Comparison of the Womens Movement in Eastern Germany and the Czech Republic

Seminar Paper, 2004

20 Pages, Grade: B


Table of Contents


1. Theoretical Background
1.1 Political Opportunity Structure
1.2 Framing

2. Methodology

3. A Comparison of the Women’s Movement in Eastern Germany and the Czech Republic
3.1 The Women’s Movement in Eastern Germany
3.1.1 Testing Hypothesis: Political Opportunity Structure
3.1.2 Testing Hypothesis: Framing
3.2 The Women’s Movement in the Czech Republic
3.2.1 Testing Hypothesis: Political Opportunity Structure
3.2.2 Testing Hypothesis: Framing

4. Conclusion



As a prototypical image of social movements, we might be reminded of strong forms of protest– “we tend to associate collective mobilization with speeches, raised fists, joyous or angry voices, banners and flags flapping in the wind. We expect moving gestures” (Flam 2002: 4). Assuming this perspective, there is little protest in the Czech Republic or the New Länder in Germany today. This observation applies above all to the women’s movement which is characterized by “institutionalisation without mobilization” (ibid.: 5). In both countries, the women’s movement had its peak between 1989 and approximately 1993, but seems to suffer from a “mobilization fatigue” now. So can we still speak of social movements, if there is no mobilization? In order to answer this question we have to take a closer look at the specific characteristics of social movements. An alternative view suggests that the basic repertoire of protest has become modified in the second part of this century (ibid.). In liberal democratic states the initially powerless activists are no longer confined to private or public spaces – a partial transformation and shift of collective protest has taken place. This perspective completely reverses the picture of lethargic protest. Endeavouring to consolidate and to professionalize themselves, activists learn to use resources and modern technology to communicate with each other and the public and also how to survive in new party democracies. Among their other main activities we can find out-reach, mutual help and assistance programmes, lobbying, critical scientific reporting and, when possible, negotiations with government and politicians (ibid.). In sum, following Flam (2002), I define social movements as social agents who take advantage of and command resources in order to convey issues to the public and to influence the agenda in their polity.

As far as the question of the political influence exercised by social movements is concerned, the relation between the movements and the corresponding state within whose territory they operate comes into focus. However, the question of access and political influence is related to social movements which have already gained a certain degree of public and political recognition. Movements which still struggle for it face multiple tasks: they have to construct their own collective identity, convince the public of the importance and appropriateness of their issues and finally struggle for a set of rights from the state. These movements are engaged in the politics of recognition (ibid.).

Dissident movements in East Germany and Czechoslovakia were restricted to a limited group of intellectuals and did not face much societal support. For this reason dissident activities emerged in the form of subcultures. In the transition years 1989-1990 different developments came about: the East German and Czechoslovak party-states were confronted with mass demonstrations before they fell. In East Germany dissidents had to fight for the recognition of the reform-wing of the Communist party but finally managed to meet party reformers at the Round Table talks. In Czechoslovakia mass demonstrations led to a long overdue dissident’s recognition that found expression in seats at the negotiation tables. Some of the leading dissidents of the past are now also found in what is conventionally understood as the social movements. “They join hands with old and new movement activists” (Flam 2002: 3), who are essentially involved in women’s, environmental, gay-lesbian or other “movement” issues.

This paper deals with the women’s movements as a specific form of social movements in Eastern Germany and the Czech Republic. Unofficial women’s movements were rather modest in Czechoslovakia before 1989 – in contrast to East Germany, where female dissidents organized separately from male dissidents already in the early 1980s and were important initiators of the events of 1989 and participated in the Round Table talks. The question which arises is whether and how these reborn civil societies would make use of new opportunities – the concept of political opportunity structure will serve as theoretical background. Furthermore, this paper draws upon the analytical notion of framing to examine the East German and Czech post-Communist encounter with Western feminism.

1. Theoretical Background

The political opportunity approach and framing serve as the theoretical background of this paper and will be explained in more detail below. These two approaches shall reflect that an adequate explanation of macro-sociological events – the makings of women’s movements in Eastern Germany and the Czech Republic – requires a perspective which is related to “structure“and “agency”-oriented facts. Therefore I will discuss both the political fields, analysing if they offered certain opportunities for a movement formation or extension, and the framing efforts of the movement activists. However, the analysis of frames in each country does not make the claim to be all comprising but is rather a selection of several frames that were/are applied in each country; as the inclusion of further aspects would go beyond the scope of this paper.

