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Regularizing Rioting: Permitting Public Protest in an Authoritarian Regime

Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 8:No 2, pp 127-158

Posted: 26 Jun 2007 Last revised: 16 Sep 2013

Peter L. Lorentzen

University of California, Berkeley

Date Written: April 10, 2013

Abstract

Lacking the informative feedback provided by competitive elections, an unfettered press and an active civil society, authoritarian regimes can find it difficult to identify which social groups have become dangerously discontented and to monitor lower levels of government. While a rise in public protest is often seen as a harbinger of regime collapse in such states, this paper uses a formal model and a close examination of the Chinese case to show that the informal toleration and even encouragement of small-scale, narrowly economic protests can be an effective information gathering tool, mitigating these informational problems. The analysis demonstrates that protests should be observed most frequently where discontent is neither too high nor too low. This calls into question the common assumption in comparative politics that an increase in protests necessarily reflects an increase in discontent or the weakness of a regime.

Keywords: China, protests, riots, authoritarianism

JEL Classification: D72, D73, H77, P26

Suggested Citation

Lorentzen, Peter L., Regularizing Rioting: Permitting Public Protest in an Authoritarian Regime (April 10, 2013). Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 8:No 2, pp 127-158. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=995330 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.995330

Peter Lorentzen (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

210 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

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