[Debate] (Fwd) How to measure SA community protests (Trevor Ngwane)
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Subject: [Debate] (Fwd) How to measure SA community protests (Trevor Ngwane)
SOME METHODOLOGICAL POINTS FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF A PROTEST EVENT
DATABASE IN SOUTH AFRICA
Protests have become a standard feature of the South African body
politic and everyday life. Without skipping a beat, a familiar
voice in a national radio programme matter-of-factly moves from
cautioning motorists on their way to work of 10-minute delays due to
faulty traffic lights to suggesting alternative routes in order to
avoid angry protesters burning tyres on roads in 3 different areas
and provinces in the country. But despite this apparent
normalization of protest action, the fact that no one has so far
come up with a solution to end the protests suggests that they have
spiralled out of control thus underlining the fact that there is
little understanding or consensus among state functionaries, policy
makers and associated scholars with respect to what lies behind the
protests, their prognosis, and indeed their place in the general
political development of the country. No one disputes the fact that
that there is an abnormal incidence of protest action in
post-apartheid society, but there is uncertainty about exactly how
many protests occur, what their exact character is and what they
precisely signify. The most recent and authoritative analyses of
the protests suggest that the protests exhibit signs of rapid change
in form and content thus adding complexity to a phenomenon already
vexed (Please see Booysen 2011).
There is a need for a comprehensive, accurate and reliable
documentation and enumeration of the protests which could serve as a
reference containing most of the factual information and knowledge
that has so far been gathered on the protests in South Africa to
date. In this paper we explore how a reliable database of the
incidence of protests in South Africa could be constructed which
researchers, policy makers and political activists could use as a
basis for answering some of the burning questions arising out of the
protest phenomenon. The paper suggests the use of an existing
database, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC)’s
protest monitor (SABC News Research 2011), in order to explore the
issues and challenges involved in developing such a database
concretely rather than by way of theoretical conjecture. The SABC
data has been chosen both because of its relative comprehensiveness
in that it covers protest incidents in all the provinces and because
the SABC as a news agency is the biggest and probably most
influential in South Africa in terms of reporting upon and shaping
perceptions of protest action. This paper therefore records the
thinking informing and challenges faced by a team of researchers
working at developing a protest event database using SABC data and,
as will be explained further below, data from the South African
Local Government Research Centre.
2. Why do we need a reliable database cataloguing protest
action in SA?
The data we use as a basis for constructing our explanations of
phenomena requires careful and credible compilation. In South
Africa there exist widely divergent estimates of the number of
protest incidents. Official police records, for example, have been
found to be a useful but unreliable enumerator of protests (Vally
2009). The data compiled by the SABC, SALGRC (SALGA) and Municipal
IQ are frequently used by researchers, but these sources have been
questioned for accuracy, comprehensiveness and reliability
(Alexander 2010, Pfaffe 2011). Nonetheless most commentary on
South African protest action uses these sources as a basis for
understanding this phenomenon (e.g. Atkinson 2007, Booysen 2009).
It is our contention that, without an authoritative factual basis,
these stabs at explanation have to be dealt with quite critically
because it may be that many of them, if such a factual basis were to
be provided, might prove to be largely impressionistic or even
A major problem with present estimates of protests in South Africa
is the use of different definitions and methodological approaches
which sometimes results in divergent estimates of the number of
protests e.g. the SABC recorded 477 and the Municipal IQ 344
protests for the same period 2004 to 2011 (SABC News Research 2011,
Municipal IQ 2010, 2011). And this without, as Pfaffe (2011:15)
laments, giving “any details of what exactly constitutes their
respective protest labels”. This suggests that at times researchers
are not talking about the same thing, or are focusing on different
aspects of the phenomenon being studied. For example, the police
figures distinguish neatly between “legal” and “illegal” protests,
but a researcher using these figures will often be interested in the
incidence rather than the legality of an event. The police figures
also incorporate events that involve labour action (and even sports
and cultural events) while many researchers distinguish neatly
between labour and community protests. A substantial literature
employs the concept “new social movements” as a lynchpin in
explaining a significant portion of the mass mobilization that
filled the post-apartheid protest calendar (Ballard et al., 2006).
