A social protest movement from an Organisational Analysis perspective.
This essay engages the reciprocal relationship between individuals and organisations in the form of social protest, where in a contemporary context the management process has been heavily influenced by media, societal tensions and governmental association. The ‘Black Lives Matter’ protest movement will be critically analysed in both its theoretical structure and practical engagement with social institutions and member participation. Subsequently, the effectiveness and legitimacy of the movement’s rituals, narratives and aims will be evaluated upon within the framework of its organisational culture and processes.
The multiple facets of the organisational structure and management of Black Lives Matter (BLM) need to be considered in order to be engaged in sociological discussion. Handel (2003: 2) helpfully defines organisations as deliberately planned groups with specific goals, enduring across membership bases and governed by often fixed procedures prescribed by objective responsible authoritative figures. Since 2012, BLM is very much an organisation in the form of a cooperative movement; fundamentally spearheaded by consistent, widespread and voluntary association across communities pushing for a political space for disenfranchised African Americans in light of continued racialised police violence (Langford 2015: 80). Their aims encompass a broader social, cultural and political benefit often through a radical reformative approach similar to Owenism – prioritising ‘mutuality’ in its guiding principles of globalist solidarity and collective value as part of a broader shared struggle against oppression – this communal involvement is described by Hurd (2014: 288) as an emotional reaction to social outrage that often manifests in ‘rituals’ that shape a ‘moral-social identity’ and underpin their protesting of dominant societal structures. Management, as understood through Clegg et al (2009: 8) encompasses a communicative and coordinated process while actioning a pursuit of organisational objectives, engaging with outside interests to be detailed further. BLM is decentralised in its non-hierarchical organisational model, and is chapter-based nationwide, with an emphasis on local organising instead of nationally-designated leaders; rather, governance and management is distributed more evenly across communities in a heavily-grassroots approach which is beneficial to organisation-individual relations (Murray 2011: 205).
Just as the contemporary interpretation of racial issues has come to be understood as nuanced and intersectional, BLM philosophically borrows from the postmodernist framework that relies on contextuality and a denial of objectivity (Hurd 2014: 287). Situating recognised participants and indeed the aims and purposes of the movement can be utilised in various contexts (Murray 2011: 212); for example, the poorer and most marginalised of the BLM support base likely only have the means to campaign at a local-government level, while those of unofficial yet socially higher mobility may represent the movement on a national level such as those meeting with President Obama at a policing forum in 2016. Alongside this, however, the movement fits suitably within a social justice framework – rooted in the belief that the public sector’s interactions with social institutions is essential (Langford 2015: 83) to provide the most equitable sharing of a community’s resources to the great proportion of the population in accordance with ‘Owenite’ goals. This is situated in the style of activism BLM espouses – revolutionary, concerned with reshaping dominant discourses and oppressive institutions. The philosophy behind the operations of BLM evokes many of the Rochdale Principles including voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, cooperation among sub-cooperatives within the movement, and a focus on education – all underpinned by a concern for the community fabric on an anti-discriminatory basis primarily focused on race. Similarly, BLM is also applicable to the philosophy espoused by Fletcher Jones – motivated by inequity and oppression, employing a cooperative and non-hierarchical decision-making system, while deconstructing barriers between senior members and casual participants of an organisation (Carr 2008: 85). Within the unique organisational structure of BLM, contemporary methods are essential to its processes of pursuing activism and social reform, and these will be discussed as both advantageous and obstructive.
