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FALL 2021

October 20, 2021, 12-1:30 pm ET:

Strategies and Symbols of Contentious Politics in Central Asia

Colleen Wood, Columbia University

Abstract: Why do some civil society organizations choose to mobilize within the state, while others work outside it? How do groups make sense of the different institutional channels for communicating grievances and advancing rights claims? Empirically, I triangulate data collected over 18 months of digital fieldwork including visual analysis of social media data, digital participant observation, and semi-structured interviews to compare the strategies and discourse of civil society organizations in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. I find that groups in Kyrgyzstan tend to mobilize outside state-sponsored channels, while groups in Kazakhstan dedicated to political rights have gone through government institutions to make rights claims. The theory I develop explains that this variation is partially driven by top-down legislative context: in highly consolidated regimes, we see more mobilization through formal channels because stronger states can afford to enforce regulations on associational life. To understand variation within each case, I distinguish between consent and compliance in order to give careful attention to how activists devise strategies for making rights claims. I take an inductive approach to analyze the debates and arguments among civil society organizations and social movements in each country and find that different understandings of legitimacy and theories of political change are at the root of tactical and discursive differences.

About the author
Colleen Wood is a PhD candidate at Columbia University’s Political Science Department. Her research on civic identity and political participation in autocracies is funded by the National Science Foundation.

About the discussant

Zitian Sun is a graduate student at the Department of Politics, New York University. His main research focuses are states’ repression tactics, organizations in contentious politics, and radicalization dynamics in social movements, with a regional focus in East Asia.

Register at the link to receive the paper and the Zoom details for the meeting: https://bit.ly/3mfKC2M


Our Fall ’21 Schedule


Save the Dates

Our workshops this F’21 semester are scheduled on the following Wednesdays from 12 – 1:30pm ET: 10/20, 11/17, and 12/1.

On 10/20 (12 – 1:30pm ET): Colleen Wood (Ph.D. candidate, Columbia University) will present her dissertation research on Strategies and Symbols of Contentious Politics in Central Asia.

Stay tuned for more details about our upcoming workshop sessions!


Call for Participation

***We are no longer accepting submissions for the Fall ’21 semester. Please check back at the start of the Spring ’22 semester for our new call***

The Society and Protest Workshop at the Graduate Center, CUNY, is planning four meetings in the Fall semester, 2021, on the theme of insider and outsider strategies. We are soliciting proposals for presentations and papers that address the theme, including questions such as:

  • Questioning insider/outsider distinctions in models of the polity
  • Activist decision-making about how to engage people in power
  • What does it mean to have an “insider” strategy for movements? Inside of what?
  • Can cooptation be avoided? How?
  • What larger political conditions facilitate effective insider-outsider strategies? What conditions inhibit them?
  • Can insider-outsider strategies be stable, or do they lead to coalitional or organizational fracture?
  • How do insider-outsider strategies differ from each other, or present different sets of dilemmas or choices to activists?
  • Do insider-outsider strategies professionalize movements? Do they rely on already-professionalized movements?
  • At what point do both/and insider-outsider strategies revert to either/or strategies?

To ask these questions is to get to the heart of the reformist perspectives that inform much of the scholarship on social movements, but also raise questions about the possibility of “non-reformist reforms” and the stability of strategic plurality within movements. Yet, if at least some movements seek to get people “in the door” when they normally have been shut out of decision-making made about them–but not with them–it is also the case that the metaphorical door is rarely flung wide open: a movement is likely to get a foot, or a finger, in the door at first, and the questions and dilemmas we can discuss this semester, nearly inevitably follow.

The Society and Protest Workshop was founded from the joining of two, longer-running existing workshops, the Civil Society Workshop and the Politics and Protest Workshop. Like their predecessors, they are interdisciplinary workshops that welcome contributions from students and faculty, as well as interested people not affiliated with the university, and they are open to all.

We welcome papers and proposals-in-progress that the author would like to workshop, as well as more finished projects and lectures. The format will always include at least one discussant and ample time for participation among workshop attendees. All sessions will be conducted online via Zoom. We hope to explore the possibility of publication for our contributors at the conclusion of each themed semester. 

If you are interested in contributing, please submit a paragraph abstract as well as your choice of format (paper and presentation). Presentations should not be more than 25 minutes, with 1 hour available for discussion. Papers not to exceed 8000 words and will be shared the Friday before the week of the session. 

Send your contributions to societyandprotestworkshop@gmail.com no later than Tuesday, August 31.

If you are a Graduate Center student or faculty member interested in being involved in the steering committee of the Society and Protest Workshop, please also drop us a line at societyandprotestworkshop@gmail.com