Skip main navigation

Appleton protest

In this video we Agata Komendant-Brodowska starts investigating how demonstrations come to life.
SPEAKER: How come this content doesn’t always translate to demonstrations? Sometimes a lot of unhappy citizens just sit still at home, while in other cases, a rather small incident can lead to huge strikes. How can that be? In order to understand it, we will start with a story of Appleton, a very small imaginary village where people are rather unhappy, as a new highway is soon to be built just next to the village. But will they join the protest? Although a protest is a social event, in order for this event to happen, individual people have to make a decision that they will go.
For each individual, a decision to go depends on many different factors– how unhappy they are about the highway, how much free time they have, do they like protests in general, do they believe that they can make a change, how they are feeling on the day of the planned demonstration. As it was already said, people are quite complicated objects. We will simplify all those factors in one single number that we will call a threshold. A threshold will be a minimum number of protesters needed for them to join the protest. The lower someone’s threshold, the more eager this person is to go. And the higher someone’s threshold is, the less eager this person is to go.
So let’s look at some of the villagers and their thresholds. Mary is a big fan of demonstrations, a very socially-engaged person, always in different councils and attending meetings. She also believes in demonstrating her discontent or her views no matter if the others do. She is going to be there, therefore, her threshold is zero. Jonathan is very unhappy about the highway, but he doesn’t want to be the only one to go. He doesn’t believe in small protests, either. So he will only go if he’s sure there are at least three people going. His threshold is three. Cindy is unhappy with highway plans, but she’s a very busy person.
So she would only join a protest if she thinks it’s a really big deal and almost all villagers turn up. Her threshold is eight. Thresholds summarise the potential for the protest, but they also reflect the way we are influencing each other. In this simple illustration we assume that people are, in general, more willing to go when more people are going, either because the power of such a demonstration to change something is higher, or because it’s an indicator of how important a certain issue is. Let’s look at the population of Appleton and its potential for protests. What do you think will happen.
Let’s see. First, Mary goes with her banner to the village council. Next, another Appletoner there with a threshold equal to one, joins her, as he was very eager to go, but didn’t want to be the first one. As there are already two protesters, the one with threshold two joins in. On the other hand, let’s look at Cho, whose threshold is six. She’s not joining yet, as her bar is not filled at this point. The same goes for Cindy. Now with three protesters, Jonathan thinks it’s worth going, so he joins in. And so do two other Appletoners with the same threshold. At this point, Cho’s bar has just been filled, so she will join the protest, as well.
As, in effect, there are nine protesters in Appleton, which is a big deal for such a small village, even Cindy joined the demonstration despite the fact that she was not that eager to go. In this simple model we focused on the mechanism behind the protest. We have made an abstract representation of this process and observed what happened step-by-step. In the next steps we will investigate the dynamics of protests in other small villages. We will see the whole process from the potential to organise a protest to the final outcome.

A decision whether to vote is definitely a complicated one and affected by personality, attitude towards the political system, political views but also other factors e.g. how far does a person have to travel to a polling station.

In this video we will start investigating how demonstrations come to life – we will be dealing with a complicated social process but in order to understand the dynamics we will start with a simple example. We will have a close-up look on an imaginary village of Appleton and try to see the mechanism behind the collective behaviour of its inhabitants.

This article is from the free online

People, Networks and Neighbours: Understanding Social Dynamics

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education