Passionate Politics Emotions and Social Movements
edited by Jeff Goodwin, James M. Jasper and Francesca Polletta
University of Chicago Press, 2001
Cloth: 978-0-226-30398-7 | Paper: 978-0-226-30399-4 | Electronic: 978-0-226-30400-7


Emotions are back. Once at the center of the study of politics, emotions have receded into the shadows during the past three decades, with no place in the rationalistic, structural, and organizational models that dominate academic political analysis.

With this new collection of essays, Jeff Goodwin, James M. Jasper, and Francesca Polletta reverse this trend, reincorporating emotions such as anger, indignation, fear, disgust, joy, and love into research on politics and social protest. The tools of cultural analysis are especially useful for probing the role of emotions in politics, the editors and contributors to Passionate Politics argue. Moral outrage, the shame of spoiled collective identities, or the joy of imagining a new and better society, are not automatic responses to events. Rather, they are related to moral institutions, felt obligations and rights, and information about expected effects, all of which are culturally and historically variable.

With its look at the history of emotions in social thought, examination of the internal dynamics of protest groups, and exploration of the emotional dynamics that arise from interactions and conflicts among political factions and individuals, Passionate Politics will lead the way toward an overdue reconsideration of the role of emotions in social movements and politics generally.

Rebecca Anne Allahyari
Edwin Amenta
Collin Barker
Mabel Berezin
Craig Calhoun
Randall Collins
Frank Dobbin
Jeff Goodwin
Deborah B. Gould
Julian McAllister Groves
James M. Jasper
Anne Kane
Theodore D. Kemper
Sharon Erickson Nepstad
Steven Pfaff
Francesca Polletta
Christian Smith
Arlene Stein
Nancy Whittier
Elisabeth Jean Wood
Michael P. Young


Jeff Goodwin is an associate professor of sociology at New York University and author of No Other Way Out: States and Revolutionary Movements, 1945-1991.

James M. Jasper is an independent scholar and the author of Restless Nation and The Art of Moral Protest.

Francesca Polletta is an associate professor of sociology at Columbia University and author of Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements.


Preface and Acknowledgments

- Jeff Goodwin, James M. Jasper, Francesca Polletta
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0001
[emotions, politics, social movements, collective action, political action, frames, collective identity, political opportunities]
This introductory chapter begins with a discussion of how emotions have played almost no role in theories of social movements and collective action since the end of the 1960s. It then suggests that although emotions are not explicitly theorized or even recognized, they are nonetheless present in many of the concepts that scholars have used to extend our understanding of social movements in recent years. Mobilizing structures, frames, collective identity, political opportunities — much of the causal force attributed to these concepts comes from the emotions involved in them. An overview of the subsequent chapters is also presented. (pages 1 - 24)
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Part One Theoretical Perspectives

