Gesine Fuchs

2011 Discursive Opportunity Structures

2011:   Discursive Opportunity Structures and Legal Mobilization for Gender Equality in Four Countries 1996-2006.

Legal mobilization in the courts and in political discourse has emerged as an increasingly important strategy of social movements that complements other political approaches. While strategic litigation is quite popular in some countries, movement actors in others have remained sceptical about the transformative potential of jurisdiction for structural problems. Which structural-institutional and sociopolitical factors can account for the different level of legal mobilization by social movements? Can legal mobilization contribute to social change? The paper looks into these questions by examining the extent and nature of strategic litigation for pay equity in four European civil law countries (Switzerland, Germany, France, and Poland). The central hypothesis is that different legal opportunity structures (material and procedural law, case law) and different discursive opportunity structures (values, norms and institutions that organize the discourse) affect different patterns of legal mobilization. Conducive legal opportunity structures (LOS) are a crucial precondition for mobilization and they are the result of past political conflict and historical developments. Where legal opportunity structures are inhibiting or negative, legal mobilization may nevertheless happen, if discursive and political opportunity structures are favourable and if scandalous cases are available. Discursive opportunity structures (DOS) are more diverse and multilayered. The paper looks into two aspects of DOS: mass media coverage and organizational features of DOS. Mass media coverage varies strongly between the countries and movement actors do not have much voice in it. Perceptions and experiences in organizations on gender equality are even more diverse, and strongly influence whether legal mobilization is seen as valuable strategy. Data comes from a research project, including court decisions, media discourse analysis and 60 interviews with activists and lawyers.



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