Dunya van Troost, Jacquelien van Stekelenburg, Bert Klandermans

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Chapter 10
Emotions of Protest
Dunya van Troost, Jacquelien van Stekelenburg, Bert Klandermans


Politics—and especially politics of protest—are full of emotions. People are angry about austerity measures, thrilled or fearful about the Arab Spring and indignant because they want real democracy now!1 Clearly, there is an emotional side to how people react to their social and political environment (Conover & Feldman, 1986; Lyman, 2004; Marcus, 2003; Marcus et al., 2000; Way & Masters, 1996). Politics of protest are imbued with emotions. In fact, protest is inconceivable without emotions. It is emotions which “give ideas, ideologies, identities and even interests their power to motivate” (Jasper, 1997, p. 127). Social movements are carriers of meaning and organizers do their utmost to create moral outrage and to provide a target against which this can be vented. They must weave together a moral, cognitive, and emotional package of attitudes. Organizers appeal to ‘attack emotions’ such as anger to create ‘fire in the belly and iron in the soul’ (Gamson, 1992, p. 32). However, ‘just’ being angry is not enough, as Martin Luther King aptly stated: ‘It is not enough for people to be angry - the supreme task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force’. Social movements use their power, resources and creativity to turn individual grievances and emotions into collective claims and to stage opportunities to act upon these claims.

Emotions have become a popular research area in the study of contentious politics. Such was not always the case. Classic breakdown theories on collective action used emotion terms as explanatory variables but equated emotion with irrationality. As rational approaches like resource mobilization theory (for example, McCarthy & Zald, 1976) or political process theory (for example, McAdam, 1982) became the state of the art, protesters were seen as ‘rationally’ motivated actors, and emotional aspects were left out the explanatory models (Goodwin & Jasper, 1999). Nevertheless, around the beginning of the 21st century, the previously held implicit assumption that emotion and rationality contrast each other has been refuted (Aminzade & McAdam, 2002; Emirbayer & Goldberg, 2005; Gould, 2009).

Organizers of protest do not feel constrained by whatever paradigmatic shift. ‘Emotion work’ has always been a key to the organization of protest. Take the following quote from Malcolm X: “Usually when people are sad, they don't do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about social change. Malcolm X points to an important characteristic of emotions; that is, that emotions propel behavior, but perhaps even more important, different emotions propel different behavior. This is the basic tenet of appraisal theory of emotions. A second central tenet of appraisal theory is that people can evaluate―or appraise―the same event differently and consequently have different emotional responses. This chapter will lay out a theoretical framework that links individuals’ appraisals of the socio-political context to emotions of protest. Appraisals―particularly group-based appraisals―play a crucial role in that respect. As people categorize themselves as group members, individual emotions turn into group-based emotions; “I feel for us”. Group-based appraisals shape group-based emotions, and consequently collective behavior. Our theoretical model― as depicted in Figure 1―holds protest emotions dependent on the socio-political context in which a contested issue emerges. This relationship between context and emotion is mediated by appraisals―evaluations―of the social and political context. The resulting emotions interact with the motivation to participate in protest or to abstain from it.

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