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People Power and Political Opportunities: Social Movement Mobilization and Outcomes in the Philippines and Burma

Kurt Schock
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3097105 355-375 First published online: 1 August 1999


This study assesses the relevance of the political opportunity framework for social movements in non-democratic contexts by applying it to two people power movements that occurred in the Philippines and Burma during the 1980s. The movement in the Philippines culminated in the toppling of the Marcos dictatorship and a democratic transition. The movement in Burma was violently suppressed, and although multiparty elections were subsequently held as a result of the protest movement, the military regime refused to honor them and remained in power. The core dimensions of political opportunity are used to account for the mobilization of the two movements and their divergent outcomes. As expected by the political opportunity framework, influential allies and elite divisions influenced the mobilization and outcomes of the movements. The application of the political opportunity framework to non-democracies uncovers some limitations with the framework as well: the under-theorized role of the international context and the importance of press freedoms and information flows. A comparative approach uncovers limitations with the additive enumeration of political opportunities for single movements. Violent and indiscriminate repression was found to have a differential effect on mobilization depending on whether other opportunities were present or absent. More generally, a configuration approach to political opportunities is proposed that incorporates a multiple and conjunctural conception of causation. This approach assumes that political opportunities may not be independent of each other and that political opportunities may have differential effects on dissent depending on the larger configuration of opportunities in which they occur.

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