Challenging legitimacy: Repertoires of contention, political claims-making, and collective action frames

Social Movements are informal networks of action which mobilize about conflictual issues, and are held together through shared beliefs and solidarity. Even though by definition social movements challenge their opponents’ legitimacy, questions of legitimacy have only seldom been addressed explicitly in social movements research. Nevertheless these questions were not absent in recent research. Only the terminology used was usually not that of legitimacy. Instead scholars have focused on repertoires of contention, on collective action frames and, more recently, on political claims making. The questions posed in this research, about strategies and tactics of social movements, about mobilizing potentials of specific frames, about coalition-building between social movement organizations, and about effectiveness and salience of political claims - can often be reframed as questions of legitimacy. With their performative acts and their political claims social movements assert legitimacy and challenge the legitimacy of authorities and other opponents. The article starts with a brief discussion of the literature that has explicitly addressed questions of legitimacy and social movements, usually in relation to new forms of governance, stakeholder representation and civil society. It will then focus on collective action repertoires and framing processes and argue that what is identified in the literature as recurring repertoires and successful (master) frames are in many cases successful attempts to delegitimize the movements’ opponents. A discussion of relevant research in this field will show that a comparably small umber of movement strategies, tactics, and frames can be identified that have proven to be particularly successful in mobilizing support for social movement and in delegitimizing their opponents.
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