Social Change and Movements




What does it take to make the social norm change? Does it take force, or excellent dialect?

Are you moved by campus demonstrations, or do you walk around the commotion to avoid any change in your beliefs?

Are you persuaded when you hear that you need to change because what you're doing is bad? Does this feeling of guilt make you anxious enough to change?

Does the latest story about how little money people have at retirement prompt you to open a savings account?

All of these issues will be covered in the discussion of these four theories on social change and movements. Elissa will discuss Bowers and Ochs' theory of Agitation and Control. Her discussion might help you to understand why it is that employees will strike for their benefits, or why striking has so much persuasion power in it.

Courtney will explain the Conflict Theory as discussed in Littlejohn's chapter on Communication in Relationships. This section might enable you to relate with the avoidance experiences that you have had with persuasion types.

Third, Rafer will talk about Burke's Dramatism. He will cover how feelings of guilt will often promote us to take a step toward change. He will discuss the sources of guilt and the language that lies within.

Finally, Craig will discuss the Theory of Fisher's called the Narrative Paradigm. He will go into how it is that stories have persuasive affects on us. He will talk about how simple stories can promote such great change.

Last, but not least, Rich will masterfully summarize the points and resolve any points that need clarification.


Rhetoric of Agitation and Social Control


Bowers' and Ochs' study on agitation and social control in the 1970s was mainly concerned with the messages generated by the participants of social change movements. The time at which they worked provided a plethora of examples, as the United States was in the midst of great social change. Many situations that Bowers and Ochs would classify as agitation and social control were going on in many different places and concerning many different topics. Campus demonstrations, political activism and civil rights movements were all prime examples of situations of agitation and social control.

What are agitation and social control? Bowers' and Ochs' definitions of agitation and control are as follows:

Agitation occurs when people outside the normal decision-making establishment advocate significant social change and encounter a degree of resistance within the establishment such as to require more than the normal discursive means of persuasion. Control refers to the response of the decision-making establishment to the agitation. (Bowers & Ochs 1971, page 4)

Under this definition, those within the establishment cannot be agitators. For example, if a mother takes a vote from her kids on what they want for dinner and the daughter protests the choice, she is not considered an agitator because she participated in the decision-making process. Another key point of the definition is that agitation only occurs when steps are taken beyond "normal" persuasive rhetoric. For instance, distributing flyers that urge students to vote against an increase in fees is considered within ordinary persuasive means. However, if the students have a sit-in to oppose unfavorable measures taken by the administration, they are participating in a form of agitation.

Agitation Strategies. Although they are not technically considered agitation, normal persuasive measures often precede agitation. This stage is referred to by Bowers and Ochs as petition (Bowers and Ochs 1971, page 16). This stage is crucial to an agitation movement because it establishes credibility and gives the establishment an early opportunity to comply with their demands. The control strategies that would be used at this point to comply are called adjustment and capitulation, however in typical agitation situations, this is unlikely. Still, in order for the movement to attain credibility, the chance must be given.

If the establishment does not comply but rather has met the agitators with avoidance or suppression, then the agitators often escalate to the promulgation stage (Bowers and Ochs 1971, page 17). Tactics included in this stage include all tactics designed to win social support for the agitators position, including informational picketing, posters, distribution of pamphlets, or a mass protest meeting. Two strategies often employed at this point are the exploitation of the mass media and finding legitimizers, or credible spokespersons. Both of these serve to raise the public's awareness of the issue, while hopefully gaining respect for the agitators' ideology.

Next, the agitators often use solidification tactics, which occur within the movement rather than outside. Solidification tactics produce or reinforce cohesiveness of members, thereby increasing responsiveness. This includes plays, songs, slogans, esoteric and expressive symbols and in-group publications. An example of this would be the upraised fist used by the Black Panthers.

The strategy of non-violent resistance is often referred to by the names of famous agitators who were known for this strategy-- Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi. Non-violent resistance places agitators in a position in which they are violating laws or customs they consider to be unjust or destructive of human dignity (Bowers and Ochs 1971, page 18). This includes sit-ins and school boycotts. The agitators participate in activities that would be legal or accepted if the establishment conceded. An example of this is when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. She was non-violently protesting laws and customs that the civil rights movement wanted to see changed. When the protested laws are perceived to be very unjust, this stage often turns violent when the establishment continues to resist. The theory behind non-violent protest, according to Dr.King, is that all of the resister's energy is directed to the policy he is violating, and not in the destruction of the perpetrators. A second aspect is that the resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, rather to win its friendship and understanding (Bowers and Ochs 1971, page 28).

