For my first Spotlight interview, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Sarah Lockwood, a social scientist and lecturer at the Center for Development Studies at the University of Cambridge. Dr. Lockwood’s research focuses on political violence and other forms of democratic accountability, particularly in the context of developing countries. In her interview, she discussed the dynamics behind why people protest, how some protests turn violent, whether protests can effectively hold governments and corporations accountable, as well as Dr. Lockwood’s personal journey from journalism into academia.
Despite the uprisings against racial injustice in the United States and globally in the summer of 2020, we still live in a world where structural inequities negatively impact many lives. My interest in Dr. Lockwood’s work comes from wanting to understand why, even when people mobilize at massive scales, social movements often struggle to enact necessary changes. On that note, Dr. Lockwood’s research on protests, one of the ways social movements demand change, points out the many costs to organizing successfully, such as sharing information and gathering enough people who support the cause and believe their actions will bring about change. In other words, protests are rarely spontaneous, and may need months, perhaps years, of advanced planning and coordination to be successful. Unfortunately, marginalized communities will often face challenges gathering the resources necessary to mobilize even as they may be facing the worst deprivations. Moreover, protests from these communities, such as in informal settlements in the developing world, are unlikely to receive attention from the media or local councilors unless they are disruptive enough, such as using barricades or damaging private property. While I remain committed to nonviolence, acknowledging the disparities that protestors from marginalized communities face in having their voices heard is crucial to designing effective nonviolent protest strategies.
I appreciate how Dr. Lockwood’s research can help us look at the dynamics of protest activity more objectively. As an academic, Dr. Lockwood strives to keep her research relevant to a public audience through consultancy work and engaging the communities she studies with her research findings. I found our conversation thought-provoking, and I hope you will too.
Article Discussed in Interview: Lockwood, S. J. (2022). Protest Brokers and the Technology of Mobilization: Evidence from South Africa. Comparative Political Studies, 55(4), 628–656.
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