Consensus Decision Making, Northern Ireland and Indigenous Movements edited
by Patrick. G. Coy (JAI: Elsevier) Decision making is the oil
that greases the wheel of social movement organizing. Done poorly, it derails
organizations and coalitions; done well, it advances the movement and may model
those changes movements seek to effect in society. Despite its importance,
movement decision making has been little studied.
Section One makes a singular contribution to the study of social movement decision making through seven focused case studies, followed by a critical commentary. The case studies on decision making cut across a wide breadth of social movement contexts, including Peace Brigades International teams, a feminist bakery collective, Earth First, the NGO Forum on Women, Friends of the Earth, the Tlapanec indigenous movement in Mexico, an on-line strategic voting campaign, and Korean labor movements. The section concludes with Jane Mansbridge's synthesis and critical commentary on the papers, wherein she continues to make her own substantive contributions to the literature on consensus decision making.
The three papers in Section Two focus on
The volume closes with two papers on Native American issues. The first examines an initiative to teach conflict history and build conflict analysis and resolution skills regarding Native American issues. The final case study of two Native American women's organizations demonstrates how socially constructed identities are critical to movement framing processes and collective actions.
With this volume, RSMCC continues its long-standing tradition of publishing cutting edge studies in social movements, conflict resolution, and social change. Five of the six chapters are based on participant observation studies, including the two papers on the use of consensus by women's organizations and coalitions that open the volume. Lynne Woehrle's ethnography of a whole grains bakery, collectively owned and operated by consensus by women, is a fascinating analysis of the multiple tensions the group faced trying to balance the need for business sustainability with their ideological commitments to consensus processes, empowerment of women, and a deep, normative commitment to encouraging and honoring the claims-making by the women within the group. Woehrle's research highlights the dissonance the group repeatedly experienced between being a successful economic collective while also being flexible enough in policies, procedures and the daily ordering of the bakery's business life in order to meet the differing individual needs of its members. The collective embraced both consensus decision making and the creation of an empowering business space where each woman could find her own voice as a business partner while making individual claims on the group that the collective was committed in principle to try and honor. This combination of normative commitments eventually created a host of competing claims, not all of which could be met by the collective while remaining a viable business venture. A conflict that arose out of the claims that one member made on the collective – and which dominated life at the bakery for well over a year – is used by Woerhle to high-light and analyze the mixed blessing of the collective's success in empowering its members to engage in claims-making, and the collective's parallel failure to set boundaries that would protect the group and the business it operated.
One of the
arguments traditionally made by proponents of consensus decision making is that
it tends to increase democratization while it also disrupts and decenters
traditional power relations. But Anna Snyder's participant observation research
of the NGO Forum on Women 1995, a transnational conference that was parallel to
the Fourth UN World Conference on Women in
paper describes the added difficulties consensus decision makers face when
attempting it between organizations, in a coalition setting, rather than within
a single movement organization. Martin Hebert's richly textured ethnographic
research extends this approach, examining consensus decision making efforts
across indigenous community movements in
Brigades International (PBI) is a transnational human rights organization whose
small teams of unarmed observers provide international non-violent accompaniment
to local activists and organizers whose lives and liberties are under threat
from state and para-state forces. Peace Brigades International is committed to
decentralized, transnational structures and to consensus decision making. But
applying consensus principles in an international observer team context is far
from easy, and the risks are considerable for the participants. Based on
ethnographic research of the larger organization and on two PBI teams in
Andrew Whitworth's paper on decision making in environmental organiza- tions is largely based on interviews and participant observation of two organizations: Earth First!, and Friends of the Earth. Comparativist in approach Whitworth's paper is equally rich theoretically in that the communicative rationality principles and theories of Jurgen Habermas are used in an evaluative way to analyze the decision making practices of the two environmental organizations. Among much else, Whitworth shows that the larger, more formalized, and more hierarchical organization, the British national chapter of Friends of the Earth, is less able to practice the principles of consensus decision making, or the full participation and permeable organizational boundary ideals called for by Habermas' communicative rationality approach. But his analysis also shows that something less than the ideal may still be desirable and is in fact possible if environmental organizations are to manage conflicts constructively, maintain organizational health and growth, and influence policy. Whitworth maintains that this is possible even for those more formalized and highly structured organizations provided they develop organizational boundaries that are more permeable to inter-organization communication.