- Randall Collins
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0002
[social movements, emotional dynamics, social attention space]
Social movements, when successful, are crescive, emergent phenomena. This chapter suggests that in order to understand the shape of their emergent and transient pathways across time, we need to capture their emotional dynamics in a social attention space. Social movements operate inside a social attention space, which has room for only a limited number of participants; hence there is an implicit struggle to position oneself within this attention space. This process largely determines victory or defeat, as well as whether a movement can get off the ground at all and how long it will remain important. (pages 27 - 44)
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- Craig Calhoun
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0003
[sociology, psychology, emotions]
Toward the end of the twentieth century, a number of sociologists took up the struggle to bring emotions into serious consideration within their discipline. Some have managed not only to borrow effectively but to advance interdisciplinary inquiry into the emotions, maintaining a foothold on each side of the border between psychology and sociology. Nonetheless, wide-reaching though efforts in the sociology of emotions have been, they have not yet deeply transformed sociological theory in a general way, nor have they reshaped many subfields of the discipline. Instead, the sociology of emotions has gained a certain recognition as a field of its own. Whatever advantages this has for the networks of specialists, it is a compartmentalization that may limit the impact of the field within sociology more generally. At the same time, in order to understand why studies of emotions have not become more central in sociology, we have to ask not just about the character of the studies themselves, but about the nature of and reasons for the inattention in the rest of the discipline. We need to understand what kinds of resistances inquiries into emotions meet, and what features of existing theories and approaches make connections hard to establish. (pages 45 - 57)
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- Theodore D. Kemper
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0004
[emotions theory, social structure, social movement dynamics, social movement structure]
Social movement researchers who are interested in examining the emotional elements of movement issues cannot be expected to be expert both in social movements and in emotions theory. The modern segmentation of scientific fields generally inhibits such types of dual competence. This chapter provides a brief grounding in what is termed a structural approach to emotions, which is particularly suited to a multiplicity of emotion-related questions that social movement researchers and theorists are likely to confront. A structural approach to emotions examines social structural conditions to explain why specific emotions are either prevalent or likely to arise as the structural conditions either change or continue as before. The structural approach to emotions presents a broad foundation of empirically supported grounds for examining many questions about social movement structure and dynamics. (pages 58 - 73)
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- Frank Dobbin
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0005
[social action, human action, human behavior, rational calculation, passion]
This chapter provides a commentary that sketches the transformation of passionate action into calculative interest-driven action, not merely within social movements but across social realms. The aim is not to romanticize the past but to note a wider trend in which human action is increasingly framed as driven by interest and calculation, even in realms that were, not long ago, thought to operate on other principles. It argues that the ongoing substitution of interest for passion, in conceptions of human behavior, helped to generate the prevailing rationalist social-scientific paradigm. This change may also be leading social movements to depict themselves as oriented to rational calculation — as “managed” in the conventional sense, rather than as spontaneous, devotional, and charismatic. (pages 74 - 80)
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Part Two Cultural Contexts

- Mabel Berezin
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0006
[political identity, social transformation, citizenship, political incorporation, emotion, national belonging]
The collapse of postwar political arrangements in Eastern, and to some extent Western, Europe, the former Soviet Union, Africa, and Asia in the past decade has re-mapped geopolitical space and challenged social science to find new ways to conceptualize cultural and social transformation. The fall of long-established regimes coupled with vast shifts in migration flows have catapulted political identity, with its concomitant issues of nationalism, ethnicity, and citizenship, to the forefront of social scientific research. Macrosociological interest in political identity tends to focus principally upon the legal institution of citizenship, the problem of immigration, and juridical issues of membership and group rights. This chapter recasts citizenship as a cultural as well as legal mode of political incorporation and underscores the symbolic and emotional practices that nation-states marshal to mobilize affection for the polity. Wedding emotion and citizenship expands the concept of membership to include the felt experience of national belonging. (pages 83 - 98)
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- Michael P. Young
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0007
[antislavery, emancipation, racial equality, United States, social movement, abolitionism, evangelicals]
During the 1830s, organized efforts to abolish slavery in the United States experienced a sea change. From 1832 to 1838 an estimated one hundred twenty thousand Northerners rallied around calls for the immediate emancipation of slaves and rejected schemes for the gradual abolition of slavery. This movement challenged the arguments of Protestant benevolent societies that African–Americans should be colonized in Liberia, and it demanded a commitment to racial equality within the United States. Why did this radical shift in antislavery occur in the 1830s? Why did the uncompromising message of immediate abolition gain the following of a vocal and committed minority at this time? This chapter argues that this change in the course of antislavery, and its timing, cannot be faithfully tracked by standard social movement theories. The dramatic conversion of activists to radical and immediate abolitionism requires an appreciation of the emotional resonance of a tight set of moral claims that triggered personal transformations and motivated bold collective action. It requires explaining how slavery managed to shock evangelicals in the 1830s in the ways it did and also how it could not just a generation earlier. This explanation must account for the development of a historically new religious temperament and emotional culture. Immediatism sparked emotional commitments in young evangelicals who came of age in the 1830s because it resonated with a broader pattern of affective commitments: a pattern unique to the generations of evangelicals born after the American Revolution. (pages 99 - 114)
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- Arlene Stein
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0008
[activism, Christian conservatives, self-realization, Christian activists, Christian Right]
This chapter focuses on the activism of the Christian Right. It suggests that their activism is more than a quest to repair the world and transform culture. It is an effort to repair themselves, and in this it is a deeply personal quest. While Christian conservatives are fond of speaking of their motives as a selfless commitment to higher authorities — family, nation, God — their stories indicate that their activism is not reducible to external goals; it offers the hope of self-realization as well. This quest for meaning encompasses emotional as well as cognitive dimensions. Christian activists try to construct a positive sense of themselves and their families as strong and independent, in contrast to weak, shameful others. Their activism is a reparative act. (pages 115 - 132)
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Part Three Recruitment and Internal Dynamics