In contrast, the notion of “service delivery protests” features
prominently in current analyses of protest activity in the country
and the distinction between the two is sometimes blurred (e.g.
Sinwell, 2010). There is also inconsistent use of “service
delivery” with mobilization around issues such as crime, education
and xenophobia, being included or excluded in different
These observations suggest that it might be increasingly unclear
what exactly is being referred to and studied under the rubric
“protests” in South Africa. As we will see below, there is evidence
of inconsistent treatment of the question between and within
different databases and researchers. This is underlined (or
explained away) by the observation that the protests have evolved in
character changing in nature during different periods of the
post-apartheid era (Booysen 2011). If protests are “multifarious”,
to what extent can they be treated as the same phenomenon across
these different periods? (Tilly, 2008). The fact that some mass
mobilization involve attacks on “foreign nationals” has also sparked
off a scholarly dispute with some researchers arguing that
xenophobia is but the “dark side” of protest action (von Holdt et
al. 2011, Langa and von Holdt 2010) while others argue for a
stricter demarcation between xenophobia and service delivery or
community protest (Alexander and Pfaffe 2009).
South African scholarship into protests needs to address and resolve
some of these questions through establishing a more or less common
factual basis upon which to examine the phenomenon of protests.
Failure to do this will mean that researchers will continue to talk
past each other, with some operating on the basis of inconsistent
formulations and thus accentuating the problem of a discordant
It is suggested here that some of the challenges noted in the above
could be better addressed by way of the compilation of a catalogue
of events which could be reliable enough for researchers to use in
assessing past and present protest action. Such a catalogue would
strive to standardize its definition of “protest” thus allowing
researchers to work from a common set of facts, that is, in so far
as these facts are constituted and compiled based on clearly defined
criteria, premises and independently verifiable sources.
A reliable, verifiable database that covers the past decade of
protest activity and that is updated on a daily basis would
contribute immensely to protest scholarship. The advantage of such
a database would be to provide a common and verifiable basis for
studies of protests that could be useful to a wide range of
researchers, activists and policy makers locally and
internationally. The incidence of protests in South Africa is of
interest to other researchers in the world because few countries
match can match the sheer scale of protest activity in this
country. The starting point for creating such a database, it is
suggested here, would be the existing databases in the country,
namely, those compiled by the SABC and SALGRC to begin with.
Ideally, other sources such as the Municipal IQ database and protest
monitors such as that by the UKZN Centre for Civil Society (CCS
2011) would also be used. The task at hand is to draw out
information from all these databases, overcome whatever weaknesses
and biases that presently exist, and on that basis create a
definitive catalogue of protest events in South Africa. It should
also be mentioned that additional sources of information are
envisaged for this project going forward, namely, there is a plan to
conduct several case studies employing a questionnaire. The use of
ethnographic methods could serve to give the data more texture and
address some questions which data aggregation is unable to answer
e.g. individual motivation for participating in protest.
In this paper we explore the SABC database, and to a lesser extent
the SALGRC database, as a first step towards the creation of the
3. Theoretical and methodological considerations
3.1 Evidence and explanatory frameworks
The use of ill-defined methods and the conflation of methodologies
may be responsible for certain shortcomings in South African
scholarship into protests. To understand and address this problem
requires a philosophical and methodological step back before delving
into the foray of actual study and intellectual engagement. Charles
Tilly’s work documenting and analysing what he terms “contentious
gatherings” is a useful starting point given his status as a
universally pioneer and leading scholar in this field (Tilly 2005
and 2008, Tilly 1988; Tilly, Tilly and Tilly 1975). A meticulous
social scientist combining sociological and historical methods, he
admonishes social scientists in the field to pay attention to their
theories of evidence, that is, the link between scientific
explanation and the evidence used to substantiate this.
