Social movements and political outcomes: why both ends fail to meet
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The relationships between social movement challenges and political outcomes remain strongly underresearched in the field of social movements. Here, we use the labels “social” and “political” in a broad sense to comprise many types of challenges and many types of outcomes, such as economic and social outcomes for specific movements as well as general policy outcomes. Four theories are crucial for understanding successful mobilization of social movements: relative deprivation, resource mobilization, framing, and the theoretical figure of the opening political opportunity structure. Political outcomes, at least in democratic political systems, are usually the result of a parallelogram of different claims and means of influencing outcomes, in short, of compromises. Here, we list various forms of outcomes, from successful acceptance of movement demands to part-time successes or entire failures, and also the various strategies incumbents have in dealing with social movement challenges. Researchers usually have focused on the individual and structural conditions of the emergence of social movements but less so on the conditions of processing social movement demands and the outcomes for movements themselves, for the electorate and for policy changes. Consequently, there is little research available that would meet the requirements of an adequate research design in view of the numerous factors spelled out here as a theoretical control list. The idea of a response hierarchy of incumbents is suggested as a sort of a dispositional concept for further, more consolidated, research in this area. Also the notion of cycles of various sorts has to be kept in mind in order to avoid misjudging of both, the persistence of social movements over time, and their eventual successes and failures.
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