Disciplined academic study of social movements should help us make sense of the movements and politics of our time, but social science often leads us astray. Particularly, the ideal of limiting the frame of analysis in terms of independent and dependent variables and in terms of time routinely neglects the disparate causes and effects of social protest. These challenges are particularly acute when considering contemporaneous campaigns, that is, analysis on the fly. Using the case of the first Women’s March, staged the day after Donald Trump became president of the United States, I elaborate the false steps that social science analysis encourages by identifying patterned errors of exclusion: applying misplaced models; producing unduly narrow fields of action; the difficulty of evaluating practical possibilities; the challenge of assessing institutionalization; and the necessity of truncating time. I conclude with suggestions for continuing to engage in analysis of contemporary movements and ways to avoid egregious errors while doing so.

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