Enabling Activist Resilience: Bystander Protection during Protest Crackdowns in Myanmar

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What accounts for the survival and long-term participation of activists in contentious movements under repression? I argue for the role of an important yet oft-neglected factor: protective support by civilian bystanders. I propose that, mainly motivated by victim-oriented sympathy, bystanders engage in high-risk protection that helps activists to escape crackdowns and bolsters their dedication to the movement. To test my theoretical claims, I examine hard cases for activist survival at the height of state violence during military rule in Myanmar between 1988-2010, with an original qualitative dataset consisting of oral history interviews and written accounts by more than 100 protest observers and former pro-democracy activists. The dataset presents an unprecedented number of voices from the average, non-contentious general public, which are mostly missing in existing research on social movements. This approach generates a fresh perspective to better understand opportunities and constraints around movement entrepreneurs in hostile environments.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAsian Politics and Policy
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)205-225
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

The work on this article was supported by funding from the European Union’s research and innovation programme HORIZON-WIDERA-2021-ACCESS-03-01 under grant agreement No 101079069, entitled The EU in the volatile Indo-Pacific region (EUVIP). Licensing terms: CC BY.

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Social Sciences - activist resilience, authoritarian repression, military rule, Myanmar, protest movement

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