The study of protest events requires us to compile an “event
catalogue”; that is, “a set of descriptions of multiple social
interactions collected from a delimited set of sources according to
relatively uniform procedures” (Tilly 2008: 47). Tilly prefers the
term “contentious gatherings” rather than “protests” and he defines
this as “an occasion on which a number of people (here, a minimum of
ten) outside of the government gathered in a publicly accessible
place and made claims on at least one person outside their own
number, claims which if realized would affect the interests of their
object” (ibid). This definition and theoretical approach is
designed to overcome the theoretical shortcomings Tilly identifies
in other formulations of the problem which we now turn to below.
Some researchers define their subject matter rather robustly as the
study of riots and mobs, with “riot” defined as “50 or more people
assembled trying to damage or seize property, attack someone, or
coerce someone to act and/or desist from action” (Bohstedt 1983:4).
Tilly criticises the centrality of the element of coercion and even
violence in this definition; it is narrow because Tilly is
interested in the “contentious making of claims” which may take both
peacable and less peacable forms (2008:50). Furthermore, Tilly is
concerned with “discontinuous” claim-making, that is, once-off
events rather than routine or regular claim-making such as that done
through parliamentary activity.
Scholars such as Wells (1990) use event catalogues to gather
evidence of “protest” and this is “frequently conceived of as an
expression of popular consciousness” and seeking to establish the
“shared understandings” of the protesters (Tilly 2008: 49).
Scholars who use concepts like “riots” define their object of study
as “collective violence” (Button, 1978 and 1997), an approach that
gathered steam during the American ghetto and student rebellions of
the 1960s. Another group of scholars and theories focus on
“collective action” or “conflict” (McPhail and Wohlstein 1983).
Tilly finds these approaches wanting in the light of his notion of
the “contentious making of claims” that allows him to study meanings
produced in the course of collective social interactions rather than
from the study of individual consciousness. His approach focuses on
relations, transactions and mechanisms which combine to form
observable social processes which can then be explained.
The strength of Tilly’s approach is that his research team was able,
using content analysis techniques, to reduce contentious events into
“machine-readable” entries thus allowing him to cope with vast
amounts of data in a consistent and verifiable manner. The exercise
involves, since his sources are mostly periodicals written in
narrative form, a lot of selection and interpretation converting the
qualitative data into quantitative and machine-readable entries that
can be fed into a database. The decisive factor is consistent,
clearly-defined and verifiable criteria that guide the organization
of the data. Thus the data is amenable to other researchers to use
in testing Tilly’s conclusions and it can also be re-organised to
answer questions corresponding to their own explanatory theories.
It is in this way that such a catalogue of events can be regarded as
a solid contribution to the advancement of social science in this
field of study.
The method has its shortcomings. Tilly, for example, identified a
systematic bias in his sources. He found that the periodicals he
was using tended to identify more contentious gatherings than
official sources; that they tended to over-represent events taking
place in London city and under-represented locations outside of and
distant from major cities; and also under-represented industrial
conflicts. The newspapers he used also offered fuller accounts of
the events than others. Having identified this bias Tilly was able
to compensate for it in his substantive conclusions.
The important point to note is that Tilly’s substantive conclusions
are arguably more convincing and less contentious than those made by
others in the same field without the benefit of his solid empirical
foundation. It is noteworthy that a comparison with other rigorous
research suggests the veracity of Tilly’s method and conclusions
e.g. there is an uncanny symbiosis with the work of Hobsbwam and
Rude (1968). In summary, Tilly’s insights are that 18th and 19th
century British repertoires of contention, defined as “a limited set
of routines that are learned, shared, and acted out” evolved in
character from being parochial, particular and bifurcated
“claim-making routines” into cosmopolitan, modular and autonomous
repertoires (Tilly 2005: xx). This was primarily a result not so
much of radicalization than the extension or widening of the means
of contention-making through the emergence of organizations and
perceptions with a regional and national rather than merely local
horizon, a conclusion that matches Bohstdedt’s (Tilly 2005: 401).
