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Strategic Behavior of Political Groups

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This ThesisWiki will serve as a platform to interactive research if you want to comment, please follow this link to add your comments. I am presently working on a PhD thesis in which I am comparing Singapore with Hong Kong. (Comparison) I hope that with many contributions this project can become more than just an individual matter. My profile can be found here: About Stephan Ortmann.


  • What is the reason for political stability in Singapore and Hong Kong despite rapid economic modernization, tremendous social changes and the development of political opposition?
  • How do elite and oppositional behavior contribute to the stability of small non-competitive, partially pluralist regimes?
  • What accounts for the development of pressure groups (rising social movements) and their occasional successes in Hong Kong in the 1970s?
  • How can we explain the return of oppositional parties in Singapore and why have they failed to capitalize on the rising political opportunities in the 1980s and early 1990s?

Conceptional Overview

The focus of this thesis will be on the Political Process Model as developed by Doug McAdam. It will combine the idea of social movements as mass based phenomena with the theory of the interplay between political elites in the political process. Groups such as professionals, industrialists, workers, etc. are the basis of political groups in this system. The tactics and goals of both the challenger groups (oppositional groups) and the member groups (governing groups) are important for understanding the interaction between the two. The interaction is not stable but depends on the:

  • indigenous organizational strength, including institutionalization (background condition)
  • structure of political opportunities (subject to changes over time)
  • level of group consciousness (dependent on group interaction)

Organizational Strength

The historical developments and the institutional setting circumscribe the strength of the organization of the governing groups and the challenger groups. Organizational strength provides the basis for the development of social movements and it tends. Without a certain organizational basis, opposition tends to results in relatively unorganized (anomic) riots (see Hong Kong riots of 1966).

Changing Political Opportunties

Political opportunities give rise to social movements and insurgency. Social processes, such as industrialization and modernization, indirectly influence the development of insurgency by changing the existing power relationships.

  • Shifts improve the chances of protest by decreasing the power discrepancy
  • Improved position of challenger groups makes repression more costly

Level of Group Consciousness

This part analyzes the cognitive aspects of the interaction between ruling elite groups and oppositional groups. In order to understand group behavior, it is crucial to conceptionalize the perceptions of group members of their environment, their opponents and themselves. This will be done with ideal typical images that describe the prevailing emotions that influence the behavior pattern of these groups.

This is especially important for social movements. As Cottam and Cottam write: "Clearly, simply belonging to a group does not mean people will engage in collective action. Group, or collective, action occurs when group membership is high, when membership is associated with positive or negative evaluations, and when there is emotional investment in the group." (Cottam and Cottam, 2001, p. 100).

The more cohesive a group is the stronger is its identity. Resources (such as financial assets, intelligence, etc.) give the group the capability to act strategically within the system. Its actions can be determined by establishing the image that the group has of another group. Images can be that of an ally (or potential coaalition partner), that of an enemy (for example two parties of equal strength), that of benevolent autocrat (in tradtional image theory called imperialist), that of the inferior population (in tradtional image theory labelled the colonial image), the rogue and the barbarian image.

More ideas: The Identity of Groups.

There are many potential aspects that influence group behavior. Rational choice theory in my opinion does not adequately address the reasons for the groups willingness to engage in conflict. While rational interests (such as the appropriation of some material or idealistic benefit) are motivating factors that influence a strategy, the influence of emotions on the perception of groups and its members has an important influence on group behavior.

Tactics and Goals of Political Groups

Based on the social movement theory by Doug McAdam, I have conceived the major tactics and goals of governmental (elite) groups and oppositional (challenger) groups. Find out more at Behavior of Political Groups.

Political Groups in Singapore and Hong Kong

The Elite in Singapore can be considered as a cohesive group concentrated around a core elite (mainly under Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Hsien Loong, Goh Chok Tong, etc.)

The Singaporean Opposition is marginalized and also split into various small parties. There is no competition for power. Most members of the opposition prefer to influence the political system by working within the rules, even though the political rules are greatly stacked against them.

For more information: List of Political Groups in Singapore.

The Hong Kong elite (1970s)

The Hong Kong opposition (1970s)

For more information: List of Political Groups in Hong Kong.

Relevant Literature

  • Alexander, Michele G., Shana Levin and P. J. Henry. 2005. "Image Theory, Social Identity, and Social Dominance: Structural Characteristics and Individual Motives Underlying International Images," in Political Psychology 26:1. 27-45.
  • Cottam, Martha et.al. 2004. Introduction to Political Psychology. Mahwah and London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
  • Cottam, Martha L. and Richard W. Cottam. 2001. Nationalism and Politics: The Political Behavior of Nation States. Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner.
  • Goodwin, Jeff, James M. Jasper, and Francesca Polletta. 2001. Passionate Politics: Emotions and Social Movements. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
  • McAdam, Doug. 1982. Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970. Chicago: University Press of Chicago. (Summary)
  • Schubert, Gunter and Rainer Tetzlaff (eds.). 1998. Blockierte Demokratien in der Dritten Welt. Opladen: Leske & Budrich.

To recommend literature, please go to: Literature Recommendations

See also List of Academic Literature on Singaporean Politics and List of Academic Literature on Hong Kong Politics


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