Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 8 > Issue 2

Regularizing Rioting: Permitting Public Protest in an Authoritarian Regime

Peter L. Lorentzen, Travers Department of Political Science, University of California, USA, lorentzen@berkeley.edu
Suggested Citation
Peter L. Lorentzen (2013), "Regularizing Rioting: Permitting Public Protest in an Authoritarian Regime", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 8: No. 2, pp 127-158. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00012051

Publication Date: 25 Feb 2013
© 2013 P. L. Lorentzen
Public economics,  Autocracy,  Social movements,  Comparative politics,  Formal modelling,  Bureaucracy,  Civil conflict,  Game theory,  Political corruption,  Political participation


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In this article:
1 Introduction 
2 The Model 
3 Case Study: Protests in Contemporary China 
4 Conclusion 
Appendix: Proofs 


Lacking the informative feedback provided by competitive elections, an unfettered press and an active civil society, authoritarian regimes can find it difficult to identify which social groups have become dangerously discontented and to monitor lower levels of government. While a rise in public protest is often seen as a harbinger of regime collapse in such states, this paper uses a formal model and a close examination of the Chinese case to show that the informal toleration and even encouragement of small-scale, narrowly economic protests can be an effective information gathering tool, mitigating these informational problems. The analysis demonstrates that protests should be observed most frequently where discontent is neither too high nor too low. This calls into question the common assumption in comparative politics that an increase in protests necessarily reflects an increase in discontent or the weakness of a regime.