Structure, Politics, and Action: An Integrated Model of Violent and Non-Violent Ethno-Nationalist Contentious Politics

Gregory Douglas Saxton
Submitted July 2000
Claremont Graduate University
School of Politics and Economics


The late 1980s and early 1990s witnessed an explosion of ethno-nationalist protest and rebellion in all parts of the globe. Most scholars attempted to explain this ethnic recrudescence with a mixed bag of socio-demographic and economic structural factors and political-institutional arguments. Previous studies, however, are hampered by a general inability to predict forms or levels of violent and non-violent nationalist protest activity. Building on the most important theoretical tools from the literatures on social movements and nationalism, I propose an alternative model in which structure, politics, and action assume equal roles in an interdependent causal system. Moreover, I hypothesize that violent and non-violent contention, though conceptually distinct phenomena, are the products of a fundamentally similar set of factors. In brief, I suggest that a shared ethno-linguistic identity gives groups of people the basis for organizational mobilization; "social mobilization" gives them the means for such mobilization; grievances provide the reason; and a series of political factors structure the opportunities of the mobilized groups to contend in a conventional, non-violent, or violent manner. At the same time, the political opportunities are themselves changed by the nature of contention.

Using three-stage least squares estimation procedures, I test this model of ethno-nationalist contentious politics in two different ways. First, I test the model cross-nationally using previously available data for 152 ethno-nationalist groups throughout the world from 1990 – 1998. Second, I test the capacity of the model to explain the magnitude of ethno-nationalist contention in one country over a longer period of time. Using a variety of data gathered during a research expedition to Spain, I replicate the statistical approach of the cross-national test in applying the model to the examination of seventeen ethno-nationalist communities in Spain from 1977 – 1996. The results confirm the central hypotheses of the theoretical model. Structure, politics, and action are indeed interactive in determining both violent and non-violent protest activity.



Gregory Saxton
Assistant Professor
Schulich School of Business
York University

Michelle Benson
Associate Professor
Dept. of Political Science
University at Buffalo, SUNY