Mass mobilisation refers to mobilisation of civilian population as part of contentious politics. Contentious politics is the use of disruptive techniques to make a political point, or to change government policy. Examples of such techniques are actions that disturb the normal activities of society such as demonstrations, general strike action, riot, terrorism, civil disobedience, and even revolution or insurrection. Social movements often engage in contentious politics.
Mass mobilisation is often used by grassroots-based social movements, including revolutionary movements, but can also become a tool of elites and the state itself — as seen during the corona “crisis” by the heavy concerted use of mass media by some governments (and vice versa — today’s forms of political engineering in Western civilisation).
Media tend to link mass mobilisation and democracy. However, it risks obscuring the character of mass mobilisation, the (most likely diverse) goals of the population and the potential impact of contentious politics on future power dynamics and democratic processes. Journalism would serve the population better by separating the analysis of mass mobilisation from democratisation, and by not engaging in contentious politics through their biased reporting. Howard and Walters (2015) wrote about overcoming key misconceptions and about how the two phenomena of mass mobilisation from democratisation are supposedly linked:
- “Mass mobilisation leads to democracy”
Historically, democracy has been a rare outcome of mass mobilisation. Mass mobilisation often supports anti-democratic regimes.
- “Mobilisation is an expression of democratic norms”
This kind of media narrative has more to do with the hopes and normative commitments of the writers than the character of the movements themselves. Media frame the study of mass movements more in terms of their own hopes and normative visions than empirical realities (—> see last post about framing).
- “Mass movements are democratic by definition”
Journalists often assume that in order to successfully mobilise, masses must be unified around a pro-democratic ideology articulated by prominent intellectuals (the “democratizing bias”). However, prominent intellectuals have historically supported various forms of governance ranging from communism to liberal democracy to fascism. While some intellectuals have played a key role in supporting democratisation (for example, Vaclav Havel in post-communist Czechoslovakia), others have embraced non-democratic regimes (for example, Carl Schmitt in Nazi Germany). In short, intellectuals are not inherently democratic, and neither are protesters.
- The concept of “pro-democratic” movements
This ignores the inherent complexity of mass movements and the latent tensions that often arise in their wake. It also tends to ignore the role of non-participants, who are generally the overwhelming majority. Mobilisation does not naturally lead to — and often works against — democratisation.
Mass media have long been recognised as powerful forces shaping how we experience the world and ourselves. Media coverage and political instrumentalisation in the wake of the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has not only supported mismanagement of the issue, but also created an economic downturn and loss of democracy (dedemocratisation) not seen for decades.? The instrumentalisation of the media for political purposes and the unholy alliance between media and governments for mass manipulation continues, and this becomes increasingly evident in Western civilisation in the case of public service broadcasters (e.g. Switzerland, Germany, Austria).
- Hobbes, T. (2016) Leviathan: Or, The Matter, Forme and Power of Commonwealth, Ecclesiasticall and Civill. Longman Library of Primary Sources in Philosophy. Routledge
- Tilly, Ch. (2004) Social Movements, 1768—2004. Paradigm Publishers
- Tarrow, S. (2015) War, states, and contention: A comparative historical study. Cornell University Press
- Howard, M. M., & Walters, M. R. (2015) Mass mobilization and the democracy bias. Middle East Policy, 22(2), 145-155
- Ilpyong, K. J. (1996) Mass Mobilization Politics and Techniques Developed in the Period of the Chinese Soviet Republic. University of Washington