In classical social movement theory, scholars have identified the advocates of change as elements of agitation and the establishment as the entity that responds in an attempt to control the agitators. This classical approach has assumed that the establishment is a generally monolithic entity that responds in a unified manner to the efforts of the advocates of change.
While this approach may accurately characterize some rhetorical situations, it does not necessarily have to characterize all such situations. For example, one could describe the judiciary as a part of the establishment because judges are well-connected and powerful individuals who, in many cases, have benefited from existing power structures. Although the judiciary, through majority opinions, makes decisions on appeals that come before it, the judiciary also issues dissenting opinions that can directly contradict the majority opinions.
In light of the potential for expanding social movement theory beyond an essentially monolithic understanding of the establishment, the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in the 1967 case of Walker v. City of Birmingham affords communication scholars an opportunity for needed development of social movement theory. Therefore, this paper argues that two key texts from Walker, the majority opinion of Justice Potter Stewart and a dissent by Justice William Brennan, demonstrate how the establishment can fracture in its response to the speech of advocates of change. To make this argument, the paper initially addresses some foundations of social movement theory in communication studies. Then the paper reviews the background of the Walker case in greater detail. After reviewing the case, the paper provides analysis of the two judicial opinions noted above. Finally, the paper offers some implications of the analysis.
- Social movements,
- Walker v. Birmingham
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/carlo_pedrioli/10/