If surveys of Occupy Wall Street supporters conducted last fall still hold true, the crowds of protesters expected to turn out Tuesday forMay Day events across the country will most likely skew male, young, white, college educated, underpaid, and thoroughly disgusted with the American political system.
But the crowds may also be notably heavy on another demographic cohort: notebook-wielding social scientists hoping to get a more precise understanding of the nebulously organized individuals marching under the banner “We are the 99 percent.”
Academics across the country have embraced the movement since it emerged in September, organizing classes, publishing reams of commentary and issuing calls to “occupy” not just Wall Street but also sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy or the entire“academic vampire squid” itself, as a poster for a session at the recent annual meeting of the International Studies Association put it.
A smaller number have also been turning to a more difficult task: turning a sprawling movement into hard — and publishable — data.
“This thing just erupted so quickly,” said Alex S. Vitale, a sociologist at Brooklyn College who studies the policing of demonstrations. “It’s almost overwhelming to deal with all the information that’s out there.”
Mr. Vitale is finishing a 10-city study of interactions between protesters and the police since last fall, which he said showed a lack of overall “militarization” in police response in major cities. (New York is an exception, said Mr. Vitale, who organized a demonstration against police tactics in Zuccotti Park last fall but said he did not consider himself part of the Occupy movement.) Other researchers are doing ethnographic studies, crunching survey data, recording oral histories and analyzing material by and about the movement, all at lightning speed compared with the usual pace of scholarship.
“Academics are used to taking forever, but we don’t have to,” said Theda Skocpol, a sociologist at Harvard and author, with Vanessa Williamson, of “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,” a study of Occupy’s right-wing counterpart published in January. <Read more.>