The events of May-June 1968 in France broke out in the wake of an international wave of protest that occurred previously in many countries such as the United States, Germany and Italy (Duyvendak 1992, 137-138). The events of 1870, 1919 and 1936 provide also many examples of disruptive and short term insurgencies trying to bypass the institutionalized frame so as to claim demands for political change. Can we thus talk about "French exceptionalism" in terms of patterns and dynamics of social movements' political protests? Social movements, in the frame of political process theories, can be define as "strategically and/or thematically connected series of events, produced in interaction with adversaries and carried out by a coherent network of organizations and participants who use unconventional means of attaining political goals" (Duyvendak 1992, 30). In this theoretical frame, the political opportunity structure (POS) based on formal institutional structures, informal procedures and strategies, and the configuration of power, determines to a large extent mobilization patterns of "challengers" and "members" strategies such as repression or facilitation (Kriesi and Koopmans 1992, 172; Duyvendak 1992, 60-66). Why French social movements are often disruptive, revolutionary and short term collective action processes?
[...] Conclusion In a contemporary perspective between the 18th century and nowadays, French social movements have seen their repertoires of action evolving according to the social and political environment. This evolution reflects partly the options and the opportunity offered by the different successive steps of state-making. In France the state structure and the configuration of power gave little place to popular claims. The strongly centralized and concentrated State shaped to a large extent the form and scope of social movements mobilization and explains why they often turned out into disruptive outburst: “challengers” are more sensitive to potential triggering factors and more prone to become radical when there are little means to articulate and channel popular expectations Moreover French social movements create news opportunities of being taken into account when they shape, at least influence the state system. [...]
[...] This bourgeois order then experienced under following regimes, the Consulate and Empire (1799-1814), the Restauration (1815-1830), the July monarchy (1830- 1848) and the Second Empire (1852-1870), an accelerated centralization of the administration and of the power with an Assembly submitted to the Chief of the Executive and its government. Thus, if the revolution of 1789 and its social movements were not the only source of influence, they left undoubtedly a heavy inheritance concerning the formal political and administrative structure of the French state as well as its configuration of power. [...]
[...] As previously seen, the pattern of the French administrative and political system shapes the nature and scope of social movements' mobilization and the principle of selective exclusion determines the chance of success of such collective action processes. The frustration and dissatisfaction rises up to a point for which “challengers” are more sensitive to potential triggering factors and more prone to become radical because there are little means to articulate and channel popular expectations (Duyvendak 1992, 85) French political protests and revolutionary situations Were the events of 1968 a revolutionary attempt to change French society and its political system? [...]
[...] In the case of the French exceptionalism, the social movements strategies, reflecting the “selective exclusion process they face” as a mirror, take the form of revolutionary short-term outburst because of the long-term lack of access and opportunity to express political and social expectations. They try to profit from the political instability and the given circumstances, sometimes defined by the authorities themselves - in the case of a referenda for example, the refusal of the Constitutional treaty could be analyse in this respect. [...]
[...] One can underline the emergence of the mediating role of unions, powerful intermediary power within the system, albeit strongly divided, and factor of political opportunity for geographically fragmented workers. Tilly (1986, 376-383) also highlights that 1936 was a relevant step of the evolution of French social movements' repertoires of action. According to him practices started to generalize the seizure of power as an offensive means of exerting pressure on local actors and governments. “Collective squatting, sit-down strikes and building occupation became part of the routine contention”. The need to be more efficient didn't result, however, in higher levels of disturbance. [...]
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