Status: I am developing a book proposal based on my dissertation.
Dissertation: "Protest Mobilization, Concessions, and Policy Change in Autocracies"
Concessions are the crucially important benefits that individuals seek when they decide to participate in collective action, yet they are poorly understood. In particular, it remains unclear why authoritarian governments, which rely on coercion to maintain control, promise concessions to protests that do not pose a revolutionary threat, despite the frequency with which this occurs. Even less is understood about the extent to which those promises are fulfilled once protest ends. I advance our understanding of when protest campaigns achieve the promise of concessions from autocratic governments and when those promises produce real-world policy change. To do so, I address three questions: (1) Under what conditions do autocratic governments concede to protesters' demands?; (2) How do concessions affect mobilization? and (3) How does reneging occur and how does it affect protest campaigns?
I provide an original conceptualization of concessions that defines concessions as a response to collective action that occurs when an agent of authority makes a public commitment to initiate a policy change that will potentially yield some benefit to protesters. I establish concessions as a process of policy change, rather than an instantaneous event. The lags in this process can allow for the government to renege, or deliberately fail to implement the promised concession. Though previously overlooked, reneging is a key element of how authoritarian governments use concessions, particularly given the weakness of commitment mechanisms in these settings. To understand how concessions are used, I shift focus from commonly-studied revolutionary protest campaigns to what I call everyday protest campaigns, which driven by policy-specific demands.
I also detail my novel approach to collecting quantitative data on concessions. I demonstrate this approach my original database, the Protest Campaigns of Moscow database, which contains data about everyday protest campaigns operating in Moscow, Russia, from 2013-2018, that made demands of the local government.
In three empirical chapters, I identify and explain variation in the incidence of concessions and reneging to everyday protest campaigns. I find that when everyday protest campaigns convey new information about grievances to the government, repression is less severe, concessions are common and reneging is rare. In contrast, when the government has sufficient information to anticipate protest, it deploys more severe repression and reneging is common.
In assessing the link between concessions and demobilization, I find strong evidence that these concessions are associated with an immediate decline in mobilization, and that concessions are more demobilizing than detentions. This association is stronger when concessions correspond more closely to the campaign's core demands. This demobilizing effect also appears conditioned on the campaign event history prior to the concession, which is in turn likely tied to the government's motivations in making concessionary promises.
At the same time, reneging affects nearly half of all concessions I observe. in most cases, reneging is immediate and the concession is never implemented. To illuminate this dynamic, I present a case study of the protest campaign to prevent construction near a park. Last, I analyze interviews that I conducted with urban activists in Moscow in 2018 and 2019 to demonstrate that they largely distrust the Moscow government and see its promises as a manipulation, though they believe the general public feels differently.