Political opportunity

Political opportunity

Political opportunity theory, sometimes also known as the political process theory or political opportunity structure, is a theory of social movements grounded in political sociology. It argues that social movements are vastly affected by outside political opportunities.


Political opportunity theory argues that the actions of the activists are dependent on a broader context (in other words, on the existence - or lack of - of a specific political opportunity).David S. Meyer­, "Protest and Political Opportunities", Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 30: 125-145 (Volume publication date August 2004), (doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.30.012703.110545) [http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146%2Fannurev.soc.30.012703.110545] ] There are various definitions of political opportunity, but Meyer (2004) stresses that of Tarrow (1989): "consistent—but not necessarily formal or permanent—dimensions of the political struggle that encourage people to engage in contentious politics".Tarrow S. 1998 . Power in Movement . New York : Cambridge Univ. Press . 2nd ed. ] Compared to related resource mobilization theorists, writers on political opportunity theory stress mobilization of resources "external" to the movement. Movement activists do not chose their goals at random, its the political contexts which stresses certain grievances, and around those, movements organize. This argument ties into the structure and agency debate: actions of activists (agents) can only be understood when seen in the broader context of political opportunities (structure).

The term structure has often been used to characterize political opportunities. However, Tarrow - who has used this term in his earlier publications - now argues it is misleading, as most opportunities need to be perceived, and are situational, not structural. A political opportunity structure has been defined as the circumstances surrounding a political landscape. [Jereon Gunning, Hamas, democracy, religion and violence] Political opportunity structures are fluid and can alter in days or decades. Factors such as demographics, social and economic issues within a population all count to creating a specific "structure" which actors within the landscape can find themselves gaining or benefiting from.

Meyer (2004) credits Eisinger (1973) with first use of the political opportunity theory framed in such a way (traces of which, of course, go further back). Eisinger asked why in 1960s some places in USA witnessed more riots about race and poverty then others; and notes that cities without visible openings for participation of repressed or discouraged dissident made riots more likely. Thus the lack of openings for legal airing of grievances was the political opportunity which led to organization and mobilization of movements expressing their grievances by rioting. [Eisinger P . 1973 . The conditions of protest behavior in American cities . Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 81 : 11 – 28]

Meyer (2004) in his overview of political opportunity theory noted that this broader context can affect:
* "mobilizing",
* "advancing particular claims rather than others",
* "cultivating some alliances rather than others",
* "employing particular political strategies and tactics rather than others", and
* "affecting mainstream institutional politics and policy".

Opposite of political opportunity is a political constraint.

ee also



Further reading

* Meyer DS , Minkoff DC. 2004. Conceptualizing political opportunity. Soc. Forces.

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