Protest Hacking Website
Project Director: Lisa Mueller, Political Science
Part of our 2022/2023 DLA Faculty Fellows Cohort
The book I am writing, Protest Hacking: How the New Science of Social Movements Can Empower Activists, is the first to translate and synthesize cutting-edge research on protest and social movements into a digestible package. I am pursuing a DLA Faculty Fellowship to create an accompanying website, with the aim of making empirical research on effective activism even more accessible to activists on the ground (including Mac students!). I intend to teach a class in the spring, Protest Hacking, that will involve students in developing the website. This project is extremely interdisciplinary, incorporating data science, moral philosophy, and visual design. I have never built an interactive website before, so a fellowship will be very valuable.
Volumes of evidence languish in academic journals, depriving activists of knowledge they could harness for realizing the change they want to see. Some of those findings are my novel insights from more than a decade spent researching the science of protest around the world; others emerge from the work of other scholars. For example, I recently published an experiment showing that protests with cohesive demands are significantly more likely to win concessions than protests with mixed demands. But whereas statisticians, economists, and psychologists have captivated the public through best-selling books, viral podcasts, and prominent blogs (for instance, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight election blog in The New York Times), there remains a divide between the activist community and the scientists who study it. Despite field-tested models for change-making, protest scholars have not been eager to decode their latest breakthroughs for everyday readers. The study of effective advocacy has grown increasingly technical, meaning there are more sophisticated tools than ever for making activism “work,” but these tools are less comprehensible to the people who could *put them to work* advancing social justice, responsive government, and other goals. The “evidence revolution” has swept nearly every corner of our lives (market research, political polling, self-improvement), but it has yet to take root in actual revolutions.
The concept of “hacking” originates in computer engineering subcultures. Colloquially, it means using creativity and ingenuity to overcome challenges. I seek to demonstrate how a hacker mindset and a working knowledge of social science can help activists have more than good intentions and make a real impact. My core audience is participants in an ongoing wave of mobilization that has stretched from Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, to the pro-democracy uprisings in Hong Kong and the George Floyd protests here in the Twin Cities. This is one of the largest swells of unrest in human history, yet the individuals animating it have little sense of whether their bravery and sacrifice make a difference. Comparative in perspective, my project draws lessons from international cases that social scientists study extensively but that many Western activists know little about. The book, course, and website will finally place proven tools in the hands of activists on the ground—in the U.S. and abroad—with careful attention to the ethics of implementing various strategies.