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Contentious Politics.

Contentious Politics. By Charles Tilly and Sidney Tarrow (Boulder: Paradigm, 2007. ix plus 245 pp. $22.95).

Six years ago three foremost students of contentious action, Doug McAdam, Sidney Tarrow and Charles Tilly, published a path-breaking work, Dynamics of Contention, or "DOC" as it came to be known. DOC was exasperating, challenging, ambitious, densely-argued, sometimes inscrutable, and widely influential among social scientists. It argued that revolutions, civil wars, military coups, violent ethnic conflicts, bread riots, and social movements were all related phenomenon subject to a common set of explanatory mechanisms and processes. It also championed a relatively new social-science methodology. Explanations that understand the world in terms of a concatenation of causal mechanisms supersede explanations that classify phenomenon as instances of universal laws. DOC analyzed political contention in a series of case studies, each chapter illustrating some different causal mechanisms and showing how these mechanisms might be used to explain the individual cases.

The present book, written by two DOC authors, is an important clarification and significant extension of DOC's arguments as well as a how-to manual for practitioners. This effort to fashion detailed and case-specific yet highly-analytical explanations of contentious politics should interest historians concerned with social protest fully as much as sociologists and political scientists.

Beginning with cases of claim-making, the core of contention, Tarrow and Tilly argue that social-science explanation relies on the identification of mechanisms defined as "events that produce the same immediate effects over a wide range of circumstances." An example of a mechanism is "brokerage"--the production of a new connection between previously unconnected or weakly connected sites. Brokerage is seen in the Pinochet affair of 1998 when the retired Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, traveled to London. His trip was interrupted when a Spanish magistrate investigating the torture of Spanish citizens in Latin America issued an extradition order, and U.K. authorities arrested and held Pinochet. Ultimately Pinochet was released but an enormous amount of publicity had been generated, exposing the brutality of Chilean dictatorship. Pinochet's ordeal was the work of political brokers. exiles from his regime, protesting his dictatorial rule. Scattered throughout Europe but retaining mutual ties, networks of Chilean political immigrants served as "brokers" working together to bring evidence from Chile to use against Pinocher, to reveal the dictator's presence in London to Spanish authorities, and to lobby for British action. Brokerage is key to understanding the Pinochet affair.

Charles Tilly and Sidney Tarrow argue that, within a well-defined historical and sociological context, mechanisms like brokerage and processes--combinations of mechanisms--are key in understanding protest. An important example of a process is mobilization which includes the mechanisms of diffusion, brokerage, certification, and boundary activation. Mobilization can be seen in the Italian strike waves of 1968-1972. The first initiative came from Marxist-influenced university students who framed their protests as labor demands but had only very weak contacts with workers. With time however students' example and their demands began to spread, particularly among less skilled workers; at first strikes were concentrated in the north but soon spread south (diffusion). As unskilled workers increased their wages, skilled workers reasserted their identity and social status and struck to preserve wage differentials (boundary activation). New self-styled "revolutionary" organizations formed that included both students and workers, and these organizations established contacts among different factories encouraging strike coordination (brokerage). The socialist party, then in a coalition government, prevented the repression of this increasingly militant labor movement. In turn, recognition by authorities certified these militant actions as legitimate, encouraging others to follow (certification). Mobilization increased until strike defeats, increased repression, changing political opportunities and disillusionment began a process of demobilization.

While mechanisms and processes are dynamic elements and contentious protest emerges from the interaction of protestors, protestors' targets and the authorities, Tilly and Tarrow integrate important structural elements into their analyses. Because it constituted a powerful new contribution to research on contention, DOC emphasized mechanisms and processes but this emphasis sometimes left readers puzzled about the role of context and of structure in the overall argument. In this book the dynamic elements inherent in causal mechanisms are more balanced by structural factors than in DOC. For example, Tilly and Tarrow give more attention to state structure and the ways it shapes protest. One post-DOC distinction in this book is that of the horizontally segmented regime like Northern Ireland where social movement protests exist alongside lethal ethnic conflicts, another is the transnationally composite state like Israel where national social movements exist alongside violent groups with transnational connections. These may prove fruitful starting points for further research. The treatment of global contentious politics is brief but suggestive. It suggests that increasing internationalization--the growth of ties among states as well as the growth of ties between states and supranational institutions--increases the opportunities for global contention by transnational groups.

Although neither book relies heavily on anything beyond recent modern history, Tilly and Tarrow's argument has an essentially historical cast, and this tendency in their argument is reinforced by their methodology. Concepts present in DOC and reemerging in this book, such as repertoires--the types of protests known and available to protestors--depend at least in part on cultural historical analyses. The focus on case-study approaches and unique outcomes characteristic of explanations that stress mechanisms and processes should find sympathy and support among historians.

This book expounds some important new ideas about the varieties of protest in a manner entirely readable by undergraduates. The chapter on social movements sketches out a broader and more encompassing view than anything else on offer. The last two sections of this book, confusingly labeled appendices, are something between glossaries of important ideas and rough drafts for uncompleted chapters. Relegating these proto-chapters to the nether world of appendices is unfortunate for they contain elements of an agenda for future research. Appendix A is particularly interesting because it breaks down some of the elements of context and relates them to dynamic causal mechanisms.

This is a masterful exposition of a grand argument that should interest all historians concerned with protest. For a broad audience, it summarizes simply many basic DOC ideas but it actually presents a broader synthesis than DOC itself. A sense of work in progress pervades the whole and is one of the book's charms.

Michael Hanagan

Vassar College
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Author:Hanagan, Michael
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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