Protest in Pluralism

The many protest activities in American communities during the 1960s and 1970’s posed both theoretical and practical questions.   Radical theories ranging from Marxism to Black Nationalism doubted that protests could be effective, as the dominant power brokers in American society – whether they were economic elites, high status professionals, white racists, or male chauvinists – would never be responsive to the demands for change made by the relatively powerless (the poor, students, minorities, and women) groups in society.  But orthodox pluralism claimed that American political systems were always open to such relatively powerless groups, even if they had not been previously organized and lacked conventional political resources.   For my PhD dissertation, I choose to look at the alleged openness of American communities to ad hoc organizations of relatively powerless citizens.  It seemed obvious that sometimes such protest groups sometimes got what they sought, sometimes were rebuffed, and sometimes were repressed.  The  articles in this folder provide explanations about the degree to which local officials were responsive to protest group demands.  The context in which protest occurred affected to some degree the extent of responsiveness to protesters:  As the first article shows, more heterogeneous  cities having less traditional political cultures were more open to protest groups, but I found that factors that protesters could themselves control were more important.  The second article showed that groups making more “moderate” demands and engaging in more “conventional” activities were more effective than militant and confrontation groups.  As a result, I was cast in the role of being an advocate of “polite protest.”  But I thought this mischaracterized my research and argument.  Rather than focusing on the openness of pluralist politics to conventional groups, I thought (though I did not emphasize) that my research revealed the barriers of pluralist politics to those groups lacking conventional resources and easy access to public officials.  I also thought that there were conditions when militant protest was necessary to enable disadvantaged groups to get positive responses from the authorities that were the targets of their demands.  The third and fourth articles look more closely at the role on militant tactics in urban protest.  These articles prompted some of my graduate students to use similar concepts and research strategies to look at protest outside of the U.S.  David Koweleski found that more militant protest activities were relatively effective in the USSR, but Michael O’Keefe found that miitancy wass counter-productive in the authoritarian regimes the dominated Southeast Asia.  While these research projects did not yield simple conclusions about the role of protest in pluralist politics, they did prompt greater reservations about the pat reassurances that orthodox pluralism provided about the openness of existing “democratic” communities to all groups.

Political Protest, Environmental Characteristics, and Policy Responsiveness


Policy Responsiveness to Protest Group Demands

JOP 1975

The Scope of Conflict and the Effectiveness of Constraints in Contemporary Urban Protest

SQ 1978

The Effectiveness of Militant Tactics in Contemporary Urban Protest

Militant Tactics JVAR80

Protest Outcomes in the Soviet Union

SQ 1981

Protest Effectiveness in Southeast Asia