By Jen Winkler
James Jasper, a writer and sociologist, came to the College on Friday, Nov. 1, to discuss one of his newest theories regarding the reasons and motivations for people protesting.
Jasper teaches at the City University of New York graduate center and has also taught at a wide range of colleges, including Columbia, Berkley, Princeton and New York University. He is currently working on writing a textbook and further developing his “Strategy Project,” which is his attempt to help protesters become better strategists and accomplish goals they have set for in their movement.
The sociologist enlightened the audience of his thoughts on the reasons individuals protest and people become involved in social movements. Although in the past people’s views of protesters were harshly negative — regarding them as “lost” individuals searching for their identities, or blaming their urge to protest on their over-emotional personalities — Jasper argued that the emotions they feel are necessary in forming successful movements.
Predominantly in the 1950s, protesters were viewed in a negative light, seen as “damaged people.” According to Jasper, the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s drastically altered that view, allowing protestors to be seen as rational human beings simply fighting for their own rights.
“People didn’t protest because they were crazy,” Jasper said. “They protest because they were oppressed.”
Previously, emotion has been deemed irrational and seen as “automatic instincts of which we have no control over.” Jasper, however, holds a different view of emotions. Contrary to former sociological beliefs, he believes desires for change stem from feelings.
“Emotions are vital to how we think, how we act, and how we function in the world,” Jasper said.
The very emotions outsiders used to form their opinions of protesters is what drives society and all rational decisions, according to Jasper’s beliefs.
“(Emotion) provides the ends and means without which there would be no rational actions,” Jasper said.
Jasper’s theory contained complex ideas that he attempted to simplify by explaining through paradigms. He emphasized that social movements must be examined through a “micro-foundational” paradigm constructed of strategy and emotion: the strategy of “getting others to do what you want them to” and emotions that “link us to our own bodies and moral intuitions.”
Jasper felt that emotion has been overlooked by sociologists, but it is actually the focus of human activity. Jasper asserted that instead of viewing the brain as a computer, society should include feelings in its analysis as well.
“It is time to replace the mind as a computer, in favor of a more multi-faceted system,” Jasper said. “A feeling brain rather than a calculating brain.”
Students found the presentation intriguing, especially those who already held an interest in sociology.
“As I am a sociology major, I found the speech to be enlightening. His views on emotion really interested me. They truly are the basis of all human activity,” sophomore sociology major Cara Bronander said.
Even those not involved in the sociology program found the discussion informative.
“I had never really thought of the topics he was discussing before,” sophomore marketing major Kathryn Lubin, said. “However, I still found the presentation to be both beneficial and thought provoking.”