Exploring Protest Publics: A New Conceptual Frame for Civil Participation Analysis, in: Protest Publics
This paper addresses the conceptual problem of defining the origin, the structure and social foundations of massive and lasting peaceful street protests, which appeared spontaneously at the beginning of the new millennia in countries with very different levels of public wealth and socio-political development. Driven by different reasons, addressing different targets, these mass street actions have many common features that allow us to consider them a single phenomenon, which we define as a new type of social engagement, distinguished both from civil society organizations and social movements. This type of engagement is characterized by the formation and activities of protest publics, which can have deep and lasting impact on both society and policy process by transforming the public sphere through changing dominant public discourses. Such activities are largely based on a common demand of an ethical nature that can bring together many diverse social groups and mini-publics, focused on particular clusters of issues. The paper explores self-organized publics as collective social actors with unique features and capacities. It also develops a conceptual frame for protest event analysis as manifestations of protest publics, which allows us to identify the type of specific public assembled for each event, its “qualities of actorness” and its transformative potential. This conceptual frame is then applied to reconstruct the “Bolotnaya actions” in Moscow and the protests against construction of the Gazprom office tower in St. Petersburg, which makes it possible to compare the types of publics that were involved in those protests. The results include suggestions and theorizing protest actions based on the qualities of protest publics.