Notes: Herbert W. Simons, “Requirements, Problems, and Strategies: A Theory of Persuasion for Social Movements”

Simons, Herbert W. (2001). Requirements, problems, and strategies: A theory of persuasion for social movements. In Morris Charles E. and Stephen H. Brown (eds.), Readings on the Rhetoric of Social Protest (p. 35-45). State College, PA: Strata Publishing, inc.

Summary:

Giving a general theory of the rhetorics of social movements, Simons draws on sociological theory to offer a way into social movements’ rhetorical considerations. The outlines Simons provides offer ways of delineating exigencies, practices, and issues the leadership of social movements often deal with.

Keywords: activism, advocacy, social movements, protest, sociology

Quotations:

“Designed for microscopic analysis of particular speeches, the standard tools of rhetorical criticism are ill suited for unraveling the complexity of discourse in social movements or for capturing its grand flow” (p. 35).

Reflection:

This text could have served me well in developing a foundational understanding of the intersections of rhetoric and activism early on, and Simons’s search for theory and strategies reminds me of the Beautiful Trouble. And I think I see this text as asking for new methods for investigating rhetorics of social movements, but these methods seem to be searching for something whose claims from inquiry are generalizing and universalizing. Though maybe that is the disposition of a rhetorical criticism instead of other methodological frames that subvert these totalizing gestures.

I suppose I am a bit hung up on the enumeration strategies the text employs in creating this heuristic (in a static sense instead of an inventional one). While my own experiences in activism and advocacy work align with much of Simons’s descriptions, I can’t help but find the taxonimizing and leadership-centric approach binarizing and reductive.

I felt this most when reading the section on rhetorical strategies (p. 40-43), where the text identifies ‘militants,’ ‘moderates,’ and ‘intermediates’ as the types of strategies employed as though each were options in responding to the same exigency. Material conditions, access, privilege, lived experiences all shape the available means that shape strategies deployed. It seems there’s far more nuance in what shapes a social movement’s actions than the text addresses, in addition to these three being identified as the kinds of strategies.

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