Another strategy used is called escalation/confrontation and it is designed to make the establishment overreact to threats of disruption, and then looks foolish to the public. The agitators then hope this will lead to reforms instituted by the larger society witnessing the the disproportionate action taken by the establishment.

Control Strategies. Bowers and Ochs came up with four rhetorical strategies for control: avoidance, suppression, adjustment and capitulation (Bowers and Ochs 1971, page 41). One of the most widely used avoidance tactics is counterpersuasion. This occurs when the establishment tries to convince the agitators that they are wrong. If they are successful, the threat is minimized. If they are unsuccessful, the establishment has still gained time without changing their ideology or structure.

The second strategy is suppression, which institutions usually do not resort to until all avoidance tactics have failed. This tactic focuses on weakening or removing the agitators' spokespersons. This is often done by harassment, denial of the agitators' demands, or banishment. Banishment can terminate a movement by removing its leaders and spokespersons.

A third control strategy is adjustment. Establishments may do this by adapting, modifying, or altering their structures, goals or personnel (Bowers and Ochs 1971, page 53). One tactic is to accept some of the means of agitation. In essence this tactic serves to take away the attention received when the establishment instead reacts to the agitation. A movement may likely gain momentum if the establishment reacts to its agitation strategies by calling attention to its ideology.

The last strategy in the rhetoric of control is capitulation. This can be seen as the last resort of an establishment and has been known to be used when total destruction by the agitators is imminent (Bowers and Ochs 1971, page 55).

In conclusion, the rhetoric of agitation and control as proposed by Bowers and Ochs analyzes the process of social change, specifically the messages generated by the participants in social change movements, the agitators and the targeted establishment. Many different strategies and tactics may be used on either side, which has proven to make each instance of social change unique. Bowers and Ochs identified agitation strategies to include the categories of petition, promulgation, solidification, non-violent resistance, and escalation/confrontation. The control strategies they identified fall into the categories of avoidance, suppression, adjustment, and capitulation.


Conflict Theory


Conflict is a part of our everyday lives. To understand conflict better, we must first define it. Hocker and Wilmont (1995, p.21) say:

conflict is an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from others in achieving their goals.

How people engage in conflict varies. Style preferences develop over a person's lifetime (Hocker and Wilmont 1995). Since more research has been done on conflict styles, we will illustrate a style in depth and explore one tactic.

But first, we must take a look at the role perception plays in conflict. Most of the time people hold themselves in a positive light and others in a negative light (Hocker and Wilmont 1995). We assume our beliefs, values, and thoughts are a solipsism.

Of the five conflict styles (avoidance, collaboration, competition, compromise, and accommodation) we will focus on avoidance.

An example follows:

Paul: Can I talk to you?

Sara: I'm trying to sleep.

Paul: I feel like you never want to talk.

Sara: I have to get up early.

Paul: I have to wake up early too.

Sara: Quit bugging me and let me sleep!

This couple is negotiating how much interaction they will have. Paul wants to talk and engage in conflict. Sara, on the other hand, is avoiding it to protect herself. Avoidance can lead to a stressful relationship an it can red flag a need for change (Hocker and Wilmont 1995).

However, avoidance can be good. Take a look...

Paul: Sara, do you like my new shirt?

Sara: It's nice, Paul. (She is thinking it is an ugly shirt).

In order not to hurt Paul's feelings, Sara was "saving face" so as not to engage in conflict.

Avoidance is most connected to denial of conflict. Not discussing the problem will not make it magically disappear. "Continual avoidance remains highly destructive," (Hocker and Wilmont 1995, page 104).

Conflict tactics are how people behave in conflicts. In avoidance, several tactics exist: denial and equivocation, topic management, noncommittal remarks and irreverent remarks. To illustrate, we will discuss irreverent remarks.

Irreverent remarks are considered "friendly joking," (Hocker and Wilmont 1995). An example is: "You need to dye your roots or wear a hat."

During communication conflict does occur. Types of conflict and how people deal with conflict varies. One style mentioned was avoidance. We described one tactic of that conflict style. In your next conflict, see if avoidance is your style.


Burke's Dramatism


Walter Fishers Narrative Theory


Human rationality in all its forms based on narrative is one thing that Fisher strongly believes in. Also communication in all its forms can be understood as narrative.

