Social Movements, Contentious Politics, and Democracy

Course Description: 

The course introduces participants into the study of contentious politics and social movements in various historical periods and distinct parts of the world. With Barrington Moore we ask: “why people so often put up with being the victims of their societies and why at other times they become very angry and try with passion and forcefulness to do something about their situation.” (Injustice. The Social Bases of Obedience and Revolt. New York: M. E. Sharpe 1978: xiii.)

The first part of the course covers theories and historical examples, which help better understand how power relations, political opportunities and risks, availability of allies, utilization of organizational resources, and ideas on the purpose of contentious claims shape peoples’ choices between obedience and revolt.

The second part focuses on the impact of long term processes – such as changing values across generations, increasing dependence on the global economy, the passing of popular involvement in democracy, and the growing tensions between various tasks of good government – on the emergence and spread of particular types of social movements, and movement-based parties. The examples reflect the experience of mature Western and nascent East Central European and East Asian democracies, as well as East European and East Asian authoritarian regimes. In all these cases we shall also investigate the consequences of social movements and social contention for the quality and prospects of democracy and democratization, respectively. The second part concludes with the study economic protest in the current hard times of East European capitalism.

Learning Outcomes: 

The course improves students’ analytic skills required for future careers, whether in academia or policy making, through facilitating:
a) in-class discussion and debate;
b) critical thinking about the views expressed in the literature;
c) and experience in making comparisons across concepts and cases.
d) While not focusing particularly on Eastern Europe, the course provides background theoretical and empirical knowledge for students who plan to write theses and do research on related issues in this region.


Presence and active participation in in-class discussions / absence only in case of illness substantiated by medical documents. (15% of final grade)

1 short presentation (15 minutes). The presentation will tackle a concrete example of social movement and/or contentious political event chosen by the author. The presentation is expected to give a short overview over the event, justify why it is important, explain what is its relationship to readings of the course, and raise one related problem or question the author wants to discuss with the participants of the course. (15% of final grade) 

One in-class closed book mid-term exam (60 minutes). The exam will test familiarity with the key terms and concepts covered by the readings during the weeks 1 to 6. (35% of final grade)

One in-class closed book final exam (60 minutes). The exam will test familiarity with the key terms and concepts covered by the readings during the weeks 7 to 11. (35% of final grade)