The Use of Disruptive Tactics in Protest as a Trade-Off: The Role of Social Movement Claims

Source: Dan J. Wang and Alessandro Piazza, Social Forces, Advance Access, First published online: January 21, 2016
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From the abstract:
In protest, activists sometimes turn to disruptive and violent tactics to meet their goals. Doing so, however, can also undermine support for their claims. We argue that how protestors weigh this trade-off depends on their targets and the extent to which their claims appeal to diverse constituencies, which then factors greatly into their choice of protest tactics. We complement past work that suggests that forces of professionalization and counterpressure alter activists’ tendency to use violent and disruptive tactics. With data on over 23,000 protest events in the United States between 1960 and 1995, we find that protest events characterized by broadly resonating claims are more likely to employ tactics that are disruptive but nonviolent. By contrast, events espousing narrower claims are more likely to employ disruptive tactics that are also violent. Moreover, when governmental entities are targeted, protests are less likely to witness the use of both violent and nonviolent disruptive tactics. We discuss the implications of our results for social movement theory and the dynamics of collective violence.