Narration or story telling traditionally has been viewed as a different point of view from argumentation. Arguments were viewed as rational, whereas stories were viewed as nontraditional.

Persuasion occurs when people see good reasons for adopting the point of view of an argument. With the narrative paradigm, positive values are the result that constitute good reasons to accept a claim, no matter what form is used to express it.

Narration described by Fisher is not merely fictional stories but any verbal or nonverbal account that has a sequence of events to which listeners assign meaning. With narrative paradigm, it also describes what people will do when they communicate.

Two criteria are used to establish narrative-coherence and fidelity. Coherence is the degree to which a story makes some sort of sense or has a meaning. Coherence is measured by either the organization or structure part of the story. Also a coherent story is well told. Coherence involves three kinds of consistency. The first is internal consistency which Fisher calls argumentation or structural coherence. This involves the degree in which the parts of the story stay together. The second is external consistency which Fisher calls material coherence. This is the difference between this story and other stories. It also is the degree for the story to be complete in terms of the events that were learned from the previous story. The last one is characterological coherence has to do with the believability of the characters in the story.

You must also have fidelity to tell a well told story. Fidelity is the truthfulness or reliability of the story. If a story seems true to the listener, it has fidelity. Fidelity presents a set of values or a logic of good reasons.

Here one judges five aspects of narrative. First the story is a tale of values. Second the values are perceived to have positive consequences in the lives of people. Third the values in the story are consistent with people's own experience. Fourth, these values are appropriate for the moral of the story, with the decisions made by the characters. Fifth, the values are part of an ideal vision for human conduct.

The general public will tend to evaluate arguments of all types in terms of narrative forms, making the narrative criteria of coherence and fidelity more effective in winning adherents than traditional logical criteria.




The examples of Social Change and Movements that we have reported on in this section show some significant communication strategies. While most of what we report here is far from new, hopefully the definitions and descriptions contained herein will help you in recognizing Agitation, Conflict, Dramatism, and the Narrative Paradigm. Our conclusions are contained in the following paragraphs.

If agitation, according to Bowers and Ochs, occurs when people outside the decision-making establishment advocate significant social change . . . and they encounter a degree of resistance, then you have the essence of the model. We are not discussing anarchy, but a strategy to cause change. Many examples of agitation may be found in recent history. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are most notable in their employment of Agitation as a successful vehicle to ease change. Caesar Chavez, through his efforts with the United Farm Workers, agitated for tremendous change. Agitation may often be slow in realizing a goal, but those results are often long lasting and they may leave few polarizing residual effects.

The dynamics of Conflict Theory are a part of our everyday lives. If we have at least two people with perceived incompatible goals, we may have a conflict. The depths of the conflict and the strategies for resolving conflict are varied. We have attempted to show roles and conflict style. Additional insight may be gained in our text (Theories of Human Communication, pages 272 - 277). Concluding that communication is key to reducing conflict is safe.

Kenneth Burke may be one of the most important scholars in communication. "Dramatism" is Burke's idea. He sees the individual as a biological and neurological being, distinguished by symbol using behavior, the ability to act. Burke deals with guilt, a term he uses to describe any feeling of tension within a person. That may include anxiety, embarrassment, self-hatred, disgust, or a myriad of other negative emotions. If we see maimed and suffering people from a nation in strife, Burke suggests that the associated "guilt" is a powerfully persuasive device to cause us to support an otherwise unpopular campaign wanted by our government. Bosnia is an example. Is Dramatism successful? How often will you employ it in your daily life at home?

Perhaps the best known and least threatening concept is Fisher's Narrative Paradigm. Story telling is almost as old as communication itself, and most of us can relate to a narrative. While the old saw about our parents' struggles through the snow on their twenty mile barefoot walks to school may not be the best example of a convincing narrative to get us to be more responsible and harder working, it perhaps is more forceful than other more traditional arguments.

The narrative may be empowering, liberating, and perhaps more successful. Understanding Fisher's Narrative is as complex and as simple as relating to candidate Clinton's "A Place Called Hope" campaign narrative which he delivered to the Democratic Convention.

The study of social change and the communication dynamics included in our four reports should begin to help you in how and why a people act and react to each other. Those reports should allow you to identify how change and compromise is accomplished without the need for physical conflict. Our reports should allow you to identify many dynamics of social change and communication.