Economic breakdown and collective action

Neal Caren, Sarah Gaby, Catherine Herrold

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


While social movement scholarship has emphasized the role of activists in socially constructing grievances, we contend that material adversity is a reoccurring precondition of anti-state mobilization. We test the effect of economic decline on the count of large-scale, anti-government demonstrations and riots. Using multiple sources of newspaper reports of contentious events across 145 countries during the period 1960-2006, we find a statistically significant negative relationship between economic growth and the number of contentious events, controlling for a variety of state-governance, demographic, and media characteristics. We find that the effect is strongest under conditions of extreme economic decline and in non-democracies. These findings highlight the need for social movement scholars to take seriously the role of economic performance as an important factor that enables mobilization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-155
Number of pages23
JournalSocial Problems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Collective action
  • Economy
  • Grievances
  • Mobilization
  • Social movements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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