Citizens of both democratic and authoritarian countries seem to become less supportive of those in power and more willing to use non-conventional forms of collective action for putting pressure on authorities. This was the case, for example, during the past few years, with the major upsurges of protest, in Eastern Europe (Coloured Revolutions), in the Middle East (Arab Spring), in Southern Europe (the Indignados in Spain, the Agonaktismenoi in Greece), in the United States (Occupy Wall Street), in Chile (the Pinquinos), as well as anti-government protests in Hong Kong, Thailand, and South Africa. Such waves of mobilization, comparable in their size to those of the 1960s and 1970s, bring to the fore some important questions for social movement research and call for a deeper understanding of social and political change: When and how does mobilization make a difference? When and how do activists achieve their goals? Is protest a necessary and/or sufficient condition for producing social and political change? Do social movements have any long-term legacies on our societies? Do they change the life choices of those participating in protest activities? How does all this vary both across contexts and across different movements?
These and related questions are not new, but until the 1970s scholars paid little attention to the consequences of social movements as protest was mainly regarded as an irrational action with no instrumental goals (Buechler 2004). Since then, also thanks to some pioneering works (Gamson 1990; Piven and Cloward 1979; Schumaker 1975), a new research field emerged slowly and allowed one of the present authors to note as late as in 1998 that “we still lack systematic empirical analyses that would add to our knowledge of the conditions under which movements produce certain effects” (Giugni 1998: 373). The field was revamped, amongst other things, also thanks to two edited collections entirely devoted to the study of different kinds of the effects of social movements (Giugni et al. 1998, 1999). This sudden focus on social movement outcomes could be related not only to the wave of democratization in the Eastern Europe and Latin America in the 1990s, but also to the fact that sufficient time had passed from the mobilization of the 1968 generation in Western Europe and civil rights mobilization in the United States.