Revitalizing the Role of Relative Deprivation in Social Movement Emergence: An Analysis of Contemporary Teacher Protest Strikes
Brockman, Amanda J
This dissertation analyzes the role of social comparison and relative deprivation in the 2018 and 2019 wave of teacher protest strikes in the Southern and Western United States. I have three overarching research questions for this study: (1) How do teachers describe social comparison and relative deprivation? (2) What function does relative deprivation in the form of comparison to other groups of people play in the emergence of contemporary teacher protest strikes? (3) What function does relative deprivation to the past play in the emergence of contemporary teacher protest strikes? To answer these questions, I draw upon the data generated from semi-structured phone interviews of 35 teachers who were also leaders in their protest strikes. I find that teachers described relative deprivation to others and the past and that these comparisons identify inequities faced by teachers. I also find that the role of relative deprivation in generating contemporary teacher protest strikes varies by type of relative deprivation. Specifically, I identify two processes by which relative deprivation led to the protest strikes: 1) as an organically-emerging grievance felt by all teachers (both teacher leaders and rank-and-file teachers) that directly motivated the protest strikes and 2) through effective framing of relative deprivation by teacher leaders. Both of these processes occurred simultaneously. Overall, this dissertation unpacks the black box of relative deprivation in relation to protest emergence. It makes several substantial contributions to social movement theory through showing that relative deprivation is still useful in understanding movement emergence, identifying variation with regard to the effects of relative deprivation based on the nearness of the reference group, demonstrating a connection between framing and relative deprivation, using qualitative methods to show a connection between protest emergence and relative deprivation, and, finally, connecting lived-experience grievances centered on relative deprivation and quotidian disruption to protest strikes.