Legitimation, state repression, and the Sioux massacre at wounded knee

Vincent J. Roscigno*, Julia Miller Cantzler, Salvatore J. Restifo, Joshua Guetzkow

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 and the Ghost Dance movement that preceded it offer a compelling sociological case for understanding legitimation, elite framing, and repression. Building on the social movements literature and theoretical insights on power, institutions, and inequality, we engage in multimethod, in-depth analyses of a rich body of archived correspondence from key institutional actors at the time. Doing so contributes to the literature by drawing attention to (1) the cultural foundations of inequality and repression; (2) superordinate framing by political elites and the state; and (3) key institutional conflicts and their consequences. We find that, within an ambiguous colonial context, officials of the Office of Indian Affairs and federal politicians shelved benign military observations and, instead, amplified ethnocentric and threat frames. Force was consequently portrayed as justifiable, which increased the likelihood of the massacre. We conclude by discussing the utility of our results for conceptions of culture, power, inequality, the state, and state violence.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)17-40
Number of pages24
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank members of the Departments of Sociology at The Ohio State University, Oklahoma State University, University of Arizona, and Dartmouth College who offered valuable input through their respective colloquium series, and Bill Danaher, James Davis, Marc Dixon, Alexandra Kalev, Andrew Martin, Yehouda Shenhav, Tom Shriver, Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, editor Rory McVeigh, senior assistant editor Kevin Estep, and Mobilization's anonymous reviewers, each of whom provided a thorough reading and key suggestions. Finally, we thank the American Sociological Association for providing some funding for this project through its Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Mobilization: An International Quarterly.


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