Organizational Structure and Collective Action: Lineage Networks, Semi-autonomous Civic Associations, and Collective Resistance in Rural China

Lu, Yao; Tao, Ran

Existing research on the relationship between organizations and social movements typically focuses on organizations’ internal structure and explains the emergence and outcome of movements in separate frameworks. The literature also highlights a lack of organizational basis for collective action in non-democratic regimes. To bridge these gaps, the present study examines the distinct roles played by different organizations (embedded in distinct external structures reflecting state-society relations) in different stages of collective action (occurrence and success) in rural China. Using both quantitative and qualitative data, we study two types of organizations—first, informal lineage groups and second, semi-autonomous civic associations, exemplified by seniors associations. The results demonstrate that lineage groups serve as important mobilizing structures for collective resistance, but face limited success given their informal status and weak vertical linkages with the state. By contrast, seniors associations, which maintain close relations with authorities while conserving a high degree of autonomy, act as a genuine intermediary between government and aggrieved citizens, thus largely suppressing the occurrence of collective resistance. When collective action emerges, however, the associations can build on their legitimacy and vertical linkages to facilitate effective action. The findings provide a more nuanced understanding of the dynamics of contention in a non-democratic setting and the disparate roles different social organizations play in the process.

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American Journal of Sociology

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December 10, 2019