A boycott is a means of withdrawing from commercial or social relations with a country, organisation, or person…as a punishment, protest, means of intimidation or coercion. It is a form of organised, non-violent action which can have significant economic and social impact. It got me thinking, to what extent are boycotts and bans a resourceful way to challenge power?
Learning from campaign history was a key focus during our Critical Issues in Campaigning module. We considered types of direct action and discussed why people protest.
As I understand boycotts and bans, the action is a sacrifice. Yet this ‘participation and use of citizen voice‘ [to answer a question raised by Gaventa (2006, p23)] indeed has evidence of influence.
Here are four boycott examples, their outcomes and a power perspective.
- The boycott of slave-grown sugar aimed to target slave-dependent industries in 1791. Sales dropped by over one-third. Poignant as well was the initiation taken by women to ‘assert their views through the domestic setting, which was one of the limited spheres where they were allowed to make decision’ (Childs, 2016, p171).
This choice emerging from within the women is a good example of power-within, according to Hoagland (Allen, 2016). Anyone else thinking ‘Girlcott?’
- Significant to history was Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. Over 90% of the community was involved in the boycott of the bus system. With 75% of bus users being black, the bus companies lost money as did shop owners as protestors buy goods closer to home. One-year later buses were officially desegregated.
This stand over the ruling power is a good example of counter-power, according to Halloway (2002, p58).
- In 1984, International Fund for Animal Welfare launched a boycott on Canadian seafood products in the UK, as part of their campaign to end the commertial seal hunt. No required exports meant no need for large vessel-based seal hunt. Unfortunately this tactic was stopped too soon (Aldsworth, 2007, p95).
The boycott still goes on yet the initial success by boycotters is an example of power-over by some and power-to by others.
- More topically, the #StopFundingHate campaign raises questions of a misuse of economic power by asking companies to stop funding particular newspapers and is repressive by asking newspaper to change the way they report. Foucault believes power to be productive and positive as well, which aligns well with SFH campaigners and supporters who see newspapers as breaking the rules.
I still have a lot to understand about power. I can agree with Castells (2007, p238) that “…the way people think determines the fate of norms and values on which societies are constructed….”.
Are boycotts and bans resourceful for social change? You decide!
Aldsworth, R., Harris, S. (2007). The State of Animals 2007: Canada’s Commercial Seal Hunt. Washington, D.C. Humane Society Press. Available from http://animalstudiesrepository.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1004&context=sota_2007 [Accessed 2 January 2017].
Allen, A. (2016). Feminist Perspectives on Power. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Fall 2016 edition. Available from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminist-power/ [Accessed on 2 January 2017].
Castells, M. (2007). Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society. International Journal of Communication 1 (2007), 238-266. Available from http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/viewFile/46/35 [Accessed 3 January 2017].
Childs, M. (2016). Lessons from History: Conclusion and Lessons. Friends of the Earth. Available from https://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/campaigning-change-lessons-from-history-conclusions-101812.pdf [Accessed 2 January 2017].
Gaventa, J. (2006). Finding the Spaces for Change: A Power Analysis. IDS Bulletin. Volumn 37. Number 6. Available from https://www.powercube.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/finding_spaces_for_change.pdf [Accessed 2 January 2017].
Halloway, J. (2002). Change the World without Taking Power. Pluto Press. Available from http://libcom.org/files/John%20Holloway-%20Change%20the%20world%20without%20taking%20power.pdf [Accessed 3 January 2017].
This blog is part of my MA in Media, Campaigns and Social Change with the University of Westminster.