ideology are definitionally and analytically distinct entities that merit studying in their own right, and that the relationship between frames and ideology needs to be elaborated further. Snow argued for the study of identity frames as both dependent and independent variables, as well as stressed the dearth of scholarship on frame transformation and diffusion of identities (Snow in Snow, Soule, & Kriesi 2004, 391).

Framing and identity activation are culturally contingent, and culture is now widely accepted as being key to understanding social movements. For one, identities may be taken for granted, but in other instances activists must convince recruits of their cultural identity to get them to join, or those identities may be culturally constructed during the movement (Goodwin & Jasper 2003, 103). James Jasper has been prolific in linking culture and emotion. He writes about “the satisfactions of protest that derive from highly emotional, often ritualistic, collective activities.  These are some of the most striking achievements of a movement, a vibrant culture that gives participants a strong sense of movement identity, and internal movement practices that yield immense solidarity.” Protestors can care about reinforcing their subculture and networks as much as about their publicly stated, instrumental goals (Jasper 1997, 209). This identity activation and formation is both a cultural and emotional experience for many mobilizers.

It is so strong in fact, that such emotions can even overcome challenges to resource mobilization and can be much stronger impetuses than traditional political opportunities for getting a movement started (Jasper 1997, 292). Emotions also answer the question of why individuals continue in a social movement when it becomes clear they could quit and become a free-rider (Goodwin & Jasper 2004).

Interestingly, Francesa Polletta has argued that even structures are in part cultural. Past literature has tended to see culture as subjective, malleable, and enabling of protest, as being mobilized by the powerless to challenge structure. All of these have been described as being opposite of the political structure model, but should not be. Culture shapes our perception of reality and therefore our behavior, which in turn shapes social movements. Aspects of culture such as collective memory, perception of state repressive capacity and legitimacy, and personal identity give form to collective action. Culture helps activists to discern possible strategies for mobilization, e.g. what strategies would be socially acceptable or not (Polletta in Goodwin & Jasper 2004, 97-109).

A James Jasper talk:

Resistance (1): An Economic Perspective

An analytically sound assessment of Niger Delta politics would take not only the oil state and law into account, but the vast body of literature on resistance as well.  Initially, social movements were largely regarded as being unpredictable mobs of emotional rioters, which has clearly proved not to be the case. In 1965, Mancur Olson brought economic rationality to the subject by arguing that individuals are self-maximizers who will mobilize once the potential benefits outweighs the high costs, in other words, when there are enough “selective incentives.” Although his account failed to explain how large groups with a higher mobilization costs than small groups still manage to organize, and failed to solve the “free-rider” problem, his seminal work inspired subsequent social movement theory by posing important questions about the conditions that determine both the degree of groups’ mobilization and how individuals decide to join.


In the following decade, Resource Mobilization Theory was first ushered in by Mayer Zald and John McCarthy who agreed with Olson’s economic view but focused on the rational nature of organizations rather than individuals.  Social movement organizations (SMOs) were described as business firms that utilized political and financial resources in competition with other SMOs (Zald & McCarthy 1979, Introduction). These scholars, joined by Charles Tilly, Jo Freeman, and Gary Marx, stressed the importance of movements seizing political openings provided by the state or elites. They all argued that the best way to understand collective behavior is to study how social movement organizations acquire and use resources, and that most of these resources comes from elite “sponsors,” e.g. churches, labor unions, NGOs, etc. In this model, there is little emphasis on the individual participants and long-term actions are not accounted for. There is also not a clear definition of “resources” and there is an obfuscation of the concept of grievances. There is difference between objective social conditions and their subjective perception, and this difference is not clarified (McAdam 1999, Introduction).

Political Process Theory first emerged in the 1970s to focus on the interaction between mobilizers and the state, while emphasizing the foremost role of political opportunities in explaining and when and how a social movement operates. Doug McAdam and Sidney Tarrow (a student of Charles Tilly) continued to adhere to rationalist interpretations of social movements, but saw movements as part of normal politics. In this model, it was not just the movement against the state, but the movement being influenced by and responding to the state. Three factors were seen as crucial to the generation of social resistance: level of organization within the aggrieved population (“organizational readiness”), collective assessment of the prospects for success (“insurgent consciousness”), and the political alignment of groups within the larger political environment (“opportunity structure”). Contrary to the previous school of thought, advocates of PPT saw that some resources can be detrimental to a movement and they de-emphasized the importance of elites (McAdam 1999, Introduction). This was better than previous paradigms for analyzing long-run political contexts over time as well as demographic or migratory shifts in mobilization. However, Goodwin and Jasper charge that the theory has been stretched too thin to cover too many cases, and has thus lost analytic potency.  Plus, it suffers from selection bias in choice of cases and ignores the fact that social ties may constrain as well as encourage activism (Goodwin & Jasper 1999).

Tarrow's Power in Movement

Tarrow’s Power in Movement

Several publications that include work on “framing” demonstrate that the economic explanations, namely Resource Mobilization Theory and Political Process Theory are still strong but not necessarily dominant. In 1996, McAdam, McCarthy and Zald published a compilation of comparative essays with three sections. The first two, on political opportunities and mobilizing structures, the nuts and bolts of their perspective, are unsurprising topics of study for them. However, the third section on framing demonstrates that rationalists had to contend with the scholarship on the newer cultural and emotive accounts of social movements. Sidney Tarrow’s Power in Movement argued that contention is more closely dependent on the POS than by the persistent social or economic factors that people experience. These opportunities, he wrote, depend on state strength, prevailing strategies, and repressive capacity. However, he too included work on framing. Then in 2001, McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly, traditional structuralists, engaged in a theoretical reorientation of their past work and even pointed out its inadequacies (McAdam, Tarrow, & Tilly 2001). They admitted that political opportunities, master frames, and structures offer a static view of movements that are unable to deal with the transforming and contingent nature of variables. Their newer emphasis in this comparative study was on mechanisms and processes.

allAfrica.com: Nigeria: Half-Nude Women Protest Against Shell in Bayelsa

allAfrica.com: Nigeria: Half-Nude Women Protest Against Shell in Bayelsa.

Military Recruitment, Casualties, and Public Opinion

Originally posted on Mobilizing Ideas:

International Studies Quarterly just published Yagil Levy‘s most recent work on the reshaping of military conflict due to democracy, technology, and now protest.  I have posted elsewhere about his work on casualty aversion due to the intersection of democracy and technology (and also on related work by Jonathan Caverley).  This piece, titled “How Military Recruitment Affects Collective Action and its Outcomes” [gated] explores the impact of military recruitment on a public’s willingness to “absorb” casualties among its soldiers during military conflict.  In other words, Levy wants to know the extent to which recruitment impacts the collective action opportunities of those who would (de)mobilize public opinion in democracies regarding casualties, and thereby support for the war.

View original 135 more words

Further remarks on Niger Delta violence and amnesties

The second section of the interview (see post above) focused on the militancy in the Niger Delta and included the following questions and my responses:

1. In your opinion, what are the conditions that drive individuals toward militancy in the Niger Delta?

Poverty alone is not a causal mechanism for insurgency, nor does simply being a weak state cause collective violence.  In the Niger Delta it is a two-part dynamic in which poverty amidst vast oil wealth combines with weak state apparatuses to create insurgency. The former creates the incentives and the latter provides the conditions. Niger Deltans suffer from deprivation while seeing that resources, e.g. oil profits, exist that could be bettering their lot, fostering a sense of injustice. It is easy for militant leaders to galvanize this injustice and organize it along ethnic lines due to the often contentious tribal diversity of the Delta. Then, the Nigerian government does not have the capacity or sometimes the will to stop the social disorder, creating a sense of stateless that is conducive to violence.

2. Do you believe these are the same root causes for cultism and other such violent activity in the Niger Delta region?

To an extent, but I do see the insurgency as analytically different from cultism and other forms of collective violence. The particular nature of oil drives militancy, and group violence unrelated to natural resources is in many ways a separate issue. Groups with income flows from control of oil are more likely to attract opportunistic participants, make insurgents like those of MEND primarily economic actors (insurgents have not been ideologically driven for many years, if they ever were). Unlike cultism and other forms of collective violence, militancy requires clear leadership, sustained engagement, access to arms, and it must have a local population on which it can rely on for resources (Weinstein 2006). On the other hand, other collective violence campaigns unrelated to oil can arise more sporadically, use fewer or homemade weapons, and I think can have more porous membership networks.

3. What expectations do you think that the Amnesty Program created for ex-militants and their communities?

From my observations, there was little expectation among the average Niger Deltan that the Amnesty would have a lasting impact on the insurgency in the long-term, because the number of men who could pass through the program was far fewer than the number of unemployed youths attracted to militant engagement.  Militants themselves could have been hopeful for personal gains, but that was an individual aspiration.

 4. Since after the declaration of the Amnesty Program, have you seen any positive service delivery or infrastructural changes in the region?

No.  From what I understand, the Amnesty Program has provided stipends and job training for former militants, but has not affected service delivery for communities.

