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On 24 May 2011, in the middle of the parliamentary debate on the so-called mid-term adjustment plan, yet another round of austerity imposed by Greece’s international creditors, a call for a demonstration at Syntagma Square in Athens and at the White Tower in Thessaloniki appeared on Facebook. By the next day at least 20,000 people assembled in the two squares, mostly chanting “thieves, thieves” at parliamentarians and cursing the Parliament. The movement of the Greek Indignados or Aganaktismenoi was born. It would prove to be massive, expansive, and innovative. Immediately after the initial demonstrations, the main squares in the two cities were occupied, and simultaneous protests began in almost all major urban centers of the country. Interest would focus on Syntagma Square, however, where the occupation was symbolically confronting Parliament, juxtaposing the public assembly and the symbolic seat of political power. In the following days, the occupation grew exponentially, eventually reaching almost 400,000 participants on June 5th. In our dataset, there is an event associated with the Aganaktismenoi on almost every single day until the end of the episode on June 30th.
In the introductory chapter of this volume, we presented our case for studying interaction dynamics between governments, challengers, and third-parties in the “middle ground” because we share Tilly’s (2008: 21) view that this level of analysis offers the “opportunity to look inside contentious performances and discern their dynamics” without losing the opportunity to systematically analyze these dynamics in a quantitative framework. In this present chapter, we further develop this middle ground by presenting a novel method for studying these interaction dynamics. We concur with Moore (2000) that most of the literature on the interaction between governments and challengers is based on cross-sectional analyses using national, aggregate yearly data, which is fundamentally inappropriate for the questions raised about the interactions we were studying. To deal with such questions, we need sequential data that allows us to specify how the different actors react to each others’ previous actions. Such sequential data not only allows us to causally connect all the actions constituting an episode as we have done in Chapter 6, but it also permits us to take a step further and uncover regularities that occur in the interaction between the protagonists of the conflict. Drawing on the construction of action sequences from Chapter 6, we now focus on the relationship between actions and their triggers and examine some of the main themes and mechanisms in the literature on contention politics through this novel methodological lens. In other words, we shall take the mechanism-centered approach from the narrative tradition and marry it with some of the basic tools of time-series methodology to infuse it with statistical rigor. This, in essence, is the dynamic aspect of Contentious Politics Analysis that we put forward in this volume.
The previous chapters on interaction dynamics, the central aspect of the second part of this volume, have investigated the determinants of various action forms of the contending parties as a function of preceding action types or contextual features of the episodes. One particular feature of these dynamics, however, has remained unexplored. The flow of interaction between the contending parties does not proceed in a smooth, linear fashion – with one action triggering a reaction that in turn triggers a counter-reaction – as a stylized understanding of contentious politics might suggest. As we have shown earlier in Chapter 6 on the construction of action sequences, the empirical reality paints a more complex picture. While some actions indeed trigger one and only one further action and move the episode forward in that stylized fashion, others trigger two or more reactions, while still others put an end to a sequence and trigger no further actions at all. In other words, some actions have turned out to be considerably more consequential for the remaining part of the episode than others. Our first aim in this chapter is to highlight one type of such actions, in particular those with a heightened capacity to trigger an outstanding number of reactions, and seek to understand the regularities that characterize these actions. We shall refer to these actions as points of opening, inspired by the intuition that they open up contentious episodes to different threads of contention.
At the outset of this volume, we situated our approach between two main paradigms prevailing in the field of contentious politics, taking up the challenge that Tilly (2008) put forward more than a decade ago. One, epitomized by the “narrative” approach, focuses on conventional storytelling, where explanation takes the form of an unfolding open-ended story. The other, protest event analysis (PEA) (see Hutter, 2014 and Koopmans and Rucht, 2002 for reviews), or what we called the epidemiological approach, focuses on a narrower set of action types: namely, instances of popular mobilization in the streets, and primarily relies on statistical techniques to explain the temporal regularities of protest actions or protest waves (Lorenzini et al, 2020). We aimed to accomplish this task by drawing on the programmatic Dynamics of Contention (McAdam et al. 2001) with an eye on preserving the conceptual depth of the former infused with the methodological rigor of the latter. In addressing “the middle ground” favored by Charles Tilly, we applied an analytical approach to the study of the dynamics of contention that allows for the systematic comparative analysis of causal patterns across individual narratives.
As we laid out in the introductory chapter of our volume, we propose a rather ambitious and innovative empirical strategy to study contentious politics – what we label as Contentious Episode Analysis (CEA). Having situated our approach in the intermediate meso-level between the “narrative approach” and the “epidemiological” approach exemplified by conventional protest event analysis (for reviews, see Hutter 2014; Koopmans and Rucht 2002), we aim to accomplish two tasks simultaneously. On the one hand, we wish to preserve the rich ontology and conceptual breadth of the “narrative approach” by distinguishing between a diverse set of actors, actions, and interactions in our empirical design. On the other hand, we aim to leverage the empirical scope and rigor of the “epidemiological approach” of protest event analysis by building a quantitative, cross-national dataset that allows for a variable-based analysis of the unfolding of interactions in contentious episodes. Therefore, in our efforts to preserve the strength (and avoid the weaknesses) of the two extant approaches, the main aim we set forth is to build a dataset that gives an accurate and fine-grained picture of the dynamics of political conflict condensed to a limited set of variables.
As the reader may have noted, in the previous two chapters we have treated contentious actions largely in isolation from each other. Our contentiousness indicators, for instance, relied on the relative frequency count of disruptive or repressive action types by the contending adversaries without any explicit consideration of how these actions relate to each other beyond their clustering in time. Likewise, we studied the coalition patterns of contentious episodes by considering the institutional characteristics and action forms of each actor and derived the episode-specific actor configurations from the relative numerical frequencies of these actions.