"Let's get small": the dynamics of (small) contention in repressive states

  • Johnston H
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Abstract

This report builds upon the dynamics of contention approach to political mobilization by tracing the development of a type of contentious episode common to repressive states, here identified as resistant contention. This form of claim making targets the state but is distinct from the fully public and trangressive challenges against the state that are the focus of the dynamics of contention approach. This report traces how episodes of resistant contention track through two key processes - actor constitution and scale shift - as well as many mechanisms that combine in more public contention. Examples from Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Soviet Caucasus, and Spain are reviewed to trace, first, patterns of contentious speech; namely, "small" claim making and grievance articulation under conditions of risk. I argue that contentious political talk is fundamental to the process of actor constitution in repressive states. Then I trace how contentious speech is patterned in the form of intellectual circles, cultural groups, dissident groups, and official groups and organizations, many of which function publicly but also privately and contentiously. These boundary-spanning groups are the loci of innovation and identity formation in resistant episodes. Scale shift dynamically occurs with the process of actor constitution, typically taking the form of hit-and-run protests, graffiti, clandestine placements, and event seizures. The final stage in resistant contention is the emergence of symbolic mobilizations, which are clearly public and transgressive.

Author-supplied keywords

  • authoritarian regimes
  • church
  • iranian revolution
  • mobilization
  • movement
  • opposition
  • subcultures

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Authors

  • H Johnston

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