, Volume 33, Issue 3-4, pp 333-365

More social movements or fewer? Beyond political opportunity structures to relational fields

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Abstract

If social movements are an attempt by “outsiders” to gain leverage within politics, then one might expect the global spread of democracy to reduce social movement activity. This article argues the reverse. Granted, many past social movements, such as women's rights and civil rights, were efforts to empower the disenfranchised. However, this is not typical. Rather, social movements and protest tactics are more often part of a portfolio of efforts by politically active leaders and groups to influence politics. Indeed, as representative governance spreads, with the conviction by all parties that governments should respond to popular choice, then social movements and protest will also spread, as a normal element of democratic politics. Social movements should therefore not be seen as simply a matter of repressed forces fighting states; instead they need to be situated in a dynamic relational field in which the ongoing actions and interests of state actors, allied and counter-movement groups, and the public at large all influence social movement emergence, activity, and outcomes.