The Dynamics of Protest Diffusion:
Movement Organizations, Social Networks, and News Media in the 1960 Sit-ins

(with Kenneth T. Andrews, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

American Sociological Review, vol. 71, no. 5, 2006, pp. 752-77

Map of sitins, 1960The wave of sit-ins that swept through the American South in the spring of 1960 transformed the struggle for racial equality. This episode is widely cited in the literature on social movements, but the debate over its explanation remains unresolved—partly because previous research has relied on case studies of a few large cities. We use event-history analysis to trace the diffusion of sit-ins throughout the South and to compare cities where sit-ins occurred with the majority of cities where they did not. We assess the relative importance of three channels of diffusion: movement organizations, social networks, and news media. We find that movement organizations played an important role in orchestrating protest; what mattered was a cadre of activists rather than mass membership. There is little evidence that social networks acted as a channel for diffusion between cities. By contrast, news media were crucial for conveying information about protest elsewhere. In addition, we demonstrate that sit-ins were most likely where there were many college students, where the adult community had greater resources and autonomy, and where political opportunities were more favorable.

(Honourable mention under the award for best published article, American Sociological Association's Collective Behavior and Social Movements Section, 2007)



Table 2 correctedThe variable for SCLC presence was based on a list of affiliates apparently dating from February 3, 1960. On further scrutiny, we consider the second part of this list to be an entirely separate document, from a later date. The variable should be coded from the first part of the list (securely dated February 3, 1960). The corrected variable makes little difference to the results: the effect of SCLC is even smaller (before it was close to the threshold of statistical significance).

Michael Biggs, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford