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Looking at the State to Move Beyond: Understanding the Targets of Social Movements

Academic & Research
The CEU Campus
Friday, October 14, 2016, 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm


For many decades, scholars have assumed that the only opponent that social movements had was the state and its different institutions, and most of the major theories have disregarded the fact that movements also target other actors. It is only with the appearance of the New Social Movements scholarship that this assumption has been partially challenged. However, during the last years, a new wave of academics such as Soule, Van Dyke and King have addressed this matter pointing out at the importance of non-state targets.

A number of empirical analyses have provided insights about the reasons that lead movements to target different actors (Earl & Kimport, 2008; Van Dyke, Soule, & Taylor, 2004). However, none of this studies is able to account for innovations in the targeting patterns of the same movement over time or cross-national differences among the same issue areas. This paper provides a multilevel analysis that accounts for these variations. I argue that social movements target centers of authority (Snow, 2004) and, therefore, when the state losses part of its authority to regulate and mediate the relations between market and society through public spending, social movements look for other incumbents to influence with their actions.

This study is important for two reasons: because it shows the need to take non-state social movement targets more seriously and because the target of a social movement has crucial implications for how contention is organized. For example, the selection of targets affects movements' repertoires and the likelihood of appearance of collective violence. Therefore, studying this issue allows us to speculate about how contentious collective action will look like in the near future.


For the draft paper please email the organizers.