What do we learn from the above in our endeavour to understand
protests in South Africa? Firstly, it is apparent that Tilly put
more effort, resources and rigour in constructing his event
catalogue than anyone has done in this country. It took him 12
years to compile the catalogue employing numerous research
assistants and collaborators and covering several periodicals
including consulting secondary sources and archival material. He
constructed his database from scratch and documented every decision,
source, definition, interpretation, and much more, thus arguably
being in more control and in a position to account for every step he
took in achieving the research feat. In South Africa database
compilers often are not in a position or are unwilling to document
and share the nitty-gritty involved in constructing their
databases. As we will see below, and as some researchers have
discovered independently of this study, there are often
inconsistencies or uncertainties as to why and how events are
documented or recorded in the existing databases, here we are
referring to the SABC, SALGRC and Municipal IQ databases. There is
little transparency or control for the serious scholar to be able to
come to conclusions with nearly half the confidence that Tilly is
able to with his database. Hence the suggestion here that the time
might be nigh for the construction of a database that approximates
the rigour and reliability that Tilly and other scholars elsewhere
in the world have achieved in the field of event catalogues of
protests or contentious gatherings. It is to the work of other
scholars internationally that we now turn.
3.2 Protest event analysis: Some insights from the literature
History of the genre
Tilly’s work is seminal within a field of study termed “protest
event analysis” that is relatively new but has already given birth
to, according to Koopmans and Rucht, a veritable “small research
industry” (2002: 233). These authors identify three generations of
scholarship in the development of the literature in this area of
study. The first phase consists of “riot” studies in the 1970s
(Gurr 1968, Spilerman 1970, Danzger 1975), juxtaposed with the study
of political violence and strikes by historical sociologists (Snyder
& Tilly 1972; Tilly, Tilly and Tilly 1975), and the first
extensive use of the newspaper as a source for the identification
and analysis of protest events (Lieberson & Silverman 1965;
Snyder & Kelly 1977). The second phase coincided with the rise
of social movement studies in the social sciences with protest event
analysis burgeoning in terms of research output and increasingly
employing quantitative methods in the study of the civil rights
movement in the United States (McAdam 1982), protests in the mid-60s
and 70s in Italy (Tarrow 1989) and USA farmers’ protests (Jenkins
1985). The manipulation of protest data became more sophisticated
during this phase (Koopmans and Rucht 2002). The third phase of the
development of this scholarship has seen the exportation of this
research approach and its application onto other countries outside
the United States and Europe (Beissinger 1998; Olzak and Olivier
1998; White 1995). Comparative studies looking into social movement
activation in different countries have been conducted by some
researchers (Kriesie 1981).
What we observe here is the birth and growth of a field of study
that is characterised by a movement away from informed speculation
and scholarly generalisations based on careful study of particular
dramatic events (“riots”, strikes), either singly or aggregated,
towards the development of an “exact” science that strives for
reliability and validity through the application of a systematic and
quantitative methodology on larger samples and a wider range of
protest events. The search for comprehensiveness has led some
researchers to traverse the boundary of observable collective action
into the analysis of discursive forms of contention such as the
issuing of press statements and to extend the net to include events
organised by “institutional actors” e.g. the state (Koopmans and
Definition and unit of analysis
The inclusion of discursive forms such as “press statements,
petitions, participation in hearings, and litigation” (Koopmans and
Rucht 2002:235) is an extension of the unit of analysis in protest
event analysis which broadens the scope of the field beyond Tilly’s
definition of a “contentious gathering” but still falls within his
“contentious claim making routines” noted above (Tilly 2005: xx).
