American University
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Political elites, social movements, and changing political opportunity structures: The case of the three waves of the women's movement

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posted on 2023-09-06, 03:02 authored by Alana Suzanne Jeydel

Under what conditions arc members of Congress (political elites) responsive to social movements and when do social movements gain access to members of Congress and Presidents? This research explores the ebb and flow of political elite responsiveness to social movements and social movement access to political elites through a comparative, longitudinal analysis of the three waves of the women's movement--1848-1889, 1890-1928 and 1960-1985. It focuses on the political opportunity structure as a major determinant of the degree of responsiveness and access and as a key determinant of relations between social movements and political elites. The political opportunity structure is a term used to describe the political climate and institutional arrangements of a political system. It is composed of the level of electoral stability, level of unity among elites, mass opinion, and powers granted to party leaders. This research found that the POS was a key determinant of the relations between the women's movement and political elites. Under an open POS political elites were in need of the resources that the women's movement had (members, votes, issues). Thus, the women's movement had increased political leverage with political elites under an open POS. Furthermore, when the POS was open the movement was not easily assuaged by lip service, and not easily co-opted by political elites. When the POS was closed the women's movement was more likely to grasp at any response it got from political elites. Political elites recognized their advantage, and thus offered only co-optive responses (designed to assuage the movement and not really change the status quo). Under a closed POS the movement risked being co-opted by political elites as it became increasingly willing to accept whatever morsels were offered it. This work shows that the POS is a key determinant of relations between political elites and social movements. Under similar political opportunity structures all three waves gained similar amounts of access to and response from political elites.







Ph.D. American University 1997.


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