BLM represents a highly contemporary organisational example, as its social justice motivations and collective focus emerged solely from the social media advent’s ‘hashtag’. This encompasses an interesting sociological discussion surrounding the interaction of social media with modern protest movements, and the socially active, relational nature of BLM in its management (Clegg et al 2009: 8). Media, broadly speaking, is undoubtedly the most fruitful and extensive resource in the public-relations arsenal of BLM, effectively propelling it into widespread public consciousness over the last five years. According to Glenn (2015: 81), the advent of social media has particularly impacted how social movements generate awareness and participation, but can equally impede physical mobilisation. Use of social media to disseminate information is greatly aided within an age of ‘cheap’ technology, enabling ordinary citizens to capture acts of police brutality and use the viral potential of social media to spread such information under the banner of their cause. As posts on Twitter and Facebook begin to trend, they are picked up by mainstream, more traditional media forms of television and newspaper (Langford 2015: 87). These ‘newsworthy’ events – all-too-regularly comprising footage of unarmed African Americans being victims of police violence – encourage the spread of awareness and conversation; further, BLM has passed over the ‘cumbersome’ mainstream media as a less efficient way of disseminating information to garner a following compared with fast-paced social media platforms (Gerbaudo 2012: 4). Interestingly, social media has virtually re-constructed the public place as a meeting point for social movements (Gerbaudo 2012: 5), used by BLM as a valuable tool to choreograph and orchestrate multiple demonstrations and rallies at the same time throughout various areas of the country. This is clearly a product of globalised media that has deconstructed barriers to the diffusion of organisations, allowing participants to be situated liminally and consume BLM in similar states despite cultural boundaries. It has been shown comprehensively (Mueleman 2014: 60; Langford 2015: 82) that the medium of hashtags has rendered organisations in the form of protest movements more easily consumable than ever, and able to be consumed on multiple levels – from reaching direct activism to more distanced allies and advocates (Langford 2015: 79). It has also enabled BLM to transcend community consciousnesses but still retain its strong social justice ties.
Through analysis of the unique organisational processes of BLM, it is conceivable to measure its effectiveness as a protest movement by its synthesis with other organisational spheres and theoretical positioning compared with other organisational models. Langford (2015: 78) recognises that systems of organisational management are based on the prerequisite of having innate social systems, and that any resources used must be in relation to all other resources systemically. Mladkova (2013: 292) perceives capital as an important resource in the success of an organisation, incorporating a culture based on cooperation and moral synchronisation. Human capital includes all knowledge, abilities, expertise and creativity of the members of an organisation. She also analyses systemic approaches to organisation through Weber’s theorisation, focused on individualised roles and the capacity of bureaucracy to rationalise human affairs to mere reason and rules. This largely conflicts with the moral compass and emotional motivations behind BLM. Jones and May (1992: 36) similarly highlight the problematic nature of centralising bureaucracy in organisations where more rigid rules and a hierarchical structure are imposed; critiquing Weber’s assessment of organisational structures purely as formal which overlooks the benefits of casual, social-based association seen significantly in the often-familial BLM movement. A comparative analysis presented by Mladkova on Senge’s ‘organisational learning’ theory more wholly fits the operations of BLM in its ideological model and shared visions of anti-racism that is demonstrated through team learning and a systemic focus (2013: 292). Thus, the interlinked elements within BLM – including restorative justice, intergenerational engagement and globalism – are interdependent under Senge’s model and form a unified movement with a cohesive message.
Furthermore, the counter-movements that have emerged to co-opt BLM’s message – such as ‘All Lives Matter’ or ‘Blue Lives Matter’, often a subject of direct conflict for the movement – are nevertheless evident of its outreach and absorption into mainstream discourses. Within the campaign, there is a tendency towards subgroups that may overlap but can also have diverging approaches, such as the radical ‘Chicago Alliance’ subgroup or, by contrast, more peaceful family-oriented motivations. Discernibly, these often-subconscious overlaps within groups may undermine the core message or cohesive structure, likely to be accentuated by varying membership policies across chapters that reserve the right to limit or select members based on personal factors. Of course, potential problems highlighted by Velasquez (2015: 469) and Meuleman (2014: 60) target the nature of organisations engrained in the realm of social media – there is a risk of homogeneity and blurriness surrounding the authenticity of user-controlled hashtag movements and how that same information may be reported to wider audiences on traditional media. In addition, the seemingly ‘loose’ organisational structure of BLM exacerbates some confusion among members and in press coverage regarding involvement on an individual level as opposed to official actions from the group itself (Campbell 2016: 251). This can have implications for outsider perceptions of movements that may reduce organisations ‘to the technologies of their architecture’ instead of recognising the sociological mechanisms behind the coordination of people’s movements (2014: 60). For movements such as BLM, the combination of online and offline activism needs to be managed consistently and efficiently to avoid contradictory interpretations between personal and political involvements with the organisation, lest its organisational solidity be compromised.
Upon analysis of the modern protest movement, it is evident that the interactions between individuals, institutions and societal groups are integral to the organisational structure and processes. ‘Black Lives Matter’ represents rather unorthodox organisational behaviours, particularly in its ingrained social media practises that comprise the majority of its outreach methods, but is still able to be examined in various theoretical frameworks. Considering its approach to activist organisation, wider objectives, potential shortcomings and conflict, it is reasonable to say that BLM has succeeded in influencing widespread communities largely on a social justice basis.
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