Disruption Or Convention? A Process-based Explanation Of Divergent Repertoires Of Contention Among Opponents To Low-level Radioactive Waste Disposal Sites

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Social Movement Studies


Politics and Government


Violence, disruption and convention constitute three well established categories of collective action repertoires available to contemporary social movements. What factors shape differences in repertoire selection across social movement groups? I take a process-based approach to answer this question, examining two grassroots opposition movements to the disposal of low-level radioactive waste in the United States. The two rural New York State counties I consider each faced a state-imposed low-level radioactive waste site proposal in 1988. Activists in each county mounted vigorous collective opposition to the proposed facility, while exhibiting distinct repertoires of collective action. Activists in Allegany County pursued disruptive civil disobedience, while activists in Cortland County pursued a conventional repertoire of citizen lobbying and litigation efforts. Similarities across a variety of demographic, political, and social characteristics in these two counties leave the standard explanations for repertoire selection put forth in the social movement literature wanting. I argue that the relationship developed between the respective county governments and citizen activists during the waste-site proposal dispute had a dramatic effect on the dominant repertoire of collective action adopted by each community. More specifically, identifying the presence or absence of the social mechanism of brokerage between local government and activists is crucial to understanding the different trajectories of these movement groups. This article highlights the utility of fine-grained process-based analysis as a complement to variable-based approaches for explaining social movement activity, and the importance of the mechanism of brokerage among local government and activists for understanding bottom-up movements responding to proximate grievances, such as the environmental justice movement. Adapted from the source document.