Research Topic

Pro-Democracy Movements in a Comparative Perspective

About this Research Topic

Why do political activists (and especially their movement’s leaders) fight against dictatorship and for political change even under high risk of imprisonment, torture or capital punishment? Given the repertoire of intimidation and repression available to authoritarian incumbents, fighting against their rule can come at a high cost, endangering the well-being of individual activists as well as that of their closest allies. The fate of pro-democracy activists in Belarus, Russia or Hongkong provide striking examples.

Scholars from different disciplinary angles investigate political activism in autocracies. Studying the emergence, and endurance of political activism and social movements, scholars from sociology and political science focus on political opportunities such as regime structures, socio-economic context, and external support, as well as pre-existing social networks, previous protest experience, and existing communication channels to explain political activism. Anthropologists and ethnologists investigate political activism as a socio-cultural practice that is strongly rooted in local contexts while being also mobile beyond national borders. Researchers in the field of political psychology prefer to highlight personality traits, values, attitudes, and self-attributed personality characteristics to study individual activism. This Research Topic intends to comprehensively analyze and explain the reasons, motivation and mobilization mechanisms of political activism and its leadership in autocracies for a broad social science audience.

This Research Topic aims to;
(1) shed new light upon conditions, reasons, motivation and mobilization mechanisms of political activism which challenges incumbent authoritarian rule;
(2) discuss the role of leadership for political activism in authoritarian contexts and critically investigates the role of external actors in pro-democracy mobilization;
(3) study not only the emergence and endurance of political activism, but also its effects on regime stability or change.

This Research Topic calls upon researchers from the social sciences (e.g. political science, sociology, and related disciplines) to propose original research articles upon political activism in autocracies (including competitive autocracies, hybrid regimes, consolidated autocracies) and the political, cultural, economic, and social conditions under which it takes place. The Research Topic contributions should focus on political activism that challenges authoritarian incumbents (as for example anti-regime movements, resistance movements, dissident networks, human rights movements, or pro-democracy movements).

Papers can deal with the emergence, endurance and outcomes of political activism in autocracies. Particularly welcomed are contributions investigating the internal organization and composition of pro-democracy movements (including gender relations), mobilization strategies (off-line and online, violent and non-violent), the role of leadership (in hierarchical and non-hierarchical movements), the interaction of activists with incumbent regimes, and the contribution of external actors to the empowerment of pro-democracy movements (e.g. international organizations, regional organizations, states and their agencies, NGOs, activists in other countries, and the like). We also invite contributions that tackle – theoretically or empirically – the distinction between explicitly pro-democracy movements that advocate a specific political program (and might not conceive of themselves as strictly oppositional) and movements that oppose a particular authoritarian or hybrid regime or political leader, without articulating a coherent political alternative.

Contributing papers offer cutting-edge research, based on up-to-date theoretical frameworks, most recent empirical research and methodologically sound analysis using a multitude of social science research methods. Qualitative, quantitative and mixed-method approaches are likewise welcomed. Research articles can include large-n & small-n analysis, single case studies as well as inter- and intraregional comparisons (including sub-national comparison). The papers should be jargon-free and easily accessible to allow for a scholarly dialogue beyond disciplinary boundaries.


Keywords: Activism, Pro-democracy, Autocracies, Authoritarianism, Social Movements, Political Psychology, Resistance, Human Rights


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Why do political activists (and especially their movement’s leaders) fight against dictatorship and for political change even under high risk of imprisonment, torture or capital punishment? Given the repertoire of intimidation and repression available to authoritarian incumbents, fighting against their rule can come at a high cost, endangering the well-being of individual activists as well as that of their closest allies. The fate of pro-democracy activists in Belarus, Russia or Hongkong provide striking examples.

Scholars from different disciplinary angles investigate political activism in autocracies. Studying the emergence, and endurance of political activism and social movements, scholars from sociology and political science focus on political opportunities such as regime structures, socio-economic context, and external support, as well as pre-existing social networks, previous protest experience, and existing communication channels to explain political activism. Anthropologists and ethnologists investigate political activism as a socio-cultural practice that is strongly rooted in local contexts while being also mobile beyond national borders. Researchers in the field of political psychology prefer to highlight personality traits, values, attitudes, and self-attributed personality characteristics to study individual activism. This Research Topic intends to comprehensively analyze and explain the reasons, motivation and mobilization mechanisms of political activism and its leadership in autocracies for a broad social science audience.

This Research Topic aims to;
(1) shed new light upon conditions, reasons, motivation and mobilization mechanisms of political activism which challenges incumbent authoritarian rule;
(2) discuss the role of leadership for political activism in authoritarian contexts and critically investigates the role of external actors in pro-democracy mobilization;
(3) study not only the emergence and endurance of political activism, but also its effects on regime stability or change.

This Research Topic calls upon researchers from the social sciences (e.g. political science, sociology, and related disciplines) to propose original research articles upon political activism in autocracies (including competitive autocracies, hybrid regimes, consolidated autocracies) and the political, cultural, economic, and social conditions under which it takes place. The Research Topic contributions should focus on political activism that challenges authoritarian incumbents (as for example anti-regime movements, resistance movements, dissident networks, human rights movements, or pro-democracy movements).

Papers can deal with the emergence, endurance and outcomes of political activism in autocracies. Particularly welcomed are contributions investigating the internal organization and composition of pro-democracy movements (including gender relations), mobilization strategies (off-line and online, violent and non-violent), the role of leadership (in hierarchical and non-hierarchical movements), the interaction of activists with incumbent regimes, and the contribution of external actors to the empowerment of pro-democracy movements (e.g. international organizations, regional organizations, states and their agencies, NGOs, activists in other countries, and the like). We also invite contributions that tackle – theoretically or empirically – the distinction between explicitly pro-democracy movements that advocate a specific political program (and might not conceive of themselves as strictly oppositional) and movements that oppose a particular authoritarian or hybrid regime or political leader, without articulating a coherent political alternative.

Contributing papers offer cutting-edge research, based on up-to-date theoretical frameworks, most recent empirical research and methodologically sound analysis using a multitude of social science research methods. Qualitative, quantitative and mixed-method approaches are likewise welcomed. Research articles can include large-n & small-n analysis, single case studies as well as inter- and intraregional comparisons (including sub-national comparison). The papers should be jargon-free and easily accessible to allow for a scholarly dialogue beyond disciplinary boundaries.


Keywords: Activism, Pro-democracy, Autocracies, Authoritarianism, Social Movements, Political Psychology, Resistance, Human Rights


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

12 January 2021 Abstract
12 May 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

12 January 2021 Abstract
12 May 2021 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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