5.What do you think will happen in the region after the Amnesty Program ends in 2015?

When the Amnesty Program ends in 2015, insurgency will go up to its previous levels since the overall conditions that led to start of insurgency, such as rampant unemployment, have not changed. The problem with the amnesty is that creating some jobs does not stop violence. Job creation temporarily lowers rates of violence because employment pulls non-committed militants away from the movement and simply keeps more men busy so they have less time for violence, but in a region with such poverty and lawlessness there will always be more recruits to replace those who join an amnesty. Obviously if every Nigerian was gainfully employed with a good standard of living then that would presumably end the insurgency, since violence is generally inversely proportional to economic development. For me however, the sheer number of unemployed men in the Delta, surely hovering around 50%, will always outpace any increase in the number of local jobs created with any government program, so as one militant leaves the movement another one will replace him. So, theoretically non-oil jobs would probably end violence but realistically that would be improbably just based on the population number of the Delta. The Amnesty Program has always just been a temporary fix in which insurgents were paid to stop engaging in violence.

Dutch court rules mostly in favor of Shell

Four Nigerian farmers of the Goi and Oruma villages, supported by the Dutch NGO Friends of the Earth and the local Environmental Rights Action, sued Royal Dutch Shell in the Dutch District Court of The Hague for four oil spills between 2004 and 2009. This past Wednesday, the court ruled that the oil spills were caused by sabotage, and that Royal Dutch Shell is not liable towards 3 of the 4 farmers. It dismissed the claims of the Friends of the Earth. The court’s decision would support the idea that much of the Niger Delta pollution is caused by criminal activity carried out by locals, which has been the argument of  oil companies defending their role in the environmental damage there.

The court did find that the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), a Nigerian subsidiary, could have prevented the sabotage in one case by plugging up the well but then acknowledged that the SPDC subsequently contained the leak. Nevertheless, Shell has been ordered to pay compensation to one farmer and has agreed to do so.

The verdict is not necessarily a total defeat for Niger Deltans.  Although the farmers did not prevail, the case does establish that cases against Dutch companies for misdeed abroad can be heard in Dutch courts. Friends of the Earth announced that the case was intended as a test and that the organization is satisfied by the precedent. The case been followed closely by those who have been interested in the Saro-Wiwa and Kiobel rulings.

Read details of the ruling here.

Related articles:


Renewed attention to the Biafran Conflict

The BBC has reported that at least 100 people have been charged with treason in south-eastern Nigeria after a march supporting independence for Biafra, their lawyer says. Igbo members of the Biafran Zionist Movement (BZM) declared independence from Yoruba- and Haused-dominated Nigeria, raised the Biafran flag and then marched through the region’s main town of Enugu over the weekend, the Igbo stronghold during the Biafran War. Most of those arrested were young men, many sons of former Biafran fighters, but some were veterans of the war themselves. They were all remanded in custody.

More than one million people died during the 1967-70 Biafran conflict – mostly from hunger and disease. Political scientists debate whether the term “war” accurately describes the conflict. To be a “war” a certain percentage of deaths must occur on each side, and nearly the all the deaths occurred among Igbos and nearly all were due to the national government and its allies cutting off food and medical supplies to Igbo communities.

The BZM first gathered on Sunday to mark the birthday of former Biafran leader Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, who died in November 2011 and was buried in Enugu in March. His burial revived some cries for independence. The BBC (from Lagos, and not Enugu mind you) says that 45 years after the Biafran flag was first raised – an action which sparked Nigeria’s civil war – a small number of separatists still keep their dream alive, despite the threat of being charged with treason.

Biafran War 1967-1970

  • 1960: Nigeria gains independence from the UK
  • 1967: South-eastern portion of Nigeria secedes as Republic of Biafra on 30 May
  • Biafra dominated by Igbo ethnic group
  • Home to much of Nigeria’s oil
  • Nigerian army blockades Biafra and more than a million people die through famine, disease and fighting
  • 1970: Biafran government surrenders

Some recently released books and films have increased attention to Biafra. The war has been put back in the spotlight as the renowned Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, arguably the greatest male writer in Nigeria with Wole Soyinka, has just released his memoirs of the conflict. Igbo-American Chimanada Adichie’s amazing novel  Half a Yellow Sun is being made into an American film, as this traumatic period of Nigeria’s history is set to reach a wider audience. The title refers to the flag created for the shortly independent republics of Biafra. The film stars Thandy Newton and was filmed primarily in Calabar, with my friends working as extras on set. Far less impressive, the Jeta Amata’s movie Black November is soon to be released starring Mickey Rouke, Viviva A. Fox, and Kim Basinger, which is an effort to take Nollywood mainstream to Hollywood.  Based on the ridiculous trailer I almost hope no one goes to see the unrealistic portrayal of the oil conflict. Oil was a key impetus to the start of the Biafran War and control over reserves undergirded much of the struggle over Nigerian territory in the late 1960s, but I doubt the average viewer will think enough about the movie to be able to link natural resources to conflict.