However, there is agreement that each research study needs to define
its unit of analysis in relation to theoretical and practical
considerations on the one hand, and the specific questions the
researcher concerned seeks to answer (Tilly, 2008; Koopmans and
Rucht, 2002). The choices the researcher must make relate to the
nature of the events to be investigated, the geographical location
of such events, the time period to be covered, sampling or event
selection procedures, the sources to be used, and so on. The
reliability and validity of each study is a function of how the
researcher deals with these factors.
The breadth and width of all the factors impinging on the
reliability and validity of protest event analysis studies raises
the question of to what extent authoritative claims can be made by
researchers in this field. Protest event analysis studies cannot
usually claim to cover all protest events they are concerned with
unless the unit of analysis or scope of the study is defined very
narrowly. Most studies rely on mass media sources, in particular,
the newspaper, and these have an in-built selectivity bias (Tilly
2008). However, researchers have found mechanisms to reduce the
extent of this bias through using more than one newspaper as a
source and additionally using non-media sources such as official
records (Barranco and Wisler 1999, Fillieule 1996, Hocke 1996,
Mueller 1997, Oliver and Myers 1999). Protest event analysts defend
themselves from the criticism that their work, because it is based
on what gets reported in newspapers, does not constitute “reality”
by arguing that indeed the world reflected in the mass media can be
understood as a “constructed reality” but it is still important for
policy makers and the wider public and thus affects the direction of
social change (Koopmans and Rucht 2002: 252). Researchers in this
genre admit that there are questions which cannot be answered
through aggregating protest events but that might require
ethnographic study such as the psychological or motivational
dimensions of protest action. Their argument is that it is
important to define with rigour one’s unit of analysis and to be
consistent and transparent about the various steps one takes in
constructing a catalogue of protest events. Therein lie the
reliability and validity of the method.
4. Key considerations for developing a South African protest
The literature considered above, especially the work of Tilly,
suggests that protest event databases or catalogues are invariably
based on a particular theory and methodology. In South Africa, a
cursory consideration of the three databases mentioned here is that
two of them, SALRC and Municipal IQ, are underpinned by a theory
that associates protest closely with the functioning of local
government. The SABC database can be said to be informed by the
imperative of news worthiness rather than purely scholarly
considerations. Our team has taken some steps to ascertain more
definitively the theory and methodology underpinning the SABC
database and some comments will be made in this regard below.
In general, the South African approach is to define the subject
matter as “protest” and “service delivery protest”. This has
implications for what finds its way into South African protest
databases. Our research team has chosen to stick with this
tradition and we have defined our subject matter as “protest”, and
more specifically “community protest”, following Alexander’s (2010)
definition and motivations in this respect. This approach is
distinguishable from researchers who define their subject matter as
“service delivery protests” in that “community” protests arguably
covers or conveys a sense of a wider range of protest activities,
issues and targets of protest action than “service delivery”. This
definition allows us to eschew coverage of labour action and strikes
for practical and theoretical considerations. But it is arguably
responsive to what some researchers have identified as the dynamic
nature of protest activity in South Africa in terms of changing
repertoires, demands, methods and targets of protest action (Booysen
2011). For example, Booysen identifies 6 different phases of the
protests with each phase associated with a particular feature or
characteristic of the protest. But these dynamics can be
accommodated in the “community protest” rubric.
The dynamism and evolution of protests and protest repertoires was
identified by Tilly (2005) with respect to “contentious gatherings”
in Britain during the 17th and 18th centuries; one of his main
findings was that protests evolved from being parochial to being
cosmopolitan in character. Alexander (2010) observes a
developmental dynamic or trend in South African protests that leads
him to suggest that they are likely to increasingly link up with
each other both in terms of demands and forms of organization, on
the one hand, and on the other they are becoming or will become
increasingly anti-capitalist. Similarly Booysen’s (2011:165-166)
prognosis is that the “local, ‘community’ protests [might] transform
into networks of national protest”.
