The Politics of Protest and State Repression in Authoritarian Regimes
The Arab Spring has renewed scholarly interest in popular protests and nonviolent mobilization against authoritarian rulers. Over the past decade, the bulk of the literature has focused on examining the impact of protest movements on regime transition, while lesser attention was paid to explain why protests emerge initially. Social movements literature has documented rich materials on contentious politics; however, as Tilly, Tarrow, and McAdam (2001) indicated in their seminal work, these traditional approaches work better to explain contention in democracies but less well when it comes to explaining protests in nondemocratic contexts. My dissertation, a suite of three related papers, aims to fill this gap by asking several important questions: Why do citizens risk their lives to protest against the authoritarian governments under the threats of state repression? How does mobilization behaviors interact with state responses (e.g. state repression)? Why do opposition parties participate and mobilize protesters in authoritarian elections? Using new protest event data, I first show that in authoritarian China, politically motivated officials are encouraged to compete in the economic field by extracting local resources, and these efforts often contribute to local protests. Additional evidence also indicates that land expropriation by local governments has become the main source of social grievance in contemporary China. Second, I show that mobilization behaviors and state responses are intrinsically interdependent to each other. I propose a network method to model this interdependence and interactive repertoires of contention. I find that the nodes-as-actions framework I introduce improves our ability to forecast different types of state repression against protesters and helps us examine the processes of conflict escalation and a mutual spiral effect in authoritarian elections. Lastly, I find that anti-government protest mobilization is an oft-used electoral campaign strategy by the opposition to mobilize supporters, gain visibility in state censorship, and signal their strength and commitment to unseating autocratic rulers in authoritarian elections. When the authoritarian incumbent suffers from declining popularity among citizens, it provides a window of opportunity for the opposition candidates to defeat the authoritarian ruler on the ballot by mobilizing anti-regime protesters and encouraging voter turnout. Overall, this dissertation introduces novel theoretical framework and empirical methods to advance our understanding of protest emergence in authoritarian regimes.
Protest and Repression
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