Social Cleavages, Social Movements, and Political Violence

Most societies are split along one or more lines.  Often these splits or cleavages become the society’s fault lines along which political views form.  Some of the more politically relevant social cleavages include: social class, ethnic, religious, regional, and coinciding or cross-cutting.  When studying countries, one should look at the mix of social classes, ethnic and racial groups, religions, and languages a country has.  The depth of the cleavage and the degree to which they separate people from one another, or form social boundaries, should be considered.  It is also important to consider how these cleavages are expressed in the political system, whether political elites come from one group or another, or if one group blocks other groups from participating in government. Social movements refer to organized collective activities that aim to bring about or resist fundamental change in an existing group or society. Members of social movements often step outside traditional channels for bringing about social change.   The success of social movements varies from case to case, but even if they fail, they often influence political opinion. Political violence is a response to existing institutions; it is difficult to pin down exactly how it emerges, what motivates it, and how states should respond.

Social Cleavages


Motivations for Political Violence
Explanation Reasoning Example
Institutional Existing institutions may encourage violence or constrain human action, create a violent backlash Presidentialism reduces power sharing and compromise and increases political polarization.
Ideational (having to do with ideas) Ideas may justify or promote the use of violence Some forms of religious fundamentalism; nationalism
Individual Psychological or strategic factors may lead people to carry out violence. Humiliation as a motivating force; a sense that one’s own beliefs are denigrated by society.

Motivations for Political Violence Activity


Regime Type and Terrorism
Regime Type Risk of Terrorism Result
Authoritarian Low The state can repress domestic terrorism
Democratic Moderate Civil liberties are likely to undercut public support for terrorism
Illiberal/Transitional High Weak state capacity, instability, and limited democratic institutions may generate opportunities and motivations for terrorism.

Citizen/State Relationships

Governments connect to their citizens in a variety of ways. By categorizing government/citizen relationships, we are able to compare between countries and note similarities and differences. For example, citizens in democracies generally relate differently than do citizens governed by authoritarian rulers. The categories we use are listed in the chart below:

Category Questions that determine relationship
Attitudes and Beliefs Do citizens trust their government?

What is the level of political efficacy among citizens?

Political Socialization How do citizens learn about politics in their country?
Types of political participation How active are citizens in the political process?
Voting Behavior Do citizens in the country participate in regular elections?
Factors that influence political beliefs and behaviors What cleavages are in the country? Do they make a difference in citizens’ political beliefs and behaviors?
Level of transparency Is the government open? Does it operate by keeping citizens informed about its operations, political issues and by responding to questions and advice?