The escalation of the protests from local to the national sphere in
character and scope suggests Tilly’s (2005) observation of a
movement away from bifurcated to autonomous protests, that is, a
movement away from local groups seeking intermediaries to address
national issues to claimants establishing direct communication with
national centres of power. Booysen (2009) suggests that the issues,
demands and targets of the protesters in South Africa have changed
away from a sole focus on local government to the spheres of
provincial and national government. Langa and von Holdt (2010)
attended a rally addressed by President Zuma during the height of
the protests in Balfour where residents refused to be addressed by
local, provincial and even national political leaders, demanding and
allowing only the president himself to address them.
We have mentioned Alexander’s speculation that community protests
and labour action might team up in the future, a question that
concerns many on the left in South Africa (Harvey 2007, Ceruti 2010,
Lehulere 1985). There is also the question and debate about the
relationship between protest and xenophobia which was mentioned
above (Langa and von Holdt 2010; Alexander and Pfaffe 2011; Ngwane
and Vilakazi 2010). It has also been observed that many of the
protests are led by youth rather than by adults (Sinwell et al.
2009). These are just some of the questions which a database on
South African protests might help to answer. The complexity of some
of the questions raised here requires a database that is quite rich
in information and fairly sophisticated in its choice of variables
and how these could be manipulated and related to each other. It is
perhaps not possible to imagine a project as thorough and monumental
as Tilly’s 12 years compiling his database with the support of at
least a dozen research assistants and collaborators, and no doubt a
generous budget. But, if the resources could be found this could be
a very good thing indeed; in reality pragmatic choices would need to
be made in compiling a South African database based on the priority
issues and questions that such a database would need to help us
address and answer. Political and scholarly considerations have to
be taken equally into account in this country given the compelling
urgency of the issues and their direct impact on people’s lives,
there is very little scope for science for its own sake. We can
thus expect and need to be able to answer the question: After all
is said and done, what indeed are we trying to achieve with our
event catalogue and who would benefit from this achievement?
5. Work in progress: Some characteristics of the SABC database
The SABC compiles protest data through its research service which
plays a supportive role to the institution’s news service. In a
personal communication with the head of the research department it
was explained to us that the data is actually compiled by one person
from news reports sent in by staff reporters located throughout
South Africa’s major centres. However, the compilation also
includes material from other sources besides. The compiler records
in narrative form parts of these reports and keeps them in a
database as a record or archive and as a possible resource for
further stories. The value of the reports from the SABC’s point of
view is that they are mostly based on newsworthiness and it can be
argued that this is a key selectivity bias. Many if not most of the
reports are used for SABC radio and television broadcasts in its 18
radio stations and 3 television channels.
A key advantage in using the SABC data is the accessibility of the
data compilers which makes it possible to find out the reasons for
including or excluding events in the database and other
considerations that might influence the selection process. This
“assessing… the selectivity of the sources from which information is
drawn is crucial to all kinds of PEA” (Koopmans and Rucht
2002:246). With the SABC the process is made easier because only
one person compiles the data thus suggesting a degree of
consistency. Our team will need to do further empirical
investigation on this question including finding out the types of
news reports that get filed by reporters and understanding the
selection process involved before they are entered into the
database. First impressions suggest that if there is a large number
of people involved, there is significant disruption or violence, and
people get arrested or fired upon by police, are some of the factors
that make it more likely for a contentious event to find its way
into the SABC protest database.
Despite some unevenness in the entries made in the SABC database,
there is often enough basic detail to make each entry usable as a
source of information. It can also be argued that once a protest
event is identifiable this makes it possible to do further
investigation to find out more about it if necessary. The basic
details that can be garnered from most entries in the SABC data are:
location of the protest, date of the protest, number of protesters,
demands made, method of protesting and response of the authorities
in the form of police and/or government officials and elected
representatives. Despite the fact that in many instances more or
less of this detail is included in each data entry, there is
arguably enough information in the 500 or so protest event entries
recorded for the years 2004 to 2011 to create a viable,
machine-readable database of protests. And this is what our team is
The team is using the Microsoft Access programme to capture basic
information about each of the 500 or so protests recorded by the
SABC. The process of populating the database with information
provides a good vantage point to assess both the SABC’s compilation
of protest events and to consider the challenges of embarking on
such an exercise. We can report that at this particular moment all
of the SABC data has been fed into the database being created. This
painstaking process involves reading each protest event entry in the
SABC database, identifying key information and variables, entering
these into the Access data entry form. This exercise can be
understood as translating the narrative reports into
machine-readable form. Since the narrative reports were not
designed for this purpose the challenge is creating forms that best
fit the data but also taking into consideration the researchers’
theoretical and methodological imperatives.
