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School of Social Sciences

Student in the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons
BSocSc Politics and International Relations
Gain the skills to critical examine international and comparative politics.

BSocSc Politics and International Relations

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Comparative Protest Politics -Voting with their Feet

Unit code POLI30922
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by School of Social Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This unit aims to provide students with an in-depth analytical understanding of contemporary protest politics or as described by Charles Tilly, contentious politics. The unit will investigate why protest happens or put otherwise, why do ‘ordinary’ citizens join-in? This will be done by presenting the different theoretical arguments of protest mobilization, and by looking at empirical examples to test these hypotheses.

The unit has three central aims. First, the unit will provide students with an advanced theoretical knowledge of the established political science literature on protest. Theoretically, the goal is to expose students to the particular tension between structural and agency-based explanations of protest participation in political science. Second, the unit aims to engage students with a recently developing literature, debating the role of social networks versus social media (and other ICTs) in the mass-mobilization process. Third, the unit aims to help students develop a deeper empirical understanding of contemporary cases mass-protest. Students will be asked to reflect on the perceived recent rise in mass-mobilization globally (since the early 2000s). By employing critical case studies of recent mass-protests in Latin America, Europe, the MENA region and North America, the unit aims to allow students the facility to critically engage with the theoretical literature, and join the on-going debate on the role of social media and its role in social mobilization.


Brief overview of the syllabus/topics.

This unit will provide students with an in-depth analytical understanding of contemporary protest politics. Students will be asked to reflect on the recent (since the early 2000s) global rise in mass-mobilization. Employing several critical cases, students will investigate the puzzle plaguing political scientists: What explains mass-protest? And why, in certain instances, do ‘ordinary’ citizens join-in protest en-masse?   

In the first half of the course students will critically engage with the different theoretical perspectives employed in the study of mass-protest. Students will be exposed to the particular tension between structural and agency-based explanations of protest participation in the literature. While the lectures will draw on examples from specific cases in Latin America and Eastern Europe, in their essay assignments, student will be encouraged to place these cases in comparative perspective.

Week One:     Introduction - What Is Mass-Mobilization? When ‘Ordinary’ Citizens Join-In!This week the lecture will be an introduction and orientation to the course. The seminars will tackle the question: What is Mass-Mobilization? This week’s discussion will place political protest in the broader political science literature. The seminar will unpack the conceptual distinctions between such often confused terms as: Social Mobilization, Social Movements, Social Movement Organizations, Activists, ‘Ordinary’ Citizens, Protest-events, Protest Waves, and Mass-Protest. (Della Porta 2013; Jenkins and Klandermans 1995; McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly 2001; Melucci 1996; Onuch 2011, 2014; Tarrow and Tollefson 1994; Tilly and Tarrow 2007)

Week Two:     From Emotions To Networks: The History Of Contentious Politics LiteratureThis week will provide a historical overview of the theoretical developments in the academic literature prior to the ‘structural turn’ in the 1990s. Namely the topics discussed will include: ‘psychological explanations’ (the irrationality of protest), ‘deprivation theory’, and the literature on riots. (Charles Tilly 1995; Goldstone, Gurr, and Moshiri 1991; Gurr 1970; McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly 2003; Tilly and Tarrow 2007)

Week Three:   Structural Understandings Of Protest MobilisationThis week will focus in on the structural turn in protest mobilization literature students will be exposed to concepts such as: political opportunity structures, resource mobilization, social network theories of mobilization, and regional diffusion/contagion theory. (Andrews and Biggs 2006; Della Porta and Tarrow 2005; Della Porta 2006; Diani and McAdam 2003a, 2003b; Fernandez and McAdam 1988; Klandermans and Oegema 1987; Onuch 2014b; Osa 2003; Snow, Soule, and Kriesi 2008; Snow, Zurcher Jr, and Ekland-Olson 1980)

Week Four:     Agency Based Explanations Of Protest Mobilization And Ration Choice This week will provide an overview of agency based explanations that centre on the [rational] calculi [decisions] individuals make when joining-in a protest. Students will debate the literature that discusses the micro-level foundations of protest. (Aldrich 1993; Braun 1995; Habermas 1971; Hirschman 1970; Mark I. Lichbach 2011; Mark Irving Lichbach and Zuckerman 1997; Muller and Opp 1986; Onuch and Serra 2010; Opp 1989, 1990; Pfaff and Kim 2003; Popkin 1979; Weede and Muller 1998)

Week Five:      Rights, Frames And Cultural Explanations Of Social MobilizationThis week will investigate critical theories that expose the tensions of the above-mentioned dichotomous agency versus structure appro

Teaching and learning methods

This course will be taught in 10 weekly two hour lectures and 10 weekly one hour seminars.

The aim is for the seminars to be a student led discussion facilitated by presentations and group exercises, to a great extent. Students are expected to have completed all the required reading. and to come prepared with two key terms they found to be integral to the week’s readings (or the most confusing) and one question to pose to their peers. These will be discussed in small groups of 3-4 in the first 10 mins of class. This will be followed by a brief class discussion of the key concepts. The second half of the seminar will consist of short presentations by students followed by class discussion and debate.

The Blackboard site for the course will contain relevant links to further sources and websites. The students will be encouraged to use a variety off on-line resources (including social media and blogs) to investigate the protests and even engage with the grass roots organizers of the protest events, where possible.

Students will also be encouraged to employ digital archives of primary documents and protest paraphernalia, where available on-line.

Lecture and seminar material will also be posted on the site as well as some study skills and assessment tips.

Knowledge and understanding

Knowledge and Understanding:  A sophisticated understanding of the literature on protest politics; a broad knowledge of recent empirical cases of mass-protest in comparative perspective; and a broad knowledge on the developing debate about the role of social media in political processes.

Intellectual skills

Intellectual skills:  A capacity to engage analytically with the major debates in the literature on protest politics. An ability to employ comparative method and evidence based analysis in academic writing.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Transferable skills and personal qualities: Improved writing, argumentation, debating and presentation skills. The capacity to succinctly and analytically summarize and mobilize complex ideas.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 30%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%
Report 5%
Oral assessment/presentation 10%
Set exercise 5%

Feedback methods

Politics staff will provide feedback on written work within 15 working days of submission via Blackboard (if submitted through Turnitin).

Students should be aware that all marks are provisional until confirmed by the external examiner and the final examinations boards in June.

For modules that do not have examination components the marks and feedback for the final assessed component are not subject to the 15 working day rule and will be released with the examination results. This applies to Semester 2 modules only. Semester one modules with no final examination will have their feedback available within the 15 working days.

You will receive feedback on assessed essays in a standard format. This will rate your essay in terms of various aspects of the argument that you have presented your use of sources and the quality of the style and presentation of the essay. If you have any queries about the feedback that you have received you should make an appointment to see your tutor. Tutors and Course Convenors also have a dedicated office hour when you can meet with her/him to discuss course unit specific problems and questions.

On assessments submitted through Turnitin you will receive feedback via Blackboard. This will include suggestions about ways in which you could improve your work in future. You will also receive feedback on non-assessed coursework, whether this is individual or group work. This may be of a more informal kind and may include feedback from peers as well as academic staff

Recommended reading

Beissinger, Mark R. 2007. “Structure and Example in Modular Political Phenomena: The Diffusion of Bulldozer/Rose/Orange/Tulip Revolutions.” Perspectives on Politics 5(02): 259–76.

Bhuiyan, Serajul. 2011. “Social Media and Its Effectiveness in the Political Reform Movement in Egypt.” Middle East Media Educator 1(1): 14–20.

Castañeda, Ernesto. 2012. “The Indignados of Spain: A Precedent to Occupy Wall Street.” Social Movement Studies 11(3-4): 309–19.

Della Porta, Donatella. 2013. “Repertoires of Contention.” The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements.

Diani, Mario, and Doug McAdam. 2003. Social Movements and Networks: Relational Approaches to Collective Action. Oxford University Press. (Chapters 1, 4 & 8).

Karamichas, John. 2009. “The December 2008 Riots in Greece.” Social Movement Studies 8(3): 289–93.

McAdam, Doug, Sidney Tarrow, and Charles Tilly. 2003. “Dynamics of Contention.” Social Movement Studies 2(1): 99–102.

Meirowitz, Adam, and Joshua A. Tucker. 2013. “People Power or a One-Shot Deal? A Dynamic Model of Protest.” American Journal of Political Science 57(2): 478–90.

Onuch, Olga. 2014. Mapping Mass Mobilizations: Understanding Revolutionary Moments in Ukraine and Argentina. London: Palgrave MacMillan. (Chapter 1, 2 and 9).

Tilly, Charles. 1995. European Revolutions, 1492-1992. Chicago, Illinois: Blackwell Publishing Limited. (Chapter 1 & 7).

Tarrow, Sidney, and Tollefson. 1994. Power in Movement: Social Movements, Collective Action and Politics. Cambridge University Press. (Chapter 1).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Olga Onuch Unit coordinator

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