Social workers operating from critical and radical orientations stress the need for the profession to incorporate social movement discourses and practices to expand professional capacity to attend to ethical mandates of social justice through mezzo and macro systems of intervention. Long criticized as an agent of social control in benefit of neoliberal logics of capitalistic growth through mass exploitation, researchers consistently argue social work lacks a sustainable praxis for social change that exploration into the processes and challenges of social movements provides. Additionally, given the social work profession is a form of collective action ethically obligated to enrich and preserve targeted populations’ constitutional right to protest and the ability to transform sociopolitical contexts of oppression, the impact of social repression on protest behavior is a relevant topic for the social work research agenda.
Findings on the effects of repression, whether state-sanctioned or otherwise, on social movement behavior are mixed. Prevailing research suggests impacts of objective or subjective repression depend mainly on context, including the political ideology of repressive agents and their affiliated institutions, the predominant medium through which mobilization occurs, the perception of repression itself, and proximity to events of large-scale repression. This study examined the impact of self-reported racial and gender-based discrimination and provides new findings to help concretize the evolving discourse on protest repression while providing the social work profession a new perspective on structural behavior that moderates rates of civic engagement and participation within its client base.
Data and sample: I use the 2020 American National Election Study to conduct statistical analyses on relevant variables. This year’s sample included over 8,000 respondents.
Measures: For this study, social repression is measured by self-reported rates of discrimination due to race, ethnicity, and gender due to its theoretical congruency with extant social movement discourse. Because reported experiences of discrimination were collected through two separate survey questions analyzing racial and gender discrimination separately, both are included in the final analysis as an interaction term to reflect intersectionality. Protest behavior is measured by self-reported participation in a protest march, rally, or demonstration in the past 12 months of completing the survey. Control variables include demographic response data such as race and ethnicity, gender, total household income, and political ideology (Democrat, Republican, or Independent).
A logistic regression model found that the relationship between social repression and protest activity approached significance. It was uncovered that, holding all other predictor variables constant, the odds of protest activity occurring decreased by 6 percent (95% CI [-.007, .138]) for one unit increase in self-reported experiences of discrimination.
Conclusions and Implications:
Although the findings of this study only approached statistical significance, they suggest that social repression inhibits protest activity, a historical cornerstone of civic engagement and apparatus for social change. Such a discovery supports the social work profession's renewed attention to confronting systems that sustain racial and gender discrimination in actualizing human social, economic, and environmental justice.