The best books on what drives protestors

Who am I?

James M. Jasper has written a number of books and articles on politics and social movements since the 1980s, trying to get inside them to see what participants feel and think. In recent years he has examined the many emotions, good and bad, involved in political engagement. He summarizes what he has learned in this short book, The Emotions of Protest, taking the reader step by step through the emotions that generate actions, to those that link us to groups, down to the emotional and moral impacts of social movements. The book is hopeful and inspiring but at the same time also clear-eyed about the limitations of protest politics.

I wrote...

The Emotions of Protest

By James M. Jasper,

Book cover of The Emotions of Protest

What is my book about?

This is a book centered on protest, but James M. Jasper also points toward broader paths of inquiry that have the power to transform the way social scientists picture social life and action. Through emotions, he says, we are embedded in a variety of environmental, bodily, social, moral, and temporal contexts, as we feel our way both consciously and unconsciously toward some things and away from others. Politics and collective action have always been a kind of laboratory for working out models of human action more generally, and emotions are no exception.

Both hearts and minds rely on the same feelings racing through our central nervous systems. Protestors have emotions, like everyone else, but theirs are thinking hearts, not bleeding hearts. Brains can feel, and hearts can think.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy

Why did I love this book?

Since ancient times people have gathered outdoors to celebrate all sorts of things, generating joy through dancing, marching, singing, and feasting. In the past most had some religious aura, but in the present, many are political gatherings, deeply satisfying ways of expressing moral visions. In this romp through history Ehrenreich shows us the sheer fun of political (and other) gatherings, which modern elites have tried hard to suppress.

By Barbara Ehrenreich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dancing in the Streets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the bestselling social commentator and cultural historian comes Barbara Ehrenreich's fascinating exploration of one of humanity's oldest traditions: the celebration of communal joy

In the acclaimed Blood Rites, Barbara Ehrenreich delved into the origins of our species' attraction to war. Here, she explores the opposite impulse, one that has been so effectively suppressed that we lack even a term for it: the desire for collective joy, historically expressed in ecstatic revels of feasting, costuming, and dancing.

Ehrenreich uncovers the origins of communal celebration in human biology and culture. Although sixteenth-century Europeans viewed mass festivities as foreign and "savage," Ehrenreich…

Book cover of Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements

Why did I love this book?

Internal dynamics, especially decisionmaking, often become more important to protest groups than the impact they are having on the outside world. Through vivid cases in twentieth-century America, Polletta relates the internal and the external, showing that groups decide what to do and who they are -- strategy and identity -- at the same time. She is especially good on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the early 1960s.

By Francesca Polletta,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Freedom Is an Endless Meeting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Freedom Is an Endless Meeting offers vivid portraits of American experiments in participatory democracy throughout the twentieth century. Drawing on meticulous research and more than one hundred interviews with activists, Francesca Polletta challenges the conventional wisdom that participatory democracy is worthy in purpose but unworkable in practice. Instead, she shows that social movements have often used bottom-up decision making as a powerful tool for political change.

Polletta traces the history of democracy in early labor struggles and pre-World War II pacifism, in the civil rights, new left, and women's liberation movements of the sixties and seventies, and in today's faith-based…

Among the Thugs

By Bill Buford,

Book cover of Among the Thugs

Why did I love this book?

Although this book is about soccer hooligans rather than political protestors, it shows why some people -- mostly young men -- actually seek out violent encounters. Perhaps other people understand the pleasures of fisticuffs better than I do, but for me this was eye-opening. It may also help us understand the ringleaders of the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

By Bill Buford,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Among the Thugs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The author of this book has spent most of his spare time "among the thugs", the hooligans whose violence scars the face of English football. He has written a work of investigative journalism and a meditation on the violence that lies just beneath the surface of English life.

Missing Class

By Betsy Leondar-Wright,

Book cover of Missing Class

Why did I love this book?

Meetings are one of the main activities of social movements, and plenty of misunderstandings occur based on the way people talk due to different backgrounds. This amusing book focuses on the effects of social class, which both activists and scholars have tended to forget about in recent years. If nothing else, it will give you something to think about during your next meeting.

By Betsy Leondar-Wright,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Missing Class as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Many activists worry about the same few problems in their groups: low turnout, inactive members, conflicting views on racism, overtalking, and offensive violations of group norms. But in searching for solutions to these predictable and intractable troubles, progressive social movement groups overlook class culture differences. Missing Class looks through a class lens and discovers that members with different class life experiences tend to approach these problems differently. Using this class lens enables readers to envision new solutions, solutions that draw on the strengths of all class cultures to form the basis of stronger cross-class and multiracial movements.

In Missing Class,…

Book cover of Origins of the Civil Rights Movements

Why did I love this book?

Although a little older, this remains in my view the best book on the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the heroic period of Dr. King and the student sit-ins. Born and raised in rural Mississippi during that time, Morris tells a rich story of the influence of religion: the songs, prayers, and scriptural references, but also the material resources such as churches to meet in, networks of preachers to spread information, and the conduit for funds to flow from more affluent Black communities to those battling on the frontline during the bloody fight for civil rights.

By Aldon D. Morris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Origins of the Civil Rights Movements as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A “valuable, eye-opening work” (The Boston Globe) about the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.

On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Mrs. Rosa Parks, weary after a long day at work, refused to give up her bus seat to a white man…and ignited the explosion that was the civil rights movement in America. In this powerful saga, Morris tells the complete story behind the ten years that transformed America, tracing the essential role of the black community organizations that was the real power behind the civil rights movement. Drawing on interviews with more than fifty key leaders,…

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