By Abdel-Jaouad Ouarraki
O’Brien and Li define Rightful Resistance as “a form of popular contention that operates near the boundary of authorized channels, employs the rhetoric and commitments of the powerful to curb the exercise of power, hinges on locating and exploiting divisions within the state, and relies on mobilizing support from the wider public.” I would like to explore whether this definition fits in to one of Thelen and Mahoney’s four types of change agents, and identify where the definition of rightful resistance might deviate from these four types. I will do this by comparing Thelen and Mahoney’s definitions of the Change Agents to the Chinese case of Rightful Resistance described by O’Brien and Li.
A quick look at table 1.3 that Thelen and Mahoney provide for an oversight of the different change agents, points to the subversives as the type of change agent that most likely fits the definition of rightful resistance. As “Rightful Resisters” resist the elite and have an interest in changing the law, but during this process stay within the formal institutional constraints in order to prevent straight out persecution. Rightful Resistance seems to fit the definition of subversives and the context of strong veto possibilities and a low level of discretion (see table 1.4) as this context resembles the Chinese case, in which the multiple layers of the Chinese Party bureaucracy provide for many veto points while the local county officials do not allow interpretations of the law that would limit their powers.
Hence, Thelen and Mahoney’s types of change agents in this case seem to have succeeded in capturing a type of institutional change agent in one of their categories as both the context and the broad definition of subversives fit the definition of rightful resistance.