Whether in the form of a strike, a speech, or a sit-in, people use a wide variety of communication strategies when confronting the established social order. This course will examine the communication practices of social movements: the groups of people organized around advancing a change in public ideas and actions. We will examine major social movements such as the labor, environmental, anti-war, suffrage, racial justice, and gay liberation movements. We will look at how movements speak to various audiences and utilize outlets such as the media, online forums, or public spaces. Additionally, we will examine how social movements use communication to achieve internal cohesion, navigate ethical dilemmas, and resist suppression efforts. Students will develop an appreciation for the myriad of ways communication can be used for social change.

This course is designed for undergraduates at the 200-level.

Required texts: Persuasion and Social Movements (Stewart, Smith, and Denton) | A People’s History of the United States (Zinn)

Header image description: A large crowd of members and supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe stand in the middle of a highway, with a large orange banner that says “defend the sacred.” The crowd recedes far back into the distance.

Sample Course Schedule:

WeekTopicSample ReadingCase Study 
1IntroductionHaiman, “The rhetoric of the streets” (1967)  
2Defining Social MovementsCox & Foust, “Social Movement Rhetoric
“What is a Social Movement?” (SSD)
Civil Rights 
Unit One: Communication and Agitation
3Identity“Altering Self-Perceptions” / “Transforming Perceptions of Social Reality” (SSD)
“Surprises” (Zinn)
Feminist Movement   
4Coalition“An Organized Collectivity” (SSD) / “Constituting SM Organizations” (SSD)
“Persons of Mean and Vile Condition” (Zinn)
Labor Movement 
5Public awareness“Mobilizing for Action” / “Legitimizing” (SSD)
Trashing the System” (Enck-Wanzer)
LatinX Activism 
6Making demands“Political Arguments in Social Movements” (SSD)
“The Unreported Resistance” (Zinn)
LGBT Liberation   
7Maintaining visibility“Sustaining the Social Movement” / “Prescribing Courses of Action” (SSD)
“Slavery Without Submission” (Zinn) 
Abolition   
Unit Two: Communication and Control
8Power“Resisting Social Movements” (SSD)
“The Seventies: Under Control?” (Zinn)
Anti-Corruption 
9Evasion“The Strategy of Adjustment”
“The Clinton Presidency” (Zinn)
Environmentalism 
10Coercion“The Strategy of Coercive Persuasion” (SSD)
“Robber Barons and Rebels” (Zinn)
Anti-War / Pacifism 
Unit Three: Obstacles and Opportunities
11Counter-Movements“Transcending the Opposition,”
“The Abortion/Choice Movements” (SSD)
Reproductive Rights 
12(Dis)Unity“Leadership of Social Movements” (SSD)
Dow, “Larry Kramer’s ‘1,112 and counting’
AIDS Activism 
13Media“Argument from Narrative Visions” (SSD)
The Tea Party Movement, Framing, and the US Media
Tea Party Movement 
14TechnologyCrip Camp (Netflix)
Disability Visibility Project
“#CripTheVote and Civic Participation” (Mann)
Disability Rights 
15-16Course Wrap Up / Portfolio PresentationsStudents will create a strategy portfolio for a movement they feel passionate about. It will contain background information on related movements, and recommended strategies to resist efforts to control the movement and promote the movement’s goals. 

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