"Too often, in the study of contention, the material and the cultural have been seen as incompatible forms of explanation. In this empirically rich, theoretically important book, Simmons shows how the material and ideational were fused to catalyze popular protests over water in Cochabamba and rising corn prices in Mexico. In doing so, she has made it much harder for scholars of contention to ignore the causal force of grievances or to depict material threats in strictly economic terms."
Douglas McAdam, Ray Lyman Wilbur Professor of Sociology, Stanford University
"In Meaningful Resistance, Erica Simmons shows how cultural and symbolic meanings related to subsistence goods shape patterns of social resistance to market liberalization. Drawing from rich ethnographic research on social protests around water privatization in Bolivia and corn prices in Mexico, Simmons skilfully weaves together material grievances and cultural meanings to explain the origins and dynamics of protest mobilization. This book breaks new ground in its theoretical integration of cultural and structural approaches to the study of social movements, and it is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand how material grievances become politicized. This is an important book that deserves to be widely read."
Kenneth M. Roberts, Cornell University
What a wonderful book! In analyzing protests in light of “the content of a movement’s claims,” Simmons poses a theoretical rallying cry to move past arguments that grievances are constant and therefore do not play a core explanatory role in explaining protest; and that grievances are solely material. Meaning matters. In this theoretically powerful and empirically rich political ethnography of the water wars in Bolivia and the corn protests in Mexico, Simmons highlights that water and corn are culturally imbued with both material concerns and community meaning, without which one cannot understand or explain the cyclicality of protests that emerge in these two cases. The book will compel scholars to rethink what grievances are, how they are constituted, when they are tapped, and how people do so in light of market-driven threats to subsistence resources. By addressing constitutive and causal processes, Simmons has written a beautiful, landmark book about contentious politics that reveals how “the politics of the everyday intersect with and shape the politics of the extraordinary.”
Deborah J. Yashar, Princeton University
Not since Karl Polanyi and E. P. Thompson has a scholar so convincingly shown the connection between material life and popular politics. Simmons’ examination of protests against neo-liberal attempts to privatize and utterly commodify water and maize is astute, subtle, and carefully reasoned. A model of theoretically informed comparative analysis.
James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology, Yale University