Social Movements & Political Repression
In collaboration with Tom Shriver, my social movements research focuses on authoritarian politics and elite legitimation of state power in response to social movement challengers.
Human rights and dissent in hybrid environments: the impact of shifting rights regimes, The Sociological Quarterly
Research indicates that social movements are shaped by increased opportunities and threats, yet this work rarely examines environments of intersecting opportunity and threat. This article extends the literature on political opportunity theory by explaining how shifting rights regimes influence the political context of movements. Specifically, we analyze how dissent in Communist Czechoslovakia responded to the expansion and contraction of rights across three political periods between 1948 and 1977. Our research delineates three key features of rights regimes and shows how variation across multiple scales creates “hybrid environments” of political opportunity and threat for social movements.
Research has highlighted the importance of diffusion processes for the emergence and spread of collective action, yet less attention has been paid to cases where diffusion fails to lead to successful campaigns. This article analyzes an instance of failed movement diffusion to explicate how proximate episodes of contention interact with domestic configurations of opportunity and threat. The authors draw on a failed human rights campaign in communist Romania and finds that the failed diffusion resulted from a combination of limited structural opportunities at the domestic level, weak perceptions of collective efficacy, and the state’s use of flexible repression strategies.
When challenged, states frequently respond with discursive campaigns meant to undercut the legitimacy of social movements. However, we know little about how the social and cultural status of challengers affects the state’s discursive response. We address this gap by analyzing the historical case of the Charter 77 human rights movement in Communist Czechoslovakia. Drawing on state media articles, we analyze the state’s public response to Charter 77. Results highlight four discursive strategies through which the state sought to undermine the cultural legitimacy of the movement.
Framing authoritarian legitimacy: elite cohesion in the aftermath of popular rebellion, Social Movement Studies
Protest activity presents a significant threat to state legitimacy in nondemocratic settings. Although authoritarian regimes rely heavily on coercion, state officials must also justify their authority to both the public and other elites. In this study, we examine elite framing processes in a case of popular resistance to a 1953 currency reform in Communist Czechoslovakia to understand how state actors engage in meaning work to prevent elite divisions from forming in light of popular challenges to regime legitimacy. Using archival material, we trace the inter- and intra-organizational processes through which officials construct legitimacy claims by explaining and adjudicating blame for the popular rebellion.
Mobilizing grievances in an authoritarian setting: threat and emotion in the 1953 Plzeň uprising, Sociological Perspectives
Material and physical threat play a crucial role in the emergence of protest, yet few studies have explored the micro-level mechanisms that transform threat into collective action under repressive conditions. We address this gap by connecting the mobilizing power of grievances to the emotional dynamics of collective action in the context of a 1953 uprising in Communist Czechoslovakia. Drawing on data from in-depth interviews, our analysis shows how structural and incidental grievances can become a mobilizing force for high-risk activism. We find that the class position and background of protesters helped to shape their motivations, actions, and goals.
Decades of scholarship has established that dissident activity provokes state repression when it threatens elite interests and legitimacy, but less research addresses how state repression diffuses through institutional channels such as courts. Legal settings operate as a key site for the construction and implementation of elite discursive strategies used to undercut the legitimacy of protesters and justify repression. This study examines the state’s framing of a worker revolt against a 1953 currency reform in communist Czechoslovakia. Drawing on extensive archival materials, we analyze how the regime framed the event and how official frames influenced the legal repression of protest participants.