how language can limit tactical options

We know that movement groups adopt targets, tactics, and strategies not only because they have a good likelihood of being effective and because they are consistent with the group’s express ideological commitments, but also, often, because they are symbolically associated with people or things that are attractive for other reasons, or are symbolically opposed to people or things that are unattractive for other reasons.

—Francesca Polletta,
Three Mechanisms by Which Culture Shapes Movement Strategy:
Repertoires, Institutional Norms, and Metonymy,

(in the book Strategies for Social Change)

If we lack a strategy to achieve a political goal (within a social movement group), then by what criteria do we evaluate the success or failure of our tactics? In many of the groups I have worked with over the years, to be frank, we have not evaluated our tactics at all. And when we did, it was often without strategic criteria. Instead we often judged actions by how well they expressed the collective values of our group or subculture, rather than by how they brought us closer to achieving political goals.

This dynamic is rarely fully conscious or explicitly named in groups. No one says in an evaluation session, “I don’t see how our action moved us toward realizing any concrete goal, but it did reflect our values back to us very nicely, and therefore I think we should keep doing more of the same.”

So, what do people say? What are the processes that create group cultures that tend away from or obfuscate strategy? Continue reading