S. Laurel Weldon speaks with New Books in Political Science podcast

by Phillip Witteveen on April 5, 2013

Press author S. Laurel Weldon recently appeared on the New Books network’s New Books in Political Science to discuss her Victoria Schuck Award-winning book, When Protest Meets Policy.

Weldon’s main line of inquiry has been into a broader look at representation and where this interest of political science banks sharply into sociology, where it has become left somewhat unattended. Social movements as a mechanism of the democratic process, Weldon argues, are an incredibly important aspect of modern democracy.

“In Political Science, we have focused a lot more on the ideas movements have, and organizations  as the manifestations of ideas,” Weldon said. This idea of a social movement—as a sum of so many parts—is hard to pin to an easy definition to reference, but Weldon takes  a broader, more critical look at the total impact of these people’s efforts. “Activists are independent thinkers by their very nature, so they’re not always going to necessarily agree on something, but there’s something that holds together, and that’s the idea, that’s the movement.”

As host Heath Brown noted, the book itself turns out a  broad theoretical argument that is shored up with many empirical details. The theoretical argument goes something like this: “people have come to equate democracy with elections, in much of our field, and a lot of people have pushed back to say ‘democracy wasn’t just an election’—an election is part of it, but it’s not equivalent to democracy.” For disadvantaged social groups, social movements are often the best means of seeking changes in public policy.

Weldon returns to the root of the way we think of democracy, and Gandhi’s measure of civilization, saying, “If we can even conceptualize representation as something other than being elected, then what it means is ‘to speak for’, and social movements can do that. Activists, and people who are organizing with these marginalized groups, sometimes do a better job of speaking for these groups, than do elected representatives.”

You can check out the full interview here.

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