1.1 Political Opportunity Structure

The concept of political opportunity structure was introduced by Peter Eisinger in 1973, as he took up the notion of Tocqueville that revolts emerge when a closed system of opportunities has begun to open – and not when people are most oppressed by the system (Tarrow 1991). So the starting point of this approach is the opening of a broader set of the political-institutional structures as the context, which offer possibilities and “shape the prospects for collective action and the forms movements take” (McAdam, McCarthy and Zald 1996: 3). The concept of political opportunity implies “consistent – if not necessarily formal or permanent – dimensions of the political environment that provide incentives for collective action by affecting people’s expectations for success or failure […]”; thus, resources external to the group function as a trigger mechanism (Tarrow 1998: 76-77). Mobilization is considered as a collective response to generally expanding political opportunities, in which the costs and risks of collective action are lowered and the potential gains increase (Tarrow 1991). McAdam (1996: 27) provides a “highly consensual list of dimensions of political opportunity” which includes the following aspects: the relative openness or closure of the institutionalised political system, the stability or instability of that broad set of elite alignments that typically characterize a polity, the presence or absence of elite allies and the state capacity and propensity of repression.

Analyzing the scientific outcomes, inscrutability may become evident because scholars make use of differing adaptations of identifying political opportunities with different focuses and dimensions. This leads to the point – as William A. Gamson and Dacid S. Meyer (1996: 281) acknowledged – that this approach gets into danger “of becoming a sponge that soaks up virtually every aspect of the social movement environment – political institutions and culture, crises of various sorts, political alliances, and policy shifts”. However, the basic dimension of the changes is always the “formal legal and institutional structure of a given polity” (McAdam 1996: 27) in a national context. Examples for this would be a divided elite, a failed reform or the erosion of authority over the state bureaucracy (Oberschall 1996: 95).

1.2 Framing

American social movement theories could once be criticised for a narrow view marked by rationality that assumed that strategic choice was simply a matter of objective opportunities and organizational efficiency; nowadays it is largely acknowledged that a movement’s objectives, opportunities and choices are socially constructed and culturally variable (McAdam, McCarthy and Zald 1996). This ‘cultural turn’ in social movement theory emphasizes the role of the actors’ perception of political opportunities, their construction of collective identities and their definition of available choices (Ferree 2003).

Snow and his colleagues offered the most generally influential approach to the analysis of social movements as they have developed the concept of framing by elaborating Goffman’s notion of frame and applying it to the cultural contribution by movements. A frame denotes a “schemata of interpretation” that enables individuals “to locate, perceive, identify, and label occurrences within their life space and the world at large” (Snow and Benford 2000: 614). As frames help to render events or occurrences meaningful, they function to organize experience and guide action. Collective action frames simplify and condense aspects of the world in its complexity and so perform an interpretative function – but in ways that are “intended to mobilize potential adherents and constituents, to garner bystander support, and to demobilize antagonists”; they are “action-oriented sets of beliefs and meanings that inspire and legitimate the activities and campaigns of social movement organizations” (ibid.: 614). Hence framing is actively done by political entrepreneurs, rather than something that objectively exists (Saxonberg 2003).

An important aspect within the framing theory on social movements is the point that frames are closely related to political opportunity structures. Changes in structures encourage mobilization „not only through objective effects that they have on power relations, but by setting in motion framing processes that further undermine the legitimacy of the system“ (McAdam, McCarthy and Zald 1996: 8).

As not all framing efforts are successful, some enjoy popularity among the targets of mobilization, other efforts are rejected or even counter-productive (Ferree 2003). This aspect is reflected in the key term frame resonance. Frame resonance depends on the two factors credibility and salience. In order to create credibility, the gap between framing efforts and reality should be as small as possible. Salience is expressed in the importance or relevance of the topic for the targets of mobilization – with regard to the targets’ personal experiences and the target group’s dominant world view. The more credible and individually and culturally salient the framing efforts are, the more likely action mobilization will occur (Benford and Snow 2000). However, the way an issue is framed and the question if the framing efforts will be resonant are related to the values the target group already has.

Nevertheless, the choice of the most resonant framing is not compulsory, as Ferree (2003: 305) points out: “the gradient of opportunity still allows actors to opt for radicalism rather than resonance”. Although resonant ideas may meet with a certain amount of approval with the majority and offer conventional forms of success, such as winning popular support and elite allies, radical ideas are attractive to movement actors who seek a fundamental restructuring of ideas and interests in view of the issues they express and support. “When movements seek the advantages resonance offers they also accept costs, particular in marginalizing alternative frames, the speakers who offer them and the constituencies whose concerns they express“. (Ferree 2003: 306) Once ideas have taken a certain direction, they may also function as obstacles for other ways of thinking about a problem. The question, which ideas and interests are radical and which are resonant depends on the local predominant values.


Excerpt out of 20 pages


Comparison of the Womens Movement in Eastern Germany and the Czech Republic
University of Dalarna  (Institute for Sociology)
Why Revolt
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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553 KB
Bewertung nach Credit System: B entspricht 2 (Skala A bis F entspricht 1 bis 6)
Comparison, Womens, Movement, Eastern, Germany, Czech, Republic, Revolt
Quote paper
Christiane Landsiedel (Author), 2004, Comparison of the Womens Movement in Eastern Germany and the Czech Republic, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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