Freedom in Contention: Social Movements and Liberal Political Economy

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Social movements have been implicated in long-term societal transformations, helping bring about political democratization, economic freedom, and social equality. In recent years, movements such as Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, and Black Lives Matter have organized protests, and other contentious activities, against varied injustices in the world today. But what are social movements, how do they work, and what are their impacts upon society? In this landmark contribution, social movement activities and outcomes are understood through the lens of liberal political economy. This approach emphasizes dynamic collective choices within multi-faceted economic, political, and social environments, with the capacity for such choices to promote freedom, equality, and dignity. Inspired by the works of Friedrich Hayek, Elinor and Vincent Ostrom, and James Buchanan, Freedom in Contention illustrates how social movements fluidly organize in often repressive environments, bringing people together in their efforts to audaciously challenge public power and other forms of authority. Using historical and contemporary case studies, this book reveals how advances in human liberty are shaped by the struggles of social movement activists to have their concerns heard and respected. This important book will appeal to social scientists, decision-makers, and people interested in how social movements affect our lives.

Endorsements for “Freedom in Contention: Social Movements and Liberal Political Economy:”

Freedom in Contention: Social Movements and Liberal Political Economy by Mikayla Novak is a timely and important book exploring how social change through the collective action of social movements occurs both within free and open societies struggling to fulfill the liberal promise, and the struggle of those trapped inside closed repressive regimes who yearn for freedom. Novak provides a great synthesis of ideas to provide a framework for understanding how groups fight and overcome injustice, and in doing so she has made a significant contribution to the literature in social theory” (Peter Boettke, George Mason University)

“Social movements are central characters in the history of liberal democracy. But as Mikayla Novak argues, they have a complicated relationship with liberal thought. Neither fully designed nor fully spontaneous, social movements occupy a liminal space that leaves them under-theorized. Novak explores the role that social movements play as an imperfect but vital discovery process. As she explains, social movements reveal what’s wrong with the current state of the world, hold the powerful to account, and help free societies realize, incrementally and in fits and starts, the promise of the liberal project” (Emily Chamlee-Wright, President and CEO, Institute for Humane Studies)

“In this pathbreaking book Mikayla Novak offers a comprehensive and novel analysis of social movements. Weaving together interdisciplinary concepts with wide-ranging illustrations, Freedom in Contention offers crucial insights into the role that social movements play in a self-governing society. Anyone interested in understanding liberal societies should read this book!” (Christopher Coyne, George Mason University)

“We live in an age of social and civil unrest. Strikes, marches, protests and riots are common fixtures in the news. Around the globe there is a growing intolerance for injustice. Applying the lens of mainline political economists like F. A. Hayek, James Buchanan and Elinor Ostrom, Novak offers unique insight into these events. This is a book worth reading at a time that demands our understanding” (Virgil Storr, George Mason University)

“What role do social movements have in a liberal society? How do they bolster or undermine freedom? Freedom in Contention: Social Movements and Liberal Political Economy is an interesting and engaging answer to this question. Reviewing contemporary social movement theory, Novak has provided a thoughtful discussion that will be of enduring interest to scholars of social activism and classical liberalism” (Fabio Rojas, Indiana University)

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