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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Critiquing Kitschelt: Litigation Levels and Opportunity Structures in Cross-National Focus

Chris Hilson
University of Reading
Chris Hilson
University of Reading

Kitschelt’s (1986) cross-national study of the anti-nuclear (power) movement in four states – France, Germany, Sweden and the US – is rightly remembered for its major contribution to the political process model of social movements. However, the aim of the current paper is to investigate more thoroughly Kitschelt’s discussion of strategies and, amongst these, his treatment of litigation in particular, which he characterises as an ‘assimilative’ strategy. If Kitschelt’s study is a robust one, then it should of course provide scholars with a ready-made historical example of cross-national variation in litigation activity in a distinct policy field – nuclear power – with a theoretical explanation, based on differences in political opportunity structure, to account for this strategic variation. However, this paper argues that Kitschelt’s study is far from robust on the subject of litigation and suffers from factual inaccuracy (regarding litigation levels in France – cf Boyle 1998) which leads to the collapse of his theoretical political opportunity framework. The possibility then arises to turn to a different explanatory variable found within more recent literature on law and social movements – legal opportunity structure – in order to investigate whether this is any better able to account for the variation in levels of litigation activity between the four countries. Can a structural approach explain this variation in strategy choice or does the answer lie in more a bottom-up explanation centred on agency?

Boyle, E (1998) ‘Political Frames and Legal Activity: The Case of Nuclear Power in Four Countries’ 32 Law & Soc Rev 141-174

Kitschelt, H (1986) ‘Political Opportunity Structures and Political Protest: Anti-Nuclear Movements in Four Democracies’ 16 BJ Pol S 57-85
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