Social movements have increasingly been incorporating various kinds of on-line activism into the tactical repertories they utilize. As Jennifer Earl and Alan Schusman show in their study of the on-line strategic voting movement that emerged during the 2000 Presidential election, on-line activism has important consequences for how movements are organized, including how they make decisions. They show, for instance, that traditional movement organizations had little to do with this initiative, and that individual "movement entrepreneurs" were instead largely responsible. The strategic voting movement was essentially built around and facilitated by the websites of these movement entrepreneurs. Earl and Schussman show that this decentralized infrastructure moved decisionmaking away from networks or organizations and their leaders to the on-line movement entrepreneurs who were less constrained by funding concerns, membership recruitment and maintenance, and organization-building. In this way, they argue, leadership decreased in importance even while discretion increased. Other effects of the peculiar circumstances of the strategic voting movement were that decisions were largely based on ideological and technical concerns and relatively free of the organizational-based issues that otherwise impact movement decision making.
Suh's comparative study of three white collar union movements in
Jane Mansbridge, the Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and a leading scholar for more than two decades on consensus and participatory models of decision making, concludes this section with an extended analytical commentary on the papers on movement decision making. It is a commentary that helps this section avoid the scourge that plagues too much social movement scholarship: irrelevancy to the daily operations of social movement organizing. The title of her commentary, "Consensus in Context: A Guide for Social Movements," accurately distills why her chapter should be required reading for those social movement organizations who want to benefit from social movement scholarship.
Mansbridge's remarks are structured around the fact that consensus has advantages and disadvantages, and that the mix of the two is deeply influenced by the context within which consensus processes are used by social movements.
Based on her interpretations of the research findings presented in the first seven chapters, and on her own path-breaking research on consensus in New England town meetings and on the woman's movement, Mansbridge develops al insightful typology that explains when movement organizations and coalition: can expect the benefits of using genuine consensus to be higher and the cost: lower. "Context is all" in Mansbridge's typology about the relative usefulness of consensus decision making, and in carefully delineating the relevant variables she makes her own substantive contribution to the literature or consensus.
contains three interconnected papers on
With Joanne Hughes' paper included here, we now we have an important comparative evaluation of these newer single identity conflict resolution approaches. Much of what social psychology has taught us about group relations is based on carefully controlled social experiments. But insofar as Joanne Hughes' paper is based on a methodologically sophisticated qualitative study of four actual intra-community projects, it represents a significant advance in the literature. Hughes deftly argues that these projects may harbor a double-edged sword: as they increase skills and community confidence on the one hand, they can easily heighten tensions and nurture narrow differences in ultimately destructive ways. But what is even more useful about Hughes' analysis of these projects is her uncovering of those factors that impede or facilitate a community's progression to effective contact programs.
many inter-community contact programs and also in intracommunity programs
designed to build civil society skills and understanding is this assumption:
that by building civic groups one builds democracy in
Festival Day Project suggests that civic society in
difficulties inherent in maintaining inter-community contact in
includes two papers on issues having to do with Native American communities.
However embarrassing it may be to conflict resolution scholars and
professionals, until much too recently conflict resolution theory and
skills-training that originates in majority communities has been simply
"exported" or transferred to minority communities. As the case description of
their work with the Native American Program of the
available literature on Native American social movements is tellingly small; the
research on Native American women and social movement mobilization is even more
so. Timothy Gongaware's study answers two important questions: What is the
impact of particular social institutions on the development of individual and
collective identity among Native American women? And what effects do their
social positions and self-understandings have on social movement collective
action frames? Based on a year-long ethnographic study of two Native American
social movement organizations in the Plains states, Gongaware argues that the
Native American women he studied socially constructed identities focused on
nurturing and culture-keeping, and developed organizational repertoires that
were critically important in movement framing processes and collective actions.
Introduction (P.G. Coy).
Conflicts and Consensus Decision Making in Social Movements.
Claims-making and consensus in collective group processes (L. Woehrle). Critiquing consensus: an analysis of processes designed for non-governmental collaboration (A. Snyder). Communal interest and political decision-making in an emerging Mexican indigenous movement (M. Hébert). Negotiating identity and danger under the gun: consensus decision making on peace brigades international teams (P.G. Coy). Communicative rationality and decision making in environmental organizations (A. Whitworth). The new site of activism: on-line organizations, movement entrepreneurs, and the changing location of social movement decision-making (J. Earl, A. Schussman). Social movement organization and network formation (Doowon Suh). Consensus in context: a guide for social movements (J. Mansbridge).
The Troubles and Conflict Resolution in
Resolving community relations problems in
Identity and Conflict Resolution in Native American Communities.
Remember Kinzua! The development of a history and conflict resolution curriculum for the
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