Saturday, January 22, 2011

McAdam on the Political Process Model of the Social Movement

In the introduction to the 2nd edition (1999) of his “Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970), Doug McAdam emphasizes the central role that “interpretative processes” play in social movements.  According to the model presented on page xvi (Figure 1. A Dynamic, Interactive Framework for Analyzing the Emergence of Contentious Politics) interpretive processes affect and are affected by changes in the POS (political opportunity structure) and collective action by both elite actors and challengers.  In McAdam’s view, elite actors and their challengers initiate interpretive processes in response to “broad change processes.”  These processes can include: wars, industrialization, international political realignments, concerted political pressure from international actors, economic crisis, and widespread demographic shifts (McAdam 1999 x). 

These interpretive processes include attributions of both threat and opportunity.  If elite actors and their challengers perceive sufficient threat and sufficient opportunity to rectify it, they will then seek to “appropriate” existing organizations and group identities in order to bring about change.  When they are ready to act, they will do so collectively, through a combination of existing and new forms of action.  As this process continues, often over the course of decades, the actions of elite groups will change the political opportunity structure that challenging groups must exploit. These changes, sometimes in response to the challenging groups and sometimes in response to other elites, will be further interpreted by the challenging group.  The actions of challenging groups will, meanwhile, be interpreted by elite groups.  As this process continues, both elite groups and challenging groups may come to share a “perception of environmental uncertainty.”  This perception becomes the basis of “sustained contention” (McAdam 1999 xvi).