- Deborah Gould
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0009
[social movements, lesbians, gays, AIDS activists, street activism, emotions, political activism]
Militant AIDS activist groups began to emerge in 1986–87 in various lesbian and gay communities around the United States. Why did lesbians and gay men become politically active in the face of AIDS, and why did they embrace angry and militant street activism after a generation of engagement in routine interest group politics? In an account that challenges standard social movement theory, this chapter demonstrates how emotions and their expression — notably shame, fear, pride, grief, indignation, and anger — shaped lesbian and gay responses to the AIDS epidemic, sometimes encouraging lesbian and gay quiescence or community self-help, at other times animating militant political activism. It draws on evidence from Chicago, New York City, and San Francisco. (pages 135 - 157)
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- Sharon Erickson Nepstad, Christian Smith
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0010
[human rights, Central America, moral outrage, emotional response]
This chapter proposes that moral outrage was a logical emotional response to information about human rights abuses and atrocities in Central America. Structural factors were central in determining who had access to credible sources of information that formed the basis of this moral outrage. Yet this information did not lead to the same emotional reaction by all U.S. citizens. One's values and identity shape the way the information is perceived and the degree of importance placed upon responding to the situation. Therefore, emotional reactions must be seen as the result of an interactive process of information, culture, organizational and relational ties, and identity. (pages 158 - 174)
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- Colin Barker
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0011
[collective action, emotionality, trade unions, Solidarity movement]
This chapter discusses the emotional components of the collective action in Gdansk, Poland in August 1980. Every record of August 1980 at Gdansk, where the Solidarity movement was founded, is packed with incidents of human emotionality. Fear, courage, anger, laughter, nervous breakdowns, pride, and solidarity appear at peak intensity during those seventeen days. The narrative is punctuated by displays of feeling, including tears, cheering, booing, whistling, open-air Masses, public readings of workers' poetry, presentations of flowers. From the organized flood of feeling, which focused on the Lenin shipyard between Thursday the 14th and Sunday the 31st of August, was born the fastest-growing trade-union movement in world history. Within three months of its recognition, Solidarity recruited ten million members and inspired parallel movements among students, peasants, shoppers in queues, prisoners in jails, and even philatelists. (pages 175 - 194)
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- Rebecca Anne Allahyari
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0012
[social movements politics, Loaves & Fishes, The Salvation Army, caring, moral selving, emotion cultures, social change]
This chapter describes the author's fieldwork among volunteers in the two largest charitable organizations dedicated to feeding the poor in Sacramento, California. At Loaves & Fishes, a Catholic Worker charity, the staff and “routine volunteers” (mostly middle class and predominantly white) strove to treat the poor with more compassion and love, while at The Salvation Army, kitchen staff and the “drafted volunteers” (mostly working class and male, many of color, and many formerly homeless) labored alike to be more responsible toward others. The felt politics of caring at Loaves & Fishes and The Salvation Army spanned three mutually constitutive horizons: the moral selving of individuals, the emotion cultures of the organizations, and the local politics of charity and social change. The analysis here focuses on the latter two in order to turn our attention most directly to social movement politics. (pages 195 - 211)
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- Julian McAllister Groves
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0013
[social movements, animal rights activists, feelings, symbolic interactionism, biomedical research, terrorist acts]
This chapter examines how social movement activists, specifically animal rights activists, talk about their feelings. The approach taken is basically that of symbolic interactionism. It looks at how activists interpret their emotions in the context of their interactions with significant others — particularly the media and opponents from the biomedical research community. The analysis looks at why a social movement takes the form it does. It seeks to explain why the animal rights movement embraces a scientific, philosophical outlook rather than taking the form of a movement for compassion and kindness led by middle-class women — as its predecessor, the humane movement, did in the nineteenth century. At the same time, activists define “acceptable anger,” which allows the more flamboyant, even violent forms of protest to be romanticized, thus allowing alleged terrorist acts to coexist within the movement's “rational,” professional, scientific outlook. (pages 212 - 230)
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Part Four The Emotions of Conflict

