The project proposes to study local activist groups in Moscow and Vilnius, active in the field of housing and local environment, thus contributing to the sparse literature on local urban activism in the post-Soviet context. The aim is to explain why urban social movements embrace particular strategies in their quest to influence policy decisions and defend their interests.
The theoretical and empirical contribution of the project is related to revising approaches to the political opportunity structure of local urban movements. This includes studying how different types of opportunities interact and how they impact on strategies of activists as well as on their outcomes. The key argument here is that a lack of political opportunity, such as for lobbying, may influence the adoption of litigation, while the choice of protest as a strategy may be influenced by poor political and legal opportunities. In cases where the state is weak and the population is politically passive, it can make sense for activists to concentrate on structures of ‘legal opportunity’ instead of ‘political opportunity’. Addressing the legal opportunity coupled with ‘discursive opportunity’ as something potentially able to replace the political opportunity in activists’ strategic choices, and focusing on less studied local urban movements in Moscow and Vilnius, this project thereby attempt at expanding the traditional research agenda and achieving new results. Moscow and Vilnius (that stood for a similar picture twenty years ago) currently represent different combinations of opportunity structures, which will enable us to make an interesting comparison of opportunities, strategies chosen as well as outcomes of collective action. We will study small Moscow-based activist groups that are part of a citywide social movement, addressing a variety of problems, from advocating housing rights and resisting new developments in the city centre to preventing illegal privatization and land use.
The Vilnius-based project will focus on activists groups that address such problems as restitution of property, environmental issues and other urban sustainability issues (community associations, Green movement club’s activities in Vilnius and the Jewish community in Vilnius). In terms of data collection methods, we shall use semi-structured interviews with activists, their leaders and decision-makers. In addition we will also employ media analysis, participant observation and comparative analysis.