Know-how in contentious collective politics
This dissertation explores the interaction between local actors’ know-how and the desired outcomes they pursue via contentious collective politics, asserting that know-how can contribute to outcomes success/failure. The concept of know-how is established as a missing factor in theoretical and empirical research on contentious collective politics. By combining theories of knowledge and political action from the American pragmatist tradition with experience-based community organizing concepts offered by Industrial Areas Foundation founders and thinkers, know-how is problematized and operationalized as an actor-level variable that interacts with meso and macro level cultural and structural factors in contentious collective politics. The study incorporates the concept of know-how into Fligstein and McAdam’s Strategic Action Fields (2012) theory to analyze what actors know how to do across four dimensions: informational, social, strategic, and operational. The study gathered qualitative data from actors involved in social justice contention in the New Orleans area between 2005 post Katrina and 2015 via 43 semi-structured interviews (of 12 individuals) conducted between 2016 and 2017, participant observation, as well as complete member autoethnographic data from my time in the field prior to this start of this study in 2015. Analysis of each dimension of know-how, informational, social, strategic, and operational, shows how what actors know how to do in a given field interacts with the desired outcomes of a group. Knowing the field, its history and dynamics, as well as its relevant actors; along with knowing how to communicate with and organize people into a functional collective; as well as knowing how to devise and maintain strategic action that has the potential for success within the target field; and knowing how to operationalize structures and processes in which other actors can engage within a collective contributed in meaningful ways to a contentious collective’s ability to achieve success in its desired outcomes. Analysis shows that the different dimensions of know-how also interact with each other in ways that can have an impact on outcome success or failure. While limited in scope, the study establishes know-how as a missing factor requiring further attention in contentious collective politics empirical research theory development.