World Politics, Vol. 49, No. 1, pp. 31-55, October 1996
26 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2008 Last revised: 2 Oct 2013
How is one to understand contentious acts that open channels of participation while also making use of existing channels? Rightful resistance is a partly institutionalized form of popular action that employs laws, policies, and other established values to defy power holders who have failed to live up to some ideal or who have not implemented a popular measure. Analysis of opposition to cadre misconduct in rural China, supported by evidence from the United States, Norway, and South Africa, suggests that resistance can share a common dynamic despite its occurrence in strikingly dissimilar settings. Aggrieved individuals and groups turn to established principles to anchor their defiance; use legitimating myths and normative language to frame their claims; rely on existing statutes and government commitments when leveling their charges; and locate and mobilize advocates within officialdom. In differing contexts, a combination of rights talk, legal tactics, and open confrontation may induce power holders to surrender advantages in accord with principles that usually favor them. The cases examined further suggest that rightful resistance springs from rights consciousness and increases it and, finally, that it may be more consequential than most "everyday resistance" while remaining less risky than wholly uninstitutionalized defiance.
Keywords: protest, rightful resistance, China
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation