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Opportunities for Inequality: Context and Disparities in Political Participation
Unformatted Document Text:  allows opportunities to take into account the appropriateness of certain tactics, given the social, political, and economic environment. This small redefinition of the concept imbues opportunities with the flexibility to address how contextual effects vary across the forms of political activity. To gain a firmer handle on what opportunities are and how they work, I discuss more specific forms of opportunity: threats, conflict, access/allies, and networks. An external threat serves as a rallying cry for renewed or more innovative movement efforts by tapping into an identity which gives people something worth fighting for (Dyke and Soule 2002; Dyke 2003; McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly 2001). For example, Dyke and Soule (2002) argue that structural changes in the economy, emergence of newly powerful political groups, and demographic shifts led reactionary militias in the United States to mobilize as a means of preserving their position in society. In the participation literature, this idea is articulated most often through the linking role of blame attribution in studies of economic voting (Kinder and Kiewiet 1979; Feldman 1982; Arceneaux 2003). Welch and Foster (1992) make the case that group consciousness allows black Americans to treat economic conditions as this external threat, and their resulting vote choices reflect these sociotropic economic evaluations. Threats alter individuals’ levels of political interest by framing social conditions in terms of some salient identity. This heightened political interest – and the attendant increase in the perceived benefits of participation – should be manifested through higher levels of activity. Conflict is the competition over resources, authority, and government attention. This idea emerges in two different forms within the social movements literature. Originally, conflict was conceived as elite competition over control of government, and this conflict between existing pow- ers allowed previously excluded and marginalized groups to enter the political process as a means of breaking the current stalemate (McAdam 1999; Jenkins, Jacobs and Agnone 2003). Alterna- tively, conflict has also been viewed in terms of movement-countermovement dynamics. Meyer and Staggenborg (1996) argue that opposing movements alter one another’s structures of opportunity by creating new threats and grievances for their opponents to respond to. As a result, new venues of contestation emerge and new issues around which to mobilize arise (Santoro 1999; Andrews 2002). Participation research has shown that battles over how local resources should be distributed 5

Authors: Platt, Matthew.
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allows opportunities to take into account the appropriateness of certain tactics, given the social,
political, and economic environment. This small redefinition of the concept imbues opportunities
with the flexibility to address how contextual effects vary across the forms of political activity. To
gain a firmer handle on what opportunities are and how they work, I discuss more specific forms
of opportunity: threats, conflict, access/allies, and networks.
An external threat serves as a rallying cry for renewed or more innovative movement efforts by
tapping into an identity which gives people something worth fighting for (Dyke and Soule 2002;
Dyke 2003; McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly 2001). For example, Dyke and Soule (2002) argue that
structural changes in the economy, emergence of newly powerful political groups, and demographic
shifts led reactionary militias in the United States to mobilize as a means of preserving their position
in society. In the participation literature, this idea is articulated most often through the linking
role of blame attribution in studies of economic voting (Kinder and Kiewiet 1979; Feldman 1982;
Arceneaux 2003). Welch and Foster (1992) make the case that group consciousness allows black
Americans to treat economic conditions as this external threat, and their resulting vote choices
reflect these sociotropic economic evaluations. Threats alter individuals’ levels of political interest
by framing social conditions in terms of some salient identity. This heightened political interest –
and the attendant increase in the perceived benefits of participation – should be manifested through
higher levels of activity.
Conflict is the competition over resources, authority, and government attention. This idea
emerges in two different forms within the social movements literature. Originally, conflict was
conceived as elite competition over control of government, and this conflict between existing pow-
ers allowed previously excluded and marginalized groups to enter the political process as a means
of breaking the current stalemate (McAdam 1999; Jenkins, Jacobs and Agnone 2003). Alterna-
tively, conflict has also been viewed in terms of movement-countermovement dynamics. Meyer and
Staggenborg (1996) argue that opposing movements alter one another’s structures of opportunity
by creating new threats and grievances for their opponents to respond to. As a result, new venues
of contestation emerge and new issues around which to mobilize arise (Santoro 1999; Andrews
2002). Participation research has shown that battles over how local resources should be distributed
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