Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Claus Rerup


Social movements are extra-institutional forces that stimulate institutional and social change. Research has emphasized political opportunities, consciousness and organizational readiness as critical conditions for movements. In this thesis, I argue that such a conceptualization couches agency under structure, and does not explain how activists may create movement potentiality when none of the aforementioned conditions exist. This omission is significant because many movements can be traced to a pre-movement period when one (or a few) activist group(s) operated in movement-inhibiting environments to create conditions that enable future movements. In particular, the current literature lacks insights regarding the following question: How does a social movement organization (SMO) create a pre-movement, and avoid elite repression in a movement-inhibiting context? I use extensive primary archival data, complemented by interviews, to address this question. Specifically, I study how an American non-governmental organization, the Ford Foundation (FF), through its grant-making activities in China from 1975 to 2008, mobilized a diverse range of actors to seed the human rights movement in an authoritarian environment. I identify two strategic processes by FF: 1) a brokering process, in which FF transferred human rights-related meanings and knowledge from Western contexts to China, and 2) a scaffolding process, in which FF developed concept-espousing Chinese actors and linked them into networks. The first process generated movement consciousness, while the second process created movement-relevant actors and networks. Importantly, I find that FF was able to enact these two pre-movement processes without elite repression through “robust action” — namely, by developing double-sided actors who addressed elites’ needs of resolving institutional contradictions during China’s economic reform, but who also possessed human rights consciousness. This thesis contributes to social movement research by identifying SMO strategic processes in the pre-movement period and explaining how SMOs can respond to movement-inhibiting contexts with robust action.

Thesis-Yanfei HU-Aug 3 2016 Revised.pdf (2353 kB)
revised to conform to UWO format

Thesis-Yanfei HU-Aug 3 2016 Revised.pdf (2353 kB)