This blog begins a new series, edited by Vera Mackie and Sharon Crozier-De Rosa, dedicated to exploring the role of color and emotions in the history of social movements.
Emotions, Colour, Protest
Social movements engage in framing activities to enable diverse groups of people to act in unity. They adopt frameworks which allow participants to interpret and make sense of their collective actions. One such sense-making activity or device is the use of colour.
Colour can be used to frame a movement and justify protesters’ tactical and strategic repertoires. Displaying a common colour or set of colours can also engender a visible sense of unity, make a significant statement about identity, and build emotional harmony.
This is significant because cultivating an appropriate emotional milieu is an important aspect of motivating and sustaining political movements. Protesters come together to form a kind of emotional community, through adhering to a particular assemblage of emotional style, rules, standards, and expectations.
In this blog series, we and other contributors will investigate the complex nexus between colour, protest, and gender. How has colour, specifically, been understood and deployed in a selection of protests on gender issues?
The next planned blogs will meditate on black, yellow, and pink and red. We invite potential contributors to pitch a blog which will explore the deployment of, and the emotional dimensions of, other colours in protest movements.
Please see our Call for Proposals below.
Making Meaning through Colour
For colours to be useful as a sense-making or emotion-making device, they must convey meanings that a mass of people can readily recognise. Such meanings are often contextually constructed rather than being universal.
A US study on the links between ‘brand personality’ and colour found that white is typically linked to sincerity given its association with purity, cleanliness, clarity and peace. Red is often linked to excitement and considered to be arousing, stimulating, perhaps dangerous, while blue connects with competence, given its association with intelligence, trust, communication and logic. Pink connotes nurture, warmth and softness, while also implying playfulness and fun. Green typically evokes nature, whereas black is considered powerful.
Colours, then are deemed to evoke different emotions, and induce different affective states. For example, black and red can induce anger, and black can provoke fear, whereas yellow can elicit joy and blue can induce feelings of calmness or sadness.
There can, however, be cultural differences when interpreting the meaning of colours, including their gendered connotations. For example, blue is used to communicate femininity in the Netherlands, but masculinity in Sweden and the USA. While red denotes good luck in China, it is the opposite in Chad, Nigeria, and Germany.
Colour in social movements
Social movements adopt colours in various ways. One rationale is to choose colours because of their familiar associations such as affiliation with a particular political party. A movement’s adoption of a colour or set of colours can also create and convey new meanings. Understandings of the originally perceived relationship between the movement and its chosen colour can also change over time, as it is contested, co-opted or reinterpreted by subsequent generations.
One of the most visible tactics a movement can employ to adopt a colour is to apply it to activists’ choice of clothing. For example, as green came to be associated with the fight for reproductive rights in the United States, activist organisations marketed t-shirts, bandanas and other merchandise in the colour green. The merchandise also worked as a means of raising funds for the campaign.
Wearing particular colours in the context of a demonstration engenders feelings of solidarity. When worn away from the site of protest, the t-shirt, bandana, scarf or badge operates as a statement of the wearer’s political affiliation. Therefore, wearing green t-shirts or bandanas provided a visual, embodied affirmation of commitment to the cause of reproductive rights, whether worn at a demonstration or elsewhere. It should also be said that activists can pledge allegiance to multiple causes and demonstrate this through politically branded clothing.
The late ethnographer Diane Nelson (1963–2022), for example, is said to have used political t-shirts in a lecture on identity. She wore layers and layers of t-shirts and peeled them off one by one to demonstrate the multiple identities and affiliation of individuals.
Producing activist merchandise in the movement’s colours raises other opportunities and concerns, political, social and environmental. For example, many marketers of politically aligned t-shirts proclaim their ‘green’ credentials in sustainable and ethical production practices. It must be admitted, however, that purchasing these products is also a form of consumption. What happens to the t-shirts after the rallies? Do protesters continue to wear them; are they stored as mementos; or are they relegated to recycling? These are important questions as the world is swamped by too many textiles to recycle effectively.
Call for Proposals
This blog is the first in a series seeking to explore the theme of colours, gender, and social movements across different eras and around the globe.
The next blog in our series will focus on the colour green as a complex expression of transnational solidarity as more and more women’s access to abortion is threatened or erased. After that, another blog will explore the colour black in women’s protest movements in South Africa and the Middle East.
This series of blog posts is a work in progress, and we seek participants eager to explore other colours relating to gender and social movements. Blogs relating to white, yellow, pink, and red are planned, but we would also welcome contributions relating to other colours, or alternative takes on the same colours.
If you would like to contribute to this series, please provide a draft title, an abstract and a half-page biographical note. Your abstract should set out which colour(s) you would like to focus on and how this relates to the themes of gender, emotions, and protest.
Please send your ‘pitch’ to Vera Mackie <email@example.com>, Sharon Crozier-De Rosa <firstname.lastname@example.org>, and Ana Stevenson <email@example.com> by 30 September 2022.
Blog 1 – Green: Vera Mackie and Sharon Crozier-De Rosa, “From South to North: Green as Transnational Solidarity,” VIDA: Blog of the Australian Women’s History Network, 9 August 2022.
Vera Mackie is Emeritus Professor in the School of Humanities and Social Inquiry at the University of Wollongong. With Sharon Crozier-De Rosa, she is the co-author of Remembering Women’s Activism (Routledge, 2019). Vera tweets as @veramackie.
Sharon Crozier-De Rosa is Associate Professor in the School of Humanities & Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong. With Vera Mackie, she is the co-author of Remembering Women’s Activism (Routledge, 2019). Sharon tweets as @S_CrozierDeRosa.
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