A challenge we have come across is the existence of “borderline
cases”, a mountain that Pfaffe (2011) scaled and documented in his
pioneering study using Protest Event Analysis on South African
protest data. Examples of borderline cases arising out of recent
protests would be Malema’s economic freedom march (Laing 2011), the
Grabouw parents’ protest against poor education (SAPA 2012), and the
Implats mine strike that involved community protests (SAPA 2012).
The question here would be whether these cases fall within our
definition of “community protest”. The SABC data would exclude all
of these because they are not “service delivery” related whereas we
are inclined to include them. An interesting borderline case is the
Right to Know campaign which, although involving working class
community organisations, appears to be distinguishable from other
kinds of protests because of the extent of middle class involvement
and the participation of “institutional” actors (Please see the
Right to Know Campaign website www.r2k.org). The Khutsong case is not a borderline case in terms of whether it meets the criteria of our definition of community protest yet it is complex and difficult to process because of its long duration and use of a multiplicity of repertoires before it achieved victory (see Phokela 2010). In the SABC data it appears in at least 10 separate entries and in some instances it is recorded as taking place in two different towns and provinces. Clearly, Khutsong has to be treated as a special case and will require further research to clarify some of the questions it raises.
We will conclude this section by briefly considering other databases
that exist in South Africa and which will or can be useful in this
project. As pointed out, the SABC database provides the entry point
into the project. A cursory examination of the SALGRC database
suggests that it covers protest events not necessarily covered by
the SABC although there is a lot of overlap, and also that it does
so giving more detail. For this reason the next big step in our
project is to populate our database with data from this database.
The new information will be superimposed on the old one although we
will be careful to keep track of the changes made. No decision has
yet been taken as to what direction the project will take once all
the SALGRC data has been entered but our vision is that at some
point we will seek to supplement the aggregate data with
ethnographic research of selected case studies or protest events.
Other databases such as the Municipal IQ might also be used if they
prove to be accessible enough to use their data and to allow the
application of a selectivity bias test. The Centre for Civil
Society Protest Monitor (CCS 2011) uses online news reports as its
main source and it is possible that our team can collaborate with
them in future work.
A mechanism for updating the database on a daily basis is part of
our vision for the future. In this respect the project might expand
to use more diverse sources including, for example, the idea of
setting up a website where movement and media activists would be
invited to record protests that don’t usually get reported in the
mainstream press. It is likely that once the complete database is
up and running new theoretical and methodological insights will be
generated which will shed new light on present and past debates
including those concerning protest activity going back further than
the 2004 cut-off year that we are presently working with. Such
insights are also likely to inform present and future prognoses of
protest action in South Africa and beyond.
If indeed South Africa is the protest capital of the world, as has
been suggested (Alexander 2012), then it would be a missed
opportunity if its social scientists were to be unable to place
themselves at the cutting edge of research in the field of Protest
Event Analysis. This paper represents an argument and a plan to lay
the basis for this to happen through taking the first steps in
compiling a reliable and valid protest event catalogue that other
researchers could use for their theoretical and empirical work in
this respect. In the paper we have presented some of the challenges
that have to be faced in achieving this feat by way of considering
the literature and reporting on work in progress in this project.
Our hope is that the reader, like us, will, after reading the paper,
be convinced of the necessity and worthiness of spending money, time
and energy on this research endeavour.
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