Protest, Repression, & Elite Legitimacy

The 1953 Plzeň Uprising

1950s Plzen
Plzeň, Czechoslovakia in the 1950s

I began working on this NSF-funded project in 2014 as a research assistant for Dr. Thomas Shriver (PI). The mixed method study focuses on a historical case of worker resistance in Communist Czechoslovakia. Following an economic reform in 1953, thousands of factory workers in the industrial city of Plzeň walked off the job and rallied in the town square in one of the first major uprisings against the Communist regime in the Soviet bloc. How did the state respond to workers’ rebelling against their own “workers’ state”? 

Research themes: Social movements, elite framing, elite cohesion, state repression, authoritarianism, high-risk activism, legitimacy

Data: The two original data sets used in this project can be found on ICPSR.

Legal Repression of Protesters: The Case of Worker Revolt in Czechoslovakia (2018)


How does the state’s discursive response to protest influence the legal punishment of protesters? When citizens challenge the state, officials often respond by vilifying protesters in an effort to discredit their motives and claims. But the state also employs harsher means of repression against challengers, including criminal prosecution. In this study, we wanted to know if officials’ vilification efforts influenced the prison sentences received by protesters. In other words, did personal character attacks and accusations of Western sympathies matter for protesters’ punishment? Or was it just participants’ protest behavior that determined who received the harshest sentences? We find that officials’ derogatory framing helped to justify the state’s harsh repression of the protest. Many workers were simply upset about losing their money in the currency reform, but the regime explained the protest as an organized counter-revolution orchestrated by class enemies. In the absence of any actual counter-revolutionary activity, officials relied on defendants’ moral character and personal background to support accusations that they were ideologically motivated, therefore justifying long prison sentences.

Data & Methods: Fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis (fsQCA) of sentencing data and coded court archival documents.

Shriver, Thomas E., Laura A. Bray, and Alison E. Adams. 2018. “Legal Repression of Protesters: The Case of Worker Revolt in Czechoslovakia.” Mobilization 23(3):307-28.

Framing Authoritarian Legitimacy: Elite Cohesion in the Aftermath of Popular Rebellion (2019)


How do elites remain unified and prevent divisions from forming in the face of popular threats to regime legitimacy? Under authoritarian regimes, any protest threatens state legitimacy. As such, mass mobilization also risks creating divisions among elites by signaling incompetency and/or low popular support for the ruling faction. Because elite divisions can endanger regime stability and longevity, officials must constantly work to maintain cohesion among elites. In this paper, we wanted to know how state officials managed conflict among elites to prevent internal divisions from forming in the aftermath of the currency reform protest. How did elites address the organizational and official failures that contributed to the protest without alienating other elites? We find that authoritarian rules relied on a variety of discursive mechanisms to generate consensus among subordinate elites and protect regime legitimacy.

elite cohesion table

Data & Methods: Logistic regression on coded archival data, combined with qualitative analysis.

Bray, Laura A., Thomas E. Shriver, and Alison E. Adams. 2019. “Framing Authoritarian Legitimacy: Elite Cohesion in the Aftermath of Popular Rebellion.” Social Movement Studies 18(6):682-701.

Political Power and Manufacturing Consent: The Case of the 1953 Plzeň Protest (2019)


How do authoritarian regimes maintain control and legitimacy, despite the potential for widespread grievances? In this paper, we investigate both the proactive and reactive measures that elites took to manufacture consent and quiescence among the public. The regime monitored the public mood leading up the currency reform and sought to carefully manage how the announcement was received by the populace. When these efforts failed and protest emerged unexpectedly, officials reacted with a renewed campaign of coercion and repression. The state also sought to control information about the event through media censorship and promoting a carefully-crafted narrative about the protest. These efforts worked to create a culture of consensus — or at least silence — that minimized public opposition to the party.

Data & Methods: Qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews and state archival material.

Shriver, Thomas E., Alison E. Adams, and Laura A. Bray. 2019.Political Power and Manufacturing Consent: The Case of the 1953 Plzeň Protest.” The Sociological Quarterly 60(1):26-45.

Mobilizing Grievances in an Authoritarian Setting: Threat and Emotion in the 1953 Plzeň Uprising (2019)

sociological perspectives

What leads people to participate in high-risk protests? When people’s livelihood or person are threatened, they often respond collectively by protesting. Yet we know that people experience threats differently based on their social position, and that fear is a powerful deterrent against protesting in authoritarian settings. In this study, we wanted to know if protesters’ social position could help explain why they participated in the currency reform protests, despite the high risks involved. We find that class background shaped citizens’ emotional reaction to the reform in a way that influenced protesters’ motivations, goals, and action during the event.

Data & Methods: Qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews with protest participants, bystanders, and witnesses.

Bray, Laura A., Thomas E. Shriver, and Alison E. Adams. 2019. “Mobilizing Grievances in an Authoritarian Setting: Threat and Emotion in the 1953 Plzeň Uprising.” Sociological Perspectives 62(1):77-95.