Social movements are essential to changes that happen in society in terms of structure and values. Various theories make effort to explain the mindset, conditions, and actions that render social movements successful in achieving their goals and objectives. One such theory is the political opportunity theory of social movement. According to the theory, for a social movement to achieve its objectives, political opportunities for change must be present (Buechler, 2016). Buechler elucidates that social movements strive to make changes through existing political structures and processes.
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The political opportunity theory of social movement outlines five key components that affect the success or failure of social movements. The components include (1) political opportunities, (2) mobilizing structures, (3) framing processes, (4) protest cycles, and (5) contentious repertoires. The most important aspect of the theory is political opportunities (Buechler, 2016). According to Staggenborg (2016), without political opportunities within the existing political system, social movements cannot succeed. Opportunities may arise from different aspects including division among leaders, broadening of political enfranchisement to groups that have been historically excluded, loosening of repressive political systems, et cetera.
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The political opportunity theory of social movements has three key limitations. First, the theory excessively emphasizes structural factors (Caruso, 2015). According to Caruso, this can lead to overlooking mobilization factors. Second, the theory comprises too many variables and dynamics hence rendering it a stretched category. Third, the theory is non-dialect in nature in that it views institutions and power merely as negative constraints. As such, the model can only favor social movements through their weakening and not as processes that can induce ideas, symbols, and actions that social movements can appropriate (Caruso, 2015). Despite its limitations, the political opportunity theory of social movements is considered the core theory of social movement (Buechler, 2016). Thus, it is significantly important to the study of social movements.
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