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Authority in Contention

ISBN: 978-0-76231-037-1, eISBN: 978-1-84950-223-8

ISSN: 0163-786X

Publication date: 1 January 2004


Among students of social movements, the prevailing view is that, in Western democracies, most social movements target the state and its institutions. Recently scholars have questioned this definition of social movements, associated with the political process and contentious politics approaches, arguing that public protest is also used to shape public opinion, identities, and cultural practices and to pressure authorities in institutional arenas not directly linked to the state. In this paper, we take up this debate by examining the targets of recent social movements. Our analysis draws from data on 4,654 protest events that occurred in the United States between 1968 and 1975. The protest events in our dataset encompass a variety of tactics used by social movements organized around a number of different issues. We find that, although virtually all movements in the United States direct some public protest at the state, there is considerable variation in the targets of modern movements. During this period, environmental, peace, international human rights, single-policy, and ethnic movements were more likely to direct their appeals to the government, while the civil rights, gay and lesbian, and the women’s movement were more likely to target public opinion and other, non-state institutions. Our analysis calls into question excessively state-centered conceptions of social movements that view social movement activity as directed primarily at the formal political domain of social life.


Van Dyke, N., Soule, S.A. and Taylor, V.A. (2004), "THE TARGETS OF SOCIAL MOVEMENTS: BEYOND A FOCUS ON THE STATE", Myers, D.J. and Cress, D.M. (Ed.) Authority in Contention (Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change, Vol. 25), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 27-51.



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