Top-down Mobilization: Policy Feedback Loops and the Organizing of the American Consumer Movement in the 1960s-70s

Yaniv Ron-El, University of Chicago

Social movements literature has focused on bottom-up mobilization and rarely considered the aspects of organizing a movement from the top down, but recent events in the U.S. and around the world beg that this phenomenon be taken more seriously. The theory of policy feedback loops offers a suitable candidate for such consideration. Initially proposed in the early 1990s by Theda Skocpol, this theory proposes that official policies have effects both on resources and on constituencies, which eventually result in shaping up political outcomes. Being developed mostly in the discipline of political science, and contrary to the original proposition by Skocpol that included group mobilization as a possible effect, this theory has been interpreted mainly through the examination of narrower defined policies, and especially distributive policies, and their effects on individuals, mainly on their political participation or opinions. In this paper, I use the case of the American consumer movement in the 1960s-70s to explore how policies can affect group formation and mobilization. I argue that the consumer movement was born, as a social movement, out of a policy regime of consumer protection that was implemented by the Democratic administrations, beginning in the early half of the 1960s. That policy regime consisted of establishing offices and allocating resources for the sake of protecting consumers and their rights, either independently or through programs of the War on Poverty. More importantly, this policy regime facilitated the development of consumer consciousness among a core cadre of consumer advocates and activists, who served as the backbone of the emerging consumer movement. Revisiting this politically important yet often forgotten social movement, this paper then calls for rethinking the conventional mobilization model of mainstream social movements literature and incorporating into it the aspects of top-down mobilization through policy effects.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 28. Money, Politics, and the State