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It's Not Just Structural: Social Movements Are Not Homogenous Responses to Structural Features, but Networks Shaped by Organisational Strategies and Status
By: Clare Saunders, Volume 14 (1)
Abstract: Political opportunity structures are often used to explain differences in the characteristics of movements in different countries on the basis of the national polity in which they exist. However, the approach has a number of weaknesses that are outlined in this article. The article especially stresses the fact that such broad-brush approaches to political opportunity structures fail to account for the different characteristics of movement organisations within the same polity. The article therefore recommends using a more fine-tuned approach to political opportunities, taking into account that the strategies and status of organisations affect the real political opportunities they face. This fine-tuned approach is used to predict how the status and strategy of environmental organisations might influence the extent to which different types of environmental organisations in the UK network with one-another. We find that organisations that face an open polity - those with a moderate action repertoire and a constructive relationship with government institutions - tend not to cooperate with those with a radical action repertoire and negative relations with government institutions. On the other hand, those that vary their action repertoires, and which have variable status according to the issues involved or campaign targets, have a much broader range of network links with other types of organisations. Thus, there is much more diversity in types of environmental organisation in the UK than the broad-brush to political opportunity structures would account for. Nonetheless, it does seem that environmental organisations are aware of how their own behaviours might influence (non-structural) political opportunities, and that they mould their strategies and networking patterns around this awareness.