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Political Process Theory

Neal Caren

Subject Politics
Government, Politics, and Law » Political Sociology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


The standard explanation for social movement mobilization, known as political process theory (PPT), emphasizes the role of political opportunities, mobilizing structures, and framing processes, along with protest cycles and contentious repertoires. Developed in the US in the 1970s and 1980s and rooted in an analysis of civil rights struggles, PPT focuses on the interaction between movement attributes, such as organizational structure, and the broader economic and political context. Critics argue that the theory is overly structural and invariant. Recent research by core PPT theorists has shifted focus to a more dynamic analysis of the reoccurring mechanisms and processes of contentious politics. PPT is the culmination of a series of critiques against the then-prevailing social scientific view that protestors and other social movement participants were irrational mobs, overwhelmed by a collective mentality. Movements did not result from alienation or abnormal psychological dispositions, but rather were means to achieve political ends and resolve legitimate grievances. Three precursors to PPT are noteworthy for their contributions to establishing this new analysis. First, Olson's (1965) analysis of collection behavior turned old notions about the irrationality of protestors on its head, exploring the rational and deliberate choices that individuals made before joining a movement. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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