Political Science Protest Participation
Marco Giugni, Maria Grasso
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0345


While consensus on what should be included under the label of political participation is far from having been reached, the latter can broadly be defined as activities by ordinary citizens addressed to the political authorities or the general public and directed toward influencing some political outcomes. The literature then distinguishes between a range of distinct modes of participation. Protest is one of them. Protest participation refers to involvement in different sorts of political activities. The specific kinds of political activities that define this mode of participation may vary to some extent from author to author, from study to study, making the field hard to delimit. Most often, however, this includes attending a street demonstration, taking part in a strike, and other more radical forms such as blockades, occupations, sit-ins, and the like. Protest activities can be studied from two angles or levels of analysis: as aggregate-level collective phenomena or as individual-level expressions of political will. This bibliography focuses on individual protest participation. Moreover, in order to further delimit the field, works are prioritized that refer explicitly to protest participation, therefore overlooking proximate terms and phenomena such as activism or participation in social movements. A number of works have examined protest participation in a broader perspective, as one among several modes of political participation. Others have discussed how protest participation can be studied from a methodological point of view. From a more substantive point of view, scholars are interested in knowing who takes part in protest activities as well as why and how they do so. When it comes to explaining protest participation, we may roughly distinguish between three main perspectives, based on the key explanatory factors examined: Microstructural Accounts focus on social embeddedness as well as the role of preexisting networks and ties to explain involvement in protest activities; Social-Psychological Accounts focus on the role of grievances, identity, and emotions; Predispositional Accounts focus on political attitudes, values, and norms. The present bibliography follows this threefold categorization and is inevitably selective in the choice of references to be included. Often, however, research includes predictors from more than one single perspective. Furthermore, while most existing works focus exclusively on the individual level, scholars have started to examine the role of the broader context for explaining patterns of individual participation in protest activities. Finally, early-21st-century scholars are paying increasing attention to online forms of protest participation, hence complementing the traditional focus on offline forms.

General Overviews

Various works address protest participation from a general point of view. These include works that deal with protest participation in the context of a broader discussion of different modes of participation. In this vein, Barnes and Kaase 1979 as well as Dalton 2019 distinguish between conventional and unconventional participation, while others has proposed multidimensional taxonomies whereby protest is one among a handful of main modes of participation. A recent example is Theocharis and van Deth 2017, who also includes online forms, or “digitally networked participation.” Other works provide general overviews more specifically focused on protest participation. Klandermans 1997 gives an overview of the development of social movements based on research on movement mobilization and participation. Corrigall-Brown 2011 as well as Klandermans and Oegema 1987 both emphasize the varying paths and steps toward protest participation. Norris 2002 considers both electoral and nonelectoral forms to discuss how political activism has changed over time. Similarly, Grasso 2016 discusses trends in political engagement in different types of political participation with a focus on generational differences. Van Stekelenburg, et al. 2019 provides an overview of works on and issues relating to the study of street demonstrations. Giugni and Grasso 2019 also focuses on street demonstrations, but with an eye on broader patterns and trends in protest participation.

  • Barnes, Samuel H., and Max Kaase, eds. Political Action: Mass Participation in Five Western Democracies. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE, 1979.

    Seminal comparative study on political action repertoires seeking to explain the waves of political protest that swept through the advanced industrial democracies in the late 1960s. Compares political action across five countries based on survey data, combining a conventional political participation scale and a protest potential scale.

  • Corrigall-Brown, Catherine. Patterns of Protest: Trajectories of Participation in Social Movements. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804774109.001.0001

    Interesting book that looks at participation in social movement more generally but pays also attention to participation in protest activities such as street demonstrations, rallies, or marches. Examines how individual characteristics and life experiences impact the pathway of participation by distinguishing between four distinct participation trajectories.

  • Dalton, Russell J. Citizen Politics: Public Opinion and Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies. 7th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2019.

    Most recent edition of a pathbreaking book on political participation showing how people drive the democratic process through their political engagement, including in protest activities. Compares political attitudes and behavior in four countries. Originally published in 1996 (New York: Seven Bridges Press).

  • Giugni, Marco, and Maria T. Grasso. Street Citizens: Protest Politics and Social Movement Activism in the Age of Globalization. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781108693455

    Comprehensive study of individual participants in street demonstrations in several Western European countries using data on protesters surveyed at demonstrations in Codebook and Manual for Data Collection on Protest Demonstrations. Caught in the Act of Protest: Contextualizing Contestation (CCC) (Klandermans, et al. 2010, cited under Methodological Discussions). While empirically focusing on demonstrations, discusses more general trends in protest politics and social movement activism such as the “pluralization” of the participants, the blending of economic and cultural issues in demonstrations, and the increasing overlap of conventional and contentious politics.

  • Grasso, Maria T. Generations: Political Participation and Social Change in Western Europe. London: Routledge, 2016.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315684031

    Comprehensive comparative analysis of political participation across generations in Western Europe using data from established cross-national surveys. Shows that younger generations socialized during the 1980s and 1990s are less active than the older, more politicized 1960s–1970s generation not just in institutional political activism such as voting and party membership, but also in extrainstitutional activism including protest participation.

  • Klandermans, Bert. The Social Psychology of Protest. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.

    An important book addressing various aspects of people’s participation in social movements and protest activities which could be seen to even go beyond the social-psychological perspective. Provides a useful overview of the development of social movements based on current research on movement mobilization and participation.

  • Klandermans, Bert, and Dirk Oegema. “Potentials, Networks, Motivations, and Barriers: Steps Towards Participation in Social Movements.” American Sociological Review 52.4 (1987): 519–531.

    DOI: 10.2307/2095297

    An important study examining mobilization as a stepwise process. Suggests that nonparticipation in a mass demonstration can be based on four main factors: lack of sympathy for the movement, not being the target of attempted mobilization, not being motivated, and the existence of barriers to participation.

  • Norris, Pippa. Democratic Phoenix: Reinventing Political Activism. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511610073

    Important book examining the conventional wisdom that citizens in many countries have become disengaged from political participation, particularly through traditional channels. It looks at evidence for electoral turnout, party membership, and other types of activism around the world and challenges the idea of decline.

  • Theocharis, Yannis, and Jan W. van Deth. Political Participation in a Changing World. London: Routledge, 2017.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203728673

    Useful short book providing an overview of concepts and theories of political participation, including protest participation, paying special attention to new and emerging forms of engagement. Puts forward a systematic and unified approach to explore political participation and offers new conceptual and empirical tools with which to study it.

  • van Stekelenburg, Jacquelien, Bert Klandermans, and Stefaan Walgrave. “Individual Participation in Street Demonstrations.” In The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Social Movements. Edited by David A. Snow, Sarah A. Soule, Hanspeter Kriesi, and Holly J. McCammon, 371–391. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2019.

    Useful handbook chapter summarizing works on individual participation in street demonstrations. Defines the phenomenon at hand, looks at individual demonstrators, addresses how to investigate participation in street demonstrations, and discusses methodological issues, challenging how scholars have studied the motives and recruitment techniques that bring individuals to a demonstration.

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