- Nancy Whittier
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0014
[social movements, child sexual abuse, internal movement, emotional displays, activists, emotional labor, oppositional emotions]
This chapter draws on the case of the movement against child sexual abuse to examine how the reconstruction and expression of oppositional emotions play out in various contexts. Internal movement processes interact with external institutions, the state, and other social movements to shape emotional displays and their ramifications both within movement contexts and within external settings of media, the state, and medical institutions. Emotional displays that emerge in different contexts are shaped by three factors: the oppositional emotions activists construct in internal movement organizations; emotional labor in the public display of emotion; and the emotional opportunities afforded by the external context. (pages 233 - 250)
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- Anne Kane
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0015
[social movements, emotions, symbolic models, Irish Land War, political alliance, movement solidarity]
One major problem confronting social movement scholars is identifying the emotional component of the movement processes. This chapter argues that the place to look for emotions in social movements is in the structure of symbolic models and systems. It elaborates on a multidisciplinary theoretical perspective positing that emotions are metaphorically conditioned and organized, and often complexly structured in narratives. Using the case of the Irish Land War, the chapter focuses on how a political alliance between diverse groups in social movements is made possible through the narrative reconstruction of meaning. It shows how the structure of narratives is often based on metaphoric conceptualizations of emotion, and how this emotional conceptualization contributes to meaning transformation and to the possibility for political alliance and movement solidarity. (pages 251 - 266)
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- Elisabeth Jean Wood
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0016
[peasants, insurgency, El Salvador, political mobilization]
Beginning in the mid-1970s, peasants in El Salvador joined in a broad social movement against long-standing patterns of political and economic exclusion. Despite brutal repression by state security forces, some continued to participate throughout the subsequent civil war as members of the guerrilla forces, as civilian collaborators providing intelligence and supplies, and as members of opposition organizations aligned with the insurgent guerrilla force (the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, FMLN). This chapter presents an account of peasant political mobilization in El Salvador, which emphasizes the emotional benefits of participation, a particular kind of in-process benefit, as the key to understanding the willingness of campesinos to support the FMLN and its sister organizations. (pages 267 - 281)
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- Jeff Goodwin, Steven Pfaff
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0017
[emotions, civil rights, social movements, emotion management, social interactions]
This chapter examines the role of emotions in the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and in the East German civil rights or civic movement of the late 1980s. In the process, it hopes to uncover causal mechanisms that may matter for a wide range of social movements. More specifically, it examines the management of fear in these two “high-risk” movements, drawing upon the “emotion management” perspective of Arlie Hochschild (1983). Hochschild's key idea is that in their ongoing social interactions people more or less self-consciously “induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others”. (pages 282 - 302)
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- Francesca Polletta, Edwin Amenta
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226304007.003.0018
[social movements, sociology, movement emotions]
This chapter offers some cautionary lessons from the experience of other once-novel concepts in the sociology of social movements. Students of movement emotions can best reorient existing theoretical paradigms by identifying the conditions in which emotional dynamics explain the emergence and trajectories of movements better than the structural and cognitive processes usually cited. At the same time, students of movement emotions should not hesitate to ask macro-historical questions about how dominant emotion cultures come into being and shape widespread perceptions of what is strategic, what is political, and what is an interest. (pages 303 - 316)
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List of Contributors