- Economic and Political Contention in Comparative Perspective
This collection of essays is a product of the conference "Contentious Politics and Economic Opportunity Structure," held in 2002 at the University of Crete. All the writers are associated with Charles Tilly, but especially his From Mobilization to Revolution (1978). The theory of contentious politics ranges very widely, from violent revolution and structural change to shifts in policy. This raises questions about the usefulness of such a general theory of social change. In his brief concluding essay, Tilly rightly conjectures: "how far [do] we reduce what FMTR calls interest, organization, mobilization, and opportunity to features of individual consciousness and/or to unique events having no general properties" (p. 228). Similarly, he raises questions about the role and relation of economic relations to political relations (p. 229). For Tilly at least, "half consciously . . . this volume breaches a new frontier. It raises questions about similarities and differences between economic and political interaction that cry out for serious analytic attention" (p. 230).
The essay by Julie Berclaz and Marco Guigni seeks to avoid high abstraction by defining political opportunity structures according to issues and "issue fields" (p. 17). They consider two issues, migration politics and employment politics, and use comparison to examine the pertinence of citizenship in determining variation. In his essay, Marc W. Steinberg argues that analyses of political opportunity structures have failed to examine the pertinence of law and legal systems and have been "static and overly structural" (p. 33). He offers English pottery workers as a case study and argues that "part of [the] structure of opportunity was due to the mix of local economic circumstances, but it was also due to the employment contracts that tied these actors together and the law that gave it teeth" (p. 44). Jeffrey Broadbent, using what he thinks is Mill's "method of agreement," compares his personal experience as a member of CORE in 1963 with the experience of environmental protest in Japan in the 1970s to argue against [End Page 110] Tilly's view that identity can be understood in terms of a person's ongoing social relations with members of a group. He argues that "personal identity and its subtypes (character and existential and creative identify)" also figure.
Dieter Rucht assesses the internet's capacity to provide opportunities for social movements. He gives thirteen quite powerful reasons for skepticism that the internet has "revolutionized the economy of communication to the advantage of political challengers." Rod Aya argues that the "oldest and truest theory of revolution" is already in Thucydides and was elaborated by Plato. Presumably, as advanced by Tilly, in a revolutionary situation, there are "multiple sovereigns" who either succeed or fail to replace the existing sovereign. Whether, then, a revolution means a "change of regime, society or both, he asserts that it can only be made by individuals who already hold power" (p. 92). But this seems somehow to miss the point. Aya is impatient with talk of class struggle and to what are often vacuous explanations, for example, in terms of frustration or oppression, and he holds with Tilly that the only causes in society are the acts of persons. But it is highly doubtful whether he does solve—or even address—the explanatory problems that Tilly identified (above).
While he offers some critical insights regarding the movement toward multilevel governance structures in Europe, Klauss Eder's account is also fairly abstract. He offers, safely, that "Europe offers a particular opportunity structure of protest" (p. 103). He does not see the emergence of either a "united collective actor" or a "a new movement sector." Rather, "the highly plural and differentiated situation" suggests "a field of communication between collective actors, stable and unstable, professional and unprofessional, where power and counterpower are formed" (p. 113). John K. Glenn is also interested in political opportunities offered by the enlarging of the European Union, and his avowed focus is economic opportunities. He rightly resists a narrow cost/benefit account and monocausal explanations. One might, however, question the persuasiveness...