"do protests make a difference?"

I am very interested in studies of effective resistance, especially when they apply to India. Seemed like quite a godsend, then, to stumble upon a PhD thesis by Katrin Uba titled "“Do Protests Make a Difference?: The impact of anti-privatisation mobilisation in India and Peru”. While the study is quite specific to the protests by public sector trade unions to the privatisation drives starting in 1991, I dug in with the goal (i admit) of finding generalisations I could use.

Katrin's primary questions in the research are:

1) Which strategies or protest characteristics are most effective in order for a group to achieve its goals?
2) In which social and political environments do protests make a difference?
3) Which mechanisms can be used to explain the success and failure of protest mobilisation?

The (general) answers seem to be:

1) Protests are more likely to get public opinion on their side if they are moderate, and not looking to “overthrow a regime”.
2) Protests that are large or more economically disruptive are more likely to succeed.
3) Direct/threatening protests are more effective than those that try to use persuasive tactics, such as ‘influential people’ inside or close to the system.
4) General public opinion is powerful when elections are near/involved, but not necessarily so otherwise.
5) Protests work better in democratic setups, and are less likely to be met with violence.

A coupla caveats:

1) The “protest” Katrin studies are not single acts of protests, but sustained struggles/movements.
2) In this specific, postponement of privatisation is seen as ‘success’, even though the rhetoric of abandonment of privatisation is the ‘ultimate’ goal. I connect this to what Che’ says in Guerrilla Warfare-only pick battles you can win. Maybe re-defining goals will help win more battles!

All in all a very engaging (as research papers go) read, strongly recommended. Katrin has some fascinating bits of data right through, including, for example, a table of the strategies used by Indian and Peruvian protesters, in percentages!

PLEASE let me know if you think my understanding is faulty, I am willing to be corrected. Post discussion, of course! [grin]

Go here for another summary of this paper.

5 comments:

Gauri Gharpure said...

i always thought point number 2 (large scale disruption, economic or otherwise) would be counter-productive. fascinating research topic..

baruk said...

@gauri: when i started looking at creative resistance, i was hoping to find that general disruption was counter productive, and that there are better ways. increasingly looks like i was/am wrong!

check out http://resistancestudies.org for more of this stuff. i'll also continue to post what i find!

John Doe said...

just started me thinking - if we take india's satyagraha movement as a successful example of portests (it was at least one of first) - how does it stand up to the parameters Ms. Uba have set up.

"1) Protests are more likely to get public opinion on their side if they are moderate, and not looking to “overthrow a regime”."

well... do i have to say anything.

"2) Protests that are large or more economically disruptive are more likely to succeed."

agreed, that the non-cooperation movement was disruptive, but that was only a small part of the movement.

"3) Direct/threatening protests are more effective than those that try to use persuasive tactics, such as ‘influential people’ inside or close to the system."

i am not sure i understand this point, so will skip it.

"4) General public opinion is powerful when elections are near/involved, but not necessarily so otherwise."

it has been said domestic politics englad also played a big part in india's independence. however, i do not know much about this so will refrain from commenting.

"5) Protests work better in democratic setups, and are less likely to be met with violence."

again, very difficult to determine this. as far as i can remember there have been very effective protest movements in totalitarian (i hope i spelled that right) regimes. examples - pakistan (very recently) and the velvet revolution in czechoslovakia. i am sure there are hundreds of other such examples... its just that my general knowledge sucks.

feddabonn said...

hmm! interesting!

to be fair to ms. ube, her research was confined to labour unions and their response to privatisation-the connect to other protests is something i am trying to do.

you've raised some interesting points, and i don't really have a response-this'll take me a bit of a think. @point 3), think of it as direct action vs. lobbying (for example).

feddabonn said...

@john: well, i've given it a bit of a thought, and i'm afraid you've tossed in a bit of a spanner. :)

apart from 2, 3 and 5, which have some relevance, the other points do *not, in fact seem to relate to india's independence movement. i'm going to have to read more widely to understand if these points apply to any other protests at all.

thanks for the nudge, jd!