Mechanisms of social movement success: conversation, displacement and disruption Articles uri icon

publication date

  • October 2016


  • 4


  • 74

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0034-9712

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1988-429X


  • A great deal of social movement scholarship tends to assume &- and in some cases explicitly argues &- that disruption is the primary mechanism through which protest movements win major concessions from the holders of power. Nonetheless, some studies and much empirical evidence provide a strong basis to argue that other paths to social movement success also exist. The importance of discourse and framing has also been highlighted in a number of studies but we argue that the full contribution of talk itself to movement success is best captured through the concept of "conversation" and an examination of the preconditions for its viability. The successful displacement of power-holders by protest movements, although a less common pathway to success than disruption and conversation, also deserves conceptual and empirical attention. In this paper we make this set of distinctions conceptually explicit, differentiating analytically between these three mechanisms of movement success and delineating the conditions required for each mechanism to prove viable and 'useful'. We rely on extensive examples drawn from movements and protest events in the United States, Spain and Portugal, using this empirical material, as well as the existing theoretical literature, as our basis for constructing a conceptual argument on the ideal typical distinction between these three mechanisms and the conditions that allow them to operate. We also take up the questions of whether, and when, movement actors can successfully combine these mechanisms or &- alternatively &- find themselves pressed to pursue one or another of these pathways to success in a relatively 'pure' form.


  • anti-austerity protest; discourse; movement outcome; non-violent protest; protest; political protest; policy; austerity; portugal