Alex R. Section 2, Reaction Paper 3

Routine or non-routine collective action? Violence or non-violence?

According to a blog focusing of the “sociological world of collective action, routine collective action is defined as “usually involves nonviolent action which adheres to established patterns of behavior in bureaucratic social structures,” and non-routine collective actions as “often violent, short-lived, and causes a group’s extreme passion spread rapidly through a crowd like a wave or a contagious disease.” (Ebner). The connotation associated with one is much more positive than the other and two important distinctions made being violent or non-violent and adhering to norms or being emotional. These distinctions are not only seen in the media but also in the theories that surround these two ways of collective action.

There are two theories discussed that look at routine and non-routine collective action: breakdown theory and resource mobilization theory (Useem, 1998). Breakdown theory is said to occur when “mechanisms of social control lose their restraining power” (Useem, 1998). These types of events are associated with violence and emotions, usually suggesting that they do not have leadership, organization or well articulated goals. Research mobilization theory suggests that collective action does not flow from the breakdown of restraining powers but instead from groups of people “vying for political position and advantages.” (Useem, 1998). This is usually associated with events that have what breakdown theory events do not have such as leadership, organization, and goals. This creates distinctions between routine and non-routine collective action not only in terms of violence but also in terms of the reasoning behind the events taking place.

These distinctions in media and within the theories themselves take away from the experiences of these social movements. It makes a distinction between what are considered to be legitimate or violent movements from the basis of theory all the way to the basis of race in media portrayals. It creates a separation between white protestors and African American thugs, violent and non-violent, and obviously places one above the other. But what is the best way to go about addressing the problems that have people in the streets? As Resnikoff points out “History offers no definitive judgment on whether these acts of violence were productive.” (Resnikoff, 2014).  Social movements arise to combat what the people think is an unfair use or separation of power and the reactions can be non-violent or violent depending on the response “to the grievances that brought the complainants out onto the streets in the first place.” (Resnikoff, 2014). This is a vital thing to remember because it is the problems that bring people to their feet on the street and until the problems are dealt with, it has the potential to escalate.

Is it really that plausible that people jump straight to violence when an event occurs and there is no reasoning behind it other than a rush of emotion? It is much more complex than this. If there is a violent outburst, it should not be difficult to map out the social and structural components that have been a part of building up the fire that turned violent. Race riots, for example, have underlying issues that have been building up for decades. The way African Americans or Indians or any minority have been treated and are still being treated has been built over time. The structural violence, the symbolic violence that impacts them in their everyday lives has been built up over time and has the potential to explode with one last push. “The straw that broke the camel’s back” so to speak.  This is where these riots come from. It is an event that pushes them over the edge. They get to the point where they say that it is enough, they have had enough.  Marusic shares a quote from a speech in 1968 by Martin Luther King Jr. “It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.” (Marusic, 2015).

There are differences in the social movements and the tactics they use to try and change what they believe to be the problem. That does not mean that one should be hailed and another condemned. The difference is in tactics and both have proven in the past to have worked. The response of the public is as a result of a buildup of that can cause an uproar in the face of an event but ultimately the route to violence is greatly shaped by the response of those in power.

Marusic, Kristina. “From Peaceful Protests To Violent Uprisings, Here’s What History Can Teach Us About The Baltimore Riots.” News. N.p., 28 Apr. 2015.

Resnikoff, Ned. “Think Riots Have Never Caused Change in America? Think Again.” Aljazeera America. N.p., 26 Nov. 2014.

Useem, Bert. “Breakdown Theories of Collective Action.” Annu. Rev. Sociol. Annual Review of Sociology 24.1 (1998): 215-38.

Ebner, Ryan. “COLLECTIVE ACTION.” : Routine vs Nonroutine Collective Action. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2015.





Leave a Reply