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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: January 2010

6 - A Path Finder – Exploring New Ways or Getting Lost?

Summary

As explained at the outset, the assumption underlying this analysis is that the balance sheet of a social movement is determined by a complicated set of interactions among its basic ideological and operative features, the political opportunity structure (POS) that it faces (on whose nature it has almost no influence), and its reading or the framing of the POS. It has also been maintained that the conventional understanding of the POS by social movement theoreticians as referring mostly to systemic features, such the level of state repression exerted in the specific political system, the structure of the ruling elite, or the stability of the system, is lacking. This is because it missed a crucial factor – the societal one, namely, general public opinion, against which background social movements develop and that they all address, whether as their direct target or as a means of influencing decision makers. This composite, state-centered, and proximate POS in its turn determines the myriad openings and constraints that affect the bottom line of the balance sheet, that is, the movement's success or failure.

When studying a specific movement, the analyst must examine the entire repertoire of factors and highlight the most relevant components of the POS that, in the specific case under investigation, provide the best explanation. Analysts should not automatically follow the “shopping list” that the classic POS theorem puts forward.