Dissertation Abstracts

Social Mobilization in Eastern Europe after the Financial Crisis of 2008. A Comparative analysis on the evolution of activist networks in Hungary and Romania.

Author: Henry P. Rammelt, henry.rammelt@gmail.com
Department: Sciences Po Lyon
University: University of Lyon, France
Supervisor: Didier Chabanet
Year of completion: 2016
Language of dissertation: French

Keywords: Collective Action , Social Movements , Eastern Europe , Protests
Areas of Research: Social Movements, Collective Action and Social Change , Political Sociology , Participation, Organizational Democracy and Self-Management

Abstract

In Eastern Europe the financial crisis of 2008 highlighted the gap between expectations concerning the new configuration of liberal and capitalist states on the one hand, and the social realities on the other. Waves of contention followed, which were provoked especially by austerity measures implemented by the respective governments. These were in their majority directed against the post-communist elites, which were held responsible for the perceived slow progress regarding economic performance and the democratization process in the years before. With the purpose of analyzing new forms of collective action and protests that appeared following this crisis, this dissertation analyzed, in a comparative manner, activist networks in Hungary and Romania between 2008 and 2014. The analysis of social movements is becoming a multicentric subfield of social sciences. Hence, the present study draws, on a diversity of analytical angles, not only stemming from approaches to investigate social movements and regime change, but also including additional theoretical avenues, in order to answer these main questions. Taking into account the transformation background of Romania and Hungary seems the appropriate perspective to understand recent mobilizations. For this purpose, this study analyzes processes of the accumulation of cognitive and relational social capital, shaping a new generation of activists. By doing so, the emphasis could be put on observing the effects of protests on subsequent mobilizations and the spillover/ interaction between activist networks over time. As a result, I was able to highlight the significance of protest-specific experiences for future mobilizations. Online social networks appear to play a key role in this dynamic in contemporary social movements, mainly through their capacity of generating a collective identity and transforming personal indignation into collective action. The nature and the intensity of this dynamic vary in the two countries. While I observed a growth of, what I called “recreational activism” in Romania, resulting from the concomitance of patterns of cultural consumption and civic involvement, a certain protest fatigue can be attested for the first years after the crisis in Hungary. Confronted with stable political configurations and a government that is widely supported by the electorate, movements contesting the power of Fidesz were not able to destabilize existing power structures in Hungary. Hence, this study shows that a longstanding culture of protest and of civic engagement does not necessarily lead, in different circumstances, to high levels of political activism of challengers to political power. Furthermore, the Romanian case suggests that rather the absence of such a culture, combined with a lack of precedent and experiences for both, engaged citizens and authorities can open spaces for renegotiating rules and provoke (lasting) political and cultural changes.

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