Thursday, April 20, 2017

Visibility, Disruptiveness, and Effectiveness: What Actually Counts in a Demonstration

NPR ran this story the other day about research on which intuitions are correct about what makes a demonstration effective:

http://www.npr.org/2017/04/18/524473948/researchers-examine-the-psychology-of-protest-movements

A couple notes: while this research shows the importance of protesters' not putting themselves in a negative light, it doesn't mean they should never do anything that could make people uncomfortable. As Nick Cooney points out in his book Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change, disturbing images (as of animal abuse, for instance) may move people to action more effectively than warm-and-fuzzy ones. The key is whether the context makes viewers associate the unpleasant images with what's being protested or with those doing the protesting.

Another point: it's stated in the interview that sometimes there's a trade-off between visibility and effectiveness, with the latter being the bottom line that should determine protesters' choice of tactics. But there's also a sense in which they correlate, since the expectation of disruptive or violent tactics can reduce participation in an action. And, all other things being equal, a smaller action is a less visible one, as well as probably less effective.

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