Pro-Gbagbo Rally Outside of the International Criminal Court

Laurent Gbagbo, Président de la République (Cô...

Last week was historic for the International Criminal Court. It marked the pre-trial of the case against Laurent Gbagbo, the first former head of state to ever face charges in the ICC. I arrived on Tuesday simply hoping to see the inside of the building, but instead spent the afternoon watching demonstrators clash with Dutch police, and each other.

I was familiar with the Gbagbo case before I arrived and it was a simply a coincidence that my visit coincided with the first day of his pre-trial, which he did not attend. I knew that Gbagbo was installed as President of Cote d’Ivoire in 2000 and was in power during the 2002 civil war that split the country into politically contentious north and south regions. He served for a decade, based mostly on his continual stalling of his second election, and when Alassane Outtara was declared the winner of the 2010 elections Gbagbo refused to step down. He and his supporters argued that Outtara rigged the election (which is really hard to do unless the candidate is the incumbent) and Gbagbo swore himself into office again, despite that international observers called the voting more-or-less fair and that Gbagbo had already serve the equivalent of the constitutional limit of two five-year terms. Cote d’Ivoire became an even more volatile place in November 2010 when both Gbagbo and Outtara began to use violence to ensure their respective presidencies. The post-election conflict received the most media attention when a mass grave was discovered containing the bodies of known Outtara supporters.

According to the Case Information Sheet on “Situation in the Cote d’Ivoire: The Prosecutor v. Laurent Gbagbo” provided to me at the ICC’s front desk, pro-Gbagbo forces purportedly used widespread and systematic attacks against specific ethnic or religious communities that were supporting Outtara. The ICC is alleging that murder, rape and other sexual violence, persecution, and other inhuman acts were committed over an extended time period and over large geographic areas (I’m using the ICC’s wording). Gbagbo is being called an indirect co-perpetrator for four counts of crimes against humanity. Although Cote d’Ivoire is not party to the Rome State that founded the ICC, it accepted its jurisdiction in April 2003, which was ironically under Gbagbo’s regime. Outtara reconfirmed the country’s acceptance of this jurisdiction and at the end of last year the former President was arrested in the capital of Abidjan and transferred to The Hague. He has been fit to stand trial, and after being found indigent, the Court has borne the cost of his Defense.

Based on the violence that has occurred in Cote d’Ivoire over the last decade and the 2010 election strife, I was not totally surprised to see a rally outside the ICC on Tuesday. I became confused though when I approached the demonstration to see participants wearing t-shirts saying “Free Gbagbo” and holding banners calling Gbagbo a political prisoner. I initially assumed the 200+ demonstrators were there to see justice served against a tyrant, but on the contrary, they were loyal to Gbagbo and had come to support him.

I spent an hour or so talking with various protesters. Although a good number lived in the Netherlands, most seemed to have come from all over Western Europe, telling me they spent the night on buses from London, Paris, Berlin, and Milan to attend and would turn around and get back on the bus that same afternoon. I heard a litany of reasons for their presence there, with the most simple being that Gbagbo was a family friend or that he was born in the same community as the protester. Some said they came out because they felt he would be a better ruler than Outtara, while others felt he had been a scapegoat for an out-of-control military that acted of its own accord. Many voiced anger that Gbagbo’s inner circle have all been imprisoned under Outtara, including the former First Lady Simone Hehivet Gbagbo, his son, Michel Gbagbo, and former Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan. Many chanted about one-sided justice, in which both sides had committed violence yet only Gbagbo was arrested. I was handed a leaflet calling the 2010 election a France-backed coup, a form of neocolonialism. A different leaflet I received showed graphic photos of dead bodies from a massacre that allegedly occurred on July 20, 2012, captions stating that Ouattara used the military to burn opponents alive and that he had established concentration camps. Another Ivorian-French man at the rally gave me an information sheet that had nothing to do with the 2010 election violence at all, but rather was demanding an answer as to who was responsible for the November 2004 bombing of a French military camp in Bouaké, which killed 9 French soldiers, one American civilian, and injured 38 others. The pro-Gbagbo demonstration simply gave him an audience and platform he needed to get his message across.

Here is some footage I took of the rally in its early hours when it was at its calmest: