On this week’s episode of the Governance Podcast, our Director Prof. Mark Pennington, interviews Dr Mikayla Novak from the Australian National University. This episode features her latest book Freedom in Contention: Social Movements and Liberal Political Economy, which explores social movement activities and outcomes through the lens of liberal political economy. Using historical and contemporary case studies, this book illuminates how social movements fluidly organise in often repressive environments to achieve freedom, equality, and dignity.


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The Guest

Dr Mikayla Novak is a doctoral student in sociology at The Australian National University. Her research interests are wide-ranging, and include: classical sociology; economic and fiscal sociology; inequality and social stratification; network theory and analysis; rational-choice sociology; social movement studies; and social theory.

Mikayla has extensively written on matters of social thought and policy, invariably attuned to the complex intersections between sociological, economic and political phenomena. In 2018 her first book, Inequality: An Entangled Political Economy Perspective, was published by Palgrave

Prior to her transition into academic sociology, Mikayla was an economist with a doctorate in economics awarded at RMIT University (Melbourne, Australia) and a First Class Honours economics degree at The University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia).


Mark Pennington

Welcome to the Governance Podcast from the Centre for the Study of Governance and Society here at King’s College, University of London. I’m Mark Pennington, the Centre Director. And I’m pleased to say that we have with us today Mikayla Novak. Mikayla is based in the School of Sociology at Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. She works at the intersection of political sociology. And she’s written two books, Inequality and Tango: Political Economy Perspective, with Palgrave and just out, Freedom in Contention: Social Movements and Liberal Political Economy with Lexington books. So welcome, Mikayla, it’s great to have you with us here today. Well, you’ve got this new book out, which is about social movements. And by that, as I understand it, you mean the type of loosely knit network that we can’t equate with categories such as, say, political parties, or interest groups? So I’d like to start off by asking you why you wanted to write a book about these movements at the present time? Is this just a long standing interest? Or is there something about the present political moment that’s brought the relevance of these movements more to the fore?


Mikayla Novak

I think my interest in this study of social movements and their interpretability through frameworks of liberal theorization are both long standing in character and and also reflect the notion which is attested by empirical evidence, for example, produced by Erica Chenoweth in the United States that there has been recent increases in protest and other social movements related activity. The long standing interest in social movements, movements, as outlined in my book sort of derives from the fact that not on every occasion, but at certain certain crucial moments in historical time and in place, our social movements have acted oftentimes, in contentious interaction with other actors within society to effectively push for pro liberty changes, on economic lines, on political lines, and on social lines.

But if you allow me to just return to the contemporary interest, there is a school of thought, in popular and also in scholarly circles, suggestive of a notion that we live in the golden age of protest at Golden Age, a social movement activity. And so if to the extent that this is true, and I suspect it may well be, it certainly warrants investigation in its own right, another important dimension of social movement activity takes from Dick Wagner’s entangled political economy and perspective when we appreciate that social movement participants engage in a fractious and contentious manner with a wide array of actors, political, legislators, bureaucrats, judiciary, they engage with other businesses, they sort of pressure businesses to, to invoke economic change, and social movements also have the adversaries within society known as known as counter movements. 

Another just a final aspect that’s really intriguing about the nature of the interaction, there is some some suggestive certainly within social movement literature to the effect that actually other actors in society, for example, professional interest groups or para governmental organisations are actually taking on some of these repertoires of contention, that are, that are conventionally associated with social movements. So for example, interest groups or, you know, power governmental groups like unions and like they will organise pickets protest strikes, boycotts, and like, so we really have an effect, I think, in the social movement form is a very fascinating fluid improvisation on quite peculiar and its own ways, form of our collective activity that warrants investigation, which I hope which I’ve hoped to have done adequately done my book.


Mark Pennington

Oh, that’s great. So let me just follow up on something that you were saying there about the way that maybe interest groups are to some extent, sort of absorbing some of the kinds of tactics perhaps that social movements use. I mean, does that mean that the kind of learning that takes place across these different spheres between what social movements do and what interest groups do means that you kind of have a blurred space where it’s actually quite hard to distinguish almost one from the other, that they’re sort of becoming almost hybrid type forms as this kind of learning takes place?


Mikayla Novak

Yes, I explicitly acknowledge in the book drawing on some very recent developments in organisational sociology and also the broader social movements, literature, an acknowledgement of this organisational and strategic and tactical hybridity, which is going on society, and what it actually does, and it made it a little bit of a challenge with respect to the production of my bucket. It’s basically defies a sort of a simplistic or a unifying definition of what a social movement is, because movements, they’re the nature of the participation, the reasons the rationale for by which activist wants to engage in social movement activities, and the way in which these collectivities engage with others, do radically change over time, if we want to investigate social change, right at the coalface, so to speak, I think social movements are an ideal candidate for those very reasons that different actors in society tend to co-op and learn from, you know, Bloomington way, and also an Austrian way, the methods by which social movements have succeeded or even how they have failed in their sort of objectives to drive for social change.


Mark Pennington

Okay, that’s great. So if I just go back, I mean, you did say, in your opening remarks quite explicitly, and this is very clear in the opening of the book that you’re looking at these movements, from a liberal political economy perspective. And in some ways, it’s quite striking that very few people within that tradition can go on to unpack what we mean by that tradition, perhaps in a little while. But very few people within that tradition have actually really studied social movements in any kind of depth. And I think that it comes across very clearly in your book that, you know, this is a gap in the market, if you like that really needs to be filled in I think your book does fill it. But I wonder if you could just comment on why you think it’s the case that so few people within that tradition have really explored this phenomenon.


Mikayla Novak

To be fair, there are sporadic studies within by produced by adherence of the liberal liberal tradition, or sort of Allied scholars I can think of, for example, reasonably early paper in the late 1960s by Albert Bressan, late Canadian economist who produced a supply and demand analysis, I believe in the American Economic Review of social movements. Now we also, around that time, saw an interesting treatment of the effects of social movements in the American education system by the great James Buchanan in 1970, and associated pieces. You’ll also see some sporadic treatments, for example, on public choice, journal and public choice general over the years. 

Needless to say that I do subscribe to the view that there certainly has been substantially a gap in analytical literature, in terms of liberal engagement with the social movement’s form of intentional collective activity. And I wonder whether this is driven to some extent by either a generic liberal focus, especially of the last during the last quarter of the 20th century, upon economic concerns, and political economy concerns, given the clear and obvious needs, which were revealed postwar for the need to reform and liberalise the economy to make it more productive, and to unleash entrepreneurial productive economic activity. 

So part of that neglect, part of the engagement, I should say, by liberals towards social movements is exemplified by a neglect as I’ve mentioned, but alternatively, you will see a strain of liberal literature, not necessarily entirely academic work, but sometimes popular work, which treats social movements as apparent or irrational impulses within society, which may sort of the disapprobation, Rise of liberals on account of a perception of social movement, participation and agitation for change as being merely some form of rent seeking. 

Now, let me be quite clear, there are numerous social movements, which either operate or are inspired by anti liberal principles. Let’s make that very, very clear. However, what I’m saying in the book, what I’m trying to sort of expose through this book is that not every social movement actually acted in an illiberal fashion. Many social movements, in fact, have acted functionally in pro liberty directions or have advocated for causes in pro liberty direction. So my book is effectively a call for my fellow classical liberals to essentially not throw out the baby with the bathwater in terms of their analyses, and conceptualizations of social movements, especially during a time when the if the the multifaceted effects of economic, political and societal repression that people are experiencing in contemporary societies is actually inducing impulses toward social movement activities such as protest these what these phenomena warrant investigation, we can use the tools of liberal political economy, to analyse and understand that you strive as a challenge.


Mark Pennington

Okay, well, that’s a nice segue, actually into the next question I was going to pursue with you. So within what you describe as as liberal political economy, you’re really looking at three strands of work. And I’d like to sort of explore these a little bit in terms of what they mean with regard to social movements. So you identify the three strands as being Austrian economics, the Bloomington School of Political Economy or the Austrians and then also the public choice tradition. Now, if we start off with the Austrian tradition, the focus there is very strongly on entrepreneurship. And in that tradition, in market contexts, entrepreneurs are understood to be actors who spot opportunities or gaps in the market, and in the process, they push the market closer to a more coordinated state. But you also have the more de stabling aspect of entrepreneurship, which is emphasised in that tradition whereby creating new products and organisational forms, entrepreneurship acts as a form of creative destruction, which can be quite sort of disruptive in the overall social order, even though in the longer term it might lead to to progress. So I wonder what are the analogues to these different entrepreneurial functions? When we think about social movements, what’s the analogue to the kind of equivalent rating function and to the destabilisation function when we think about social movements?


Mikayla Novak

Now, I think it’s quite true to suggest that varied social movements do operate tactically and strategically along various spectrums, one of which being whether a social movement wants to achieve its change objectives in a moderate or accommodative fashion, given existing institutions. And so that sort of implicitly leads to a Canarian impulse of societal recall even more accurately, say contentious entrepreneurship. So this kind of this impulse of entrepreneurship would blend very well actually with the force of the Austrians, which we’ll discuss later, but I’ll sort of preempt by saying that one way in which social movements might actually carry out a Canarian style of entrepreneurship is through their sort of selection amongst competing political jurisdictions, alternative political jurisdictions in terms of the most effective pathways are for success. So you know, for example, if you have a low tax, our social movement, they might seek to petition a conservative governments in the UK or a Republican, sort of state government, for example, in federal governments in the US in the hope of achieving a political combination for their goals, in terms of in terms of more schumpeterian, disruptive entrepreneurship, this maps, I would think, rather neatly to a conceptualization of social movements, not as not pursuing moderate goals, but those that pursue radical goals. And these are ones that actually tend to attract a lot of public and media attention, it must be admitted. So in this sort of sense, we see a wide array of social movement activities, which can be publicly disruptive. For example, if we think about it, even in my country, in recent days, there have been sort of public protests caused by Extinction Rebellion movements that have blocked roadways. So you know, you know, this is a very disruptive sort of form of contention that they’re applying another form of sort of radicalism which is actually very intriguing, and is, I believe, very deserving unwarrantable of to the study by classical liberals are forms of radical social movements, which organisations aim to prefigure the kinds of radical changes in society that they wish to see. So I know that you have an interest in deliberative democracy theory. And many radical social movements of a schumpeterian style of entrepreneurship, tend to sort of try to embrace those sort of prefigurative modes of deliberative democracy, consensual decision making, de hierarchy, and so on and stuff, which I hope to sort of transpose into the broader society, can I just finally sort of introduced just sort of another sort of element of entrepreneurship into the picture? What is very important to understand is that a key element of success for social movements and their durability is the ability of activists, participants, and supporters to bind collectively together.


You know, so networks structure that sort of reasonably coherent, and part I think, a key ingredient behind that, not in every case, not in these, certainly not the radical ones, but in other styles of social movements, you need norm entrepreneurs. I refer to, I think, probably an excellent example. In my consideration of norm entrepreneurship and social movement behaviour being that of the great Martin Luther King, you’re the great norm entrepreneur who pushed the case for anti racism and civil rights in the US. So entrepreneurship is not only evidenced in terms of the kinds of actions and activities that people will choose to do together through these interesting collective phenomena, but also in terms of the use of framing devices and emotive emotional pull, language and narrative to sort of help bind and make social movements more durable, not entirely successful. You know, entrepreneurship is subject to errors, right? And from errors come learnings. But nonetheless, I think this is where an Austrian approach can be most fruitfully applied to the study of social movements.


Mark Pennington

I mean, what you just said, that strikes me as being very reminiscent of, if you’re thinking about a movement, as in, you know, trying to organise quite a complex structure of different actors, and therefore, you might need different frames to sort of bring them together overlapping. It’s very similar to Ludwig Lachman, his ideas about capital as a complex structure where you have different sort of complementary elements and what the entrepreneur has to do is kind of figure out which bits fit together in some more or less coherent manner.


Mikayla Novak

Precisely, the use of framing devices is quite fascinating, not least for the fact that many social movements which are functionally operated in a more agitated reprint liberty direction actually use descriptions of freedom as something of a master frame, right? And under that, there will be sort of very specific sort of framing devices which are used to sort of diagnose the the sort of the heart of the problems that people experienced. 

For example, a lack of freedom in terms of your racism in law and society, right? And then they’ll be sort of prognostic sort of frames to think about what kinds of solutions are required. So for example, then from that kind of prognostic frame can spin off either legislative petitioning or bureaucratic petitioning, or modes of communication and reasoning with other members of society, particularly including people who harbour sir racialist attitudes and this sort of desire to sort of, you know, weaken the integrity of those malign viewpoints.


Mark Pennington

I wonder, if we could just work out just work through an example to illustrate some of these different themes. So, I mean, the example I was thinking about, in terms of you think of the distinction between a kind of more equilibrating view of an entrepreneur, and it is a more sort of disruptive view, and then this challenge of coordinating or keeping different elements together. 

If you think about the sort of gay liberation or gay rights movement, when people were pushing for gay marriage, you could understand that as being a kind of incremental equilibrating function to say there’s a gap here where there’s an inconsistency. On the other hand, you could see more radical elements in that movement, saying that this is not about gay marriage, this is about gay lifestyles as some kind of exemplar of an alternative mode of existence to the conventional family. So you have radical groups, like the ACT UP organisation, which I think you actually mentioned at some point in the book, which is actually saying, you know, you shouldn’t be necessarily going for marriage, it should be something that’s radically opposed to that. And then if you think of this idea of a sort of network, keeping a movement together what the entrepreneurs got to do. 

The challenge there is a movement might be united in having, you know, wanting more rights for gay people. But if within the movement, there are schisms, between those who want the marriage view, and those who want this more radical view, then the entrepreneurs have kind of got to figure out how that works. Is that a reasonable example? Do you think?


Mikayla Novak

I think it’s a very reasonable example, I don’t use the example of the LGBT rights movements in that context. But I think it’s entirely reasonable. I sort of draw a similar kind of sort of analytical thematic with respect to the civil rights movements in the United States, and that, surely, all most members of the civil rights, social movements would accept a an agenda of racial equality in the abstract in the broad, what are the tactical means to help achieve that? What does racial equality look like? 

Well, you know, quite frankly, different individuals and different subsets within the civil rights movement will have competing alternative perspectives. And this was seen in terms of the eventual sort of break up of the civil rights movement in the US from the more moderate sort of logic legislative directive mode of pushing for change, which, you know, came in terms of the Civil Rights Act versus the more radical sort of movements like Black Panthers zone that wanted to sort of seek, you know, broader sort of structural change, and the economy to reduce elements of racial stratification to reduce what they saw as a systemic sort of underpinnings of racism sort of baked into us culture. 

To come back to the LGBT example. I think it’s a great example of one could sort of effectively say, not in all parts, but in most parts, good example, because Nigerian sort of entrepreneurship maps seat as, as I mentioned, again, toward as I mentioned previously to sort of moderate social movements that seek structure work within formal politics, to see incremental change without too much disruption, the rest of the society.

In that respect, the social movement advocates a sort of seeking to change structures of formal law, which are seen as discriminatory in terms of black and white legislation. Alternatively, we’ve seen and this is again, illustrated in social movements literature, particularly with respect to so called new social movements theory, which came out of Europe, from the 80s, which broadens our sort of the remit of social movements away from this sort of marginalised, moderate accommodative, Canarian style of social movements, contention and agitation toward more expansive disruptive one on which they would argue we’ll take the LGBT example again, where, you know, groups would say that, you know, the whole question stem for example, if marriage is symptomatic of borders, you know, somehow sort of structural repression, you know, with in the broader society, in terms of the treatments are variegated sexualities and gender identities and so on. 

So, these more radical groups would try to attach sort of strategic imperatives towards changing cultural meanings, right within society. So, extra legislative agitation and contention, trying to reason with people improve various public forums, newspapers and public calls back then social media now, you know, to, to ask for effectively in a quality of respect, and also motor commerce, so dignity, not sort of formalised or cheap, necessarily, through the structure of formal politics itself, but through broader societal changes in attitudes and norms.


Mark Pennington

Okay, well, you already mentioned in that response, I think a little bit about or maybe the earlier response about the Bloomington School and I wonder if we could go on to think about what that might have to say about these, these movements. So the way I was thinking about it, on the one hand, you can think about this perspective, or talk about the organisational challenge of actually getting one of these movements off the ground, because you can think of the Austrians pointing out that standard neoclassical economic theory talks about a lot of collective action type situations where it predicts that because of the structure of the situation, the group won’t be organised. And in some regards, it’s quite surprising that life sees social movements do organise because they do face a significant if you look at it in abstract terms, collective action problems. So, one aspect of this might be: how do they overcome this collective action problem? The other aspect, I guess, would be, can you see the maintenance of the network as a kind of self governing arrangement, that the into internally the groups have to come out with mechanisms to govern that sort of internal operation, which are sort of from the ground up and spontaneous rather than being imposed by a sort of group leader because very often these movements don’t have a leader they don’t have a hierarchy that can impose a set of internal rules?


Mikayla Novak

Yes, I look, I think both of those interpretations are very applicable through an Austrian lens, are a very good example of the the second sort of strain of consideration is the Occupy Wall Street movement, which you know, to some extent, sort of has some sort of pro capitalist elements to and I would argue to the extent that they would actually seek to reduce inequalities which are induced by by regressive governmental legislation and law, treatment of financial markets and so on. 

And so, one of the sort of the great challenges for the Occupy Movement was to try to actually arrive at decisions in the context of aspirations expressed by founding members of the movement to actually have a non hierarchical, decentralised network structure of engagement by like minded people. So, you know, so, what you would practically sort of have in basically sort of democratic practice you have a whole range of, you know, public meetings and sub discussion groups and emergent subcommittees within different geographic branches of the Occupy Wall Street movement, I refer to a study in my book which refers to occupy wall street in London and how, how they emotionally trying to organise and make decisions. Now the great challenge this especially for these more radical sort of teen hierarchical prefigurative sort of phenomenon is that, is the ability of, is the very ever present ability of individual members to splinter off from I network to the extent that I actually disagree with some of the decisions or even some of the objectives that are spelled out. 

I mean, we have to understand that social movements, just like any sort of collective form, are very fluid and very dynamic in their character. And I guess ironically, the nature of contentiousness which social movements often promulgate within society may lead to the seeds of their own destruction internally, in the sense that you’ll actually have dissensus disagreements, splintering, forking away, if you will, from original groups. So that’s one element. 

The second element is how in the face of this uncertainty, potentially rendered by a the collapse of a social movement, how is one actually able to sustain a network and this is again, where we bring in the sort of known sort of economic incentives through example, the use of AI affect the use of emotion, the use of storytelling, and narrative to bind people socially together, toward a common cause. And a lot of improvisation entrepreneurship is required, in order to sort of advance compelling narratives, which help cohere social movements, and indeed, Eleanor Ostrum, in her separate studies about the management of the commons, alludes to the fact that, you know, collective action possibilities are far more feasible than that, then predicted by Mansur Olson, it is 1965 the logic of collective action, an important reason why collective action is seems appears far more feasible in the real world and actually existing societies, then under Olson’s sort of model and model is that people actually use negative emotion, other forms a effect to help bind these networks together. 

Again, you know, they’re not failsafe mechanisms, but these mechanisms which exist to help people sort of interact to congeal and to functionally unite to some extent, and, and again, and dovetailing with the first sort of aspects. An important part of encouraging incentivizing ongoing participation is by virtue of maintaining some sort of participatory sort of democracy or meaningful participation for people, that members of social groups internally feel that they have some real sort of stake rise in the operation of the the movements in which they support and I guess this connects to the previous discussion about entrepreneurship in terms of, you know, what is it that entrepreneurs and these movements do it strikes me that one of the things they might do is to try to use identity or you know, the creational construction of an of an identity as a way of getting people not to be thinking in sort of free rider terms. 

So, the free rider motive doesn’t even come into play, people are thinking in a certain vein and the trick over a kind of identity entrepreneur is to try to construct an identity for people in such a way that you know, they automatically want to sort of be expressing themselves by participating in the group. So, it becomes a kind of non excludable benefit to also an excludable benefit that you have to participate in order to express that identity.


So, non normal entrepreneurship intersects with a very interesting notion which is increasingly impairing an economic force from Akerlof onwards, in terms of thinking about an identity, entrepreneurship to to construct, to socially construct a sort of a set of modes of identity by which people can bind together and if I can go back to the the civil rights example in the US, and again, sort of define this idea that the civil rights movements with some sort of homogenous unitary whole, we see in firsthand accounts of activities in the social and the civil rights move in and in secondary accounts, a certain extent of social corrosion rolling, cajoling and pressure, right exerted amongst people, for example, that attend church congregations in the south and other meeting places to sort of suggest to people, please join us in our protests, please join us in our lunch counters, citizens and the like. Because you don’t want to be identified, right, using the term identity, I won’t be identified as not supporting anti racism campaigns, you’re one of our staff too, in effect. So identity can can be powerfully be used as a self to reduce the relative costs of coordination within, within social movements and network structures and organisational structures to


Mark Pennington

I mean, I guess, I mean, perhaps we can explore this a little bit more later on. But I guess the possible downside of that is if identity is a tool that entrepreneurs use to mobilise people, one of the most effective ways to generate an identity is to create a distinction between ingroups and outgroups. So you basically have a sort of warlike notion of rival identities that are clashing against each other. So it’s a bit like you know, what people talk about expressive incentives. So I don’t, I don’t follow football that much, actually, these days. But, you know, if you do go to a football match, people throw abuse at the, the, the opposing team, they don’t actually think that they’re sort of individual contribution makes that much difference. They’re not thinking about collective action terms. They’re expressing their identity that, you know, you hate Manchester United, or you hate Arsenal, or whoever it might be. And that’s very effective for you know, mobilising people. That’s why people go to watch football matches, but it is a very confrontational environment. And if you get the same in the sense of this is why people join social movements. It’s kind of to hurl abuse almost against another movement or a counter movement. That’s also potentially quite destabilising, you do have very conflictual situations. And I mean, maybe you need conflict, because if certain groups are campaigning for their rights, that’s understandable. But at the same time, you have the issue of, you know, how do you work out a peaceful compromise, if that kind of very strong identification is what underlies the mobilisation?


Mikayla Novak

Look, I think that’s entirely true. And this is one of the sorts of the great contemporary challenges which are brought to a head by an increase in social movement, activity, in my view, and this also corresponds with the, I think, the rather unfortunate trend in Western societies and other societies toward tribalism. So I do wrestle with this idea to some extent, in fact, more to this to some extent, in my book, I explicitly recognise a framework of surrealism in political philosophy, which is sort of evidence in some of the works, for example, John Grey and Shantelle Mouth and others and even going back to the notorious figure, Carl Schmitt, who considered the presence within societies of different competing sort of sets of groups within society, perhaps inspired and fashion belong sort of identity lines, that see themselves as, as enemies versus friends. And to the extent that increasing social movement, activity bubbles along informed by those lines, then the downside of such thinking, and that thinking, sort of melding into practice is that there will be limits on the basis upon which consensus and agreement will be able to be reached on important agendas of social change to address societal problems, do address that links in the book, the virtues of liberal toleration, to be able to discover margins by which people who have competing frameworks about the good life in society are able to be able to communicate, be able to engage and meaningful and productive discourse with each other, to understand each other’s point of view and to see if perhaps in a sort of scenario arbitrage fashion to see if there are any sort of margins of agreement and accommodation by which divergent groups can move forward. 

But, but the ability to do this will be sort of very much contingent on people sort of easing up on very strong tribal identity arion ways of congealing with social movement activity, there must be there must be space by which, you know, reasonable people can disagree and reasonable people that have very diverse and alternative frameworks and views about the good life, are able to find spaces within society in order to sort of instantiate their beliefs and viewpoints. 


Mark Pennington

I wonder if we could just go on. I mean, if we’ve spoken there about the sort of self organisation aspect of these kinds of movements only if we could think about the public choice aspect, which I guess overlaps a little bit with this. And that’s, we can think about these entrepreneurs in social movements overcoming the organisational or the collective action problem. I guess the other sort of more public choice angle on this would be how do we understand what these groups are actually doing? So one view would be that they are, in many circumstances, really pushing for an extension of rights to people who haven’t had. So this is a kind of, you know, an egalitarian type view that certain groups, whether it’s ethnic minority groups, different sexual identities, etc, just want to have the same treatment as other actors, that they are pushing for equality in a certain sense, you can have another interpretation, which is that they are and I think the maybe the Occupy Wall Street would fall into this category, where they’re complaining about what they see are perceived privileges that are given to other actors. 

So why are some banks considered to be too big to fail or something of that kind when others are not? So it’s a complaint about inequality in that sense. So those two dimensions can be seen as being quite liberal in orientation. But I guess the third aspect, which is what a lot of public choice thinkers would be concerned about, is that, is this form of rent seeking?


Mikayla Novak

Illiberal social movements exist and we can’t, we can’t sort of hand wave that away. I, what I also acknowledge in the in the book, when I tried to sort of illustrate quite painstakingly is that there are actually a range of social movements that sort of operate with objectives are very similar to other groups in society that push for deregulation reduced, sort of fiscal size and scale of government, like interest groups, think tanks and, and other groups that are not necessarily sort of tagged with the label of being rent seekers. 

So I think of a couple of sorts of social movements, for example, the yes in my backyard movement. They’re very prominent social movements in the United States. And also I’m aware also in England and the UK and elsewhere, which is seeking to liberalise housing supply to address what is it extremely severe housing affordability problem, we referred to the example of the the the queer social movement act up act up during the 80s and 90s. were heavily in actively campaigning against the effect of intellectual property restrictions which increase the relative prices of drugs. I refer in the book in one of the chapters to a host of contemporary social movements, which are working against what Brink Lindsay and Steve, tell us all about the captured economy, right. That is the economy which is basically coagulated by regressive regulation and fiscal policy. 

Now, I would have thought that certainly to be true that the social movements that dislike every other individual or collective entity will expend some resources in order to advocate for deregulation for economic freedom. But I would think, in the spirit of my trying to separate wheat from chaff is that we ought to be able to very carefully delineate and try to identify those social movements which are functionally aiming towards causes that economic liberals are words would equally agree with to recognise that there’s the founder of advocacy within society and in a liberty direction is actually multifaceted and not necessarily restricted to formal politics. Even if social movements, especially if the moderate more accommodative type are engaged in quite heavily with sort of formal politics. 

I just wanted to sort of just emphasise something about the sort of the public choice sort of framework, which, which I sort of stress quite, quite extensively in, in my book, and that is that I think social movements provide public choice theorists with an opportunity to better understand the dimension and political activity outside of a constitution making or an election setting. 

I outline in the book, inspired by the work of the great late economist on Lovejoy, a model of extensive democracy I call it livable in democracy. And it’s very, it’s very, very similar in spirit to Buchanan 1954, where Buchanan is basically saying that in terms of social choice, you know, dynamism is actually not a bug, but actually a feature, right of democratic process, because people are liable to change their minds and they’re actually allowed to, in liberal democratic societies, Levoy and democracy sort of extends on that by saying that, you know, there is actually benefits to social benefits associated with social movements and other groups, engaging in discourse and activism and related activities, which signal information about the kinds of first social problems that exist, social movement and side, in my view, by and large, even the liberal ones right, do provide valuable information that serves as an import, right and speaking quite economistic terms, of course, but serve as an import into a dynamic live when democratic process where politics doesn’t end, after the setting of a constitution, or the announcement of a winner of a general election balance. 

So I think social movements in the pro liberal social movements particularly are challenging the basis of hegemonic power, that acts in illiberal ways, I think, is an important potential found for the increasing sort of exercise of liberty as we practically appreciate it today.


Mark Pennington

I mean, this is a difficult area. But what I what I was thinking of is, my own view would be a lot of social movements, it’s actually very hard to characterise them as rent seekers, as public choice theory would do, I think, my feeling is that most social movements, it will be inappropriate to think of them in that way. I think where it gets complicated is when you introduce as you do so effectively, in the book, this idea of entanglement, the idea that movements aren’t a sort of clearly distinct thing, they sort of overlap with other actors in multiple sectors. 

So if we take an example, I think most of the people who are involved in the fair trade social movement, I wouldn’t characterise them as rent seekers, I think they have an ideal of improving working conditions or whatever for people in certain countries who are low income farmers. I think the problem is that the discourse they use, about fairness, about improving conditions, which many people would sort of subscribe to in a universalistic sense, can then be taken on by other actors to regulate and potentially to shut out from the market low cost producers. So what is an enlightened discourse in a sense, can actually facilitate something from other actors which isn’t particularly enlightened in its effects. And there’s no reason that all social movements would have that effect. But it’s going to be a very complex mix isn’t in any particular case about how these things play out?


Mikayla Novak

Yes, to be able to sort of cleanly identify the inspiration, outcome and effects of social movements are complicated. And it is important for us to acknowledge, as I have done in the book that in the spirit of entangled political economy, which straddles incidentally Austrian, Bloomington and Virginia political economy, there are many social movements directly petition businesses, major corporations, even small ones, to serve to drive particular changes that are preferred by the participants of social movements. And we might sort of collectively regard such a domain of agitation as being reflected in corporate social responsibility or a social licence or the concept of social justice. 

It is a complicated area, I sort of take some inspiration from recent work by Pete Bachar who introduced a very intriguing sir refinements of throughs of stakeholder theory, which a coin polycentric stakeholder theory, which suggests that, I guess in a normative sense, it’s not entirely legitimate, of course, in a, sort of, in free societies, for businesses to be receptive to any for any given business to be receptive to demands of not only their cost direct direct customers, but of broader constituencies that, you know, may consume their products or not, or otherwise, sort of effected through externalities and similar effects. It’s an, I guess, even in some sort of partial defensive, the populist refrain of so called woke capitalism, I, I literally, I actually provide something with partial defence of that, so long as businesses that are receptive to that, essentially sort of pay for, you know, for such changes themselves, and sort of don’t don’t sort of seek to sort of dispose sort of costs upon sort of unwilling parties. 

Now, of course, of course, I mean, that is an ever present risk in any sort of contemporary society. And so, one might, well best say that my effective response to that is eternal vigilance, in response to the potential and very real threat that you outline that that very worthy, meritorious, even pro liberty course, causes, maybe sort of twisted for oppositional intentions.


Mark Pennington

Okay, well, that’s, that’s, that’s great. We’ve covered a lot of ground, I think we’re coming up to about an hour. So I wonder if you could just finish off by just letting us know what you’re thinking of working on next. Where are you going to go beyond this book project? Are you doing anything else on social movements? Or are you moving on to other things,


Mikayla Novak

I’m certainly sort of looking to move on to other things. But I certainly see that a core aspect of my own research agenda in sociology moving forward will sort of focus on social movements, a couple of potential areas for investigations to further dig down into the relationship between social movements and businesses, particularly financial markets. I’m working on a book chapter at the moment. So looking at the relationships between social movement participation and financial market changes, and this has great relevance in relation to the GameStop developments that we saw through Reddit earlier this year, and this, this might become increasingly important. 

So there’s that, there’s also a broader agenda, which I briefly alluded to earlier, during this, this podcast, and that is that there is actually a very great potential, I believe, for sort of liberals who are who are amenable to studies in so called analytical anarchism to actually understand how anarchist social movements operate, right, using the lenses of particularly the Austrian and Bloomington schools to understand how they sort of prefigurative anarchist movements. combined to sustain their networks if they can sustain them. 

So I think there is a very great agenda to sort of recalibrate social movement theory, to sort of move away from merely thinking of them as solely wishing to engage in formal politics. And just think about social movements as genuinely wishing to serve and engage in change in a non-state sphere of, of culture of persuasion of narrative and an effect, there’s much more to be done there. 

In terms of other potential work on I’m very interested in sort of visiting the sort of the history and contemporary developments of freedom as I affect different minority groups, for example, LGBT groups, so I’m currently investigating that, and as well as general studies in entangled politically tangled political economy approach, which was originated by Dick Wagner at JMU. So a lively cornucopia of research, and I’ll be very happy to sort of share the outcomes of that research with you, and with the centre vehicles.


Mark Pennington

Well, that’s great. I mean, that’s a very exciting agenda. And I very much enjoyed doing this podcast with Mikayla and hopefully, people will be very interested in getting this new book. So I’ll just remind everyone that the book is called Freedom and Contention: Social Movements and Liberal Political Economy, and that’s published by Lexington books. So highly recommended. So thanks very much, Mikayla. And, yeah, hope to talk to you again in the not too distant future.


Mikayla Novak

It’s a great pleasure mark, and thank you for having me. Thank you for the opportunity.