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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

Street-level Autocrats: Individual Decisions with Collective Consequences

Alternative title: Diktatorens byråkrater

Awarded: NOK 9.7 mill.

The project is concerned with how the actions of the security forces are vital for understanding what happens when large-scale social movements challenge a regime, as well as what happens after an uprising or armed conflict has come to an end. During an uprising or armed conflict, when ordered to use force, members of the police and military do not always comply. If a sufficiently large share of the military and police decide to shirk or even desert and join the protesters, the days of the regime are likely to be numbered. The actions of these 'street-level autocrats' during the uprising or armed conflict also matters for the new regime's legitimacy and, as such, long-term stability. People's perceptions of the actions and whose side the members of the security apparatus were on are likely to have an enduring impact on their trust in both security apparatus, the state, as well as alternative sources of authority. Using both qualitative and quantitative research methods, coupled with new and unique data, including public opinion surveys in Armenia, Northern Ireland, and Ukraine, the project aims to build a better understanding of regime change and post-conflict stability. In 2019-2020, the project team has made headway in several aspects. First, the team has continued to collect cross-national, time-series data on security-apparatus defection during popular uprisings, adding to existing datasets on violent and non-violent resistance, which will allow for systematic empirical analysis of state-protester interactions. Importantly, and a significant addition to existing datasets, this data collection is disaggregating defection into types, actors, spread and location, and is expanding the time frame. Second, the team members have published both academic and popular media presentations related to the project, as well as presented their work ac academic conferences, thus starting to disseminate both theoretical and empirical findings to date. Drawing on insights from the project, the team members have contributed to debates about the social and political consequences of Covid-19, including states' imposition of restrictions on civil society, and also contributed to debates about the ongoing protests in Belarus. Third, the team developed the survey instrument, which was piloted on 30 respondents in Northern Ireland in autumn 2019, and developed a sampling strategy. The survey itself was rolled out in January 2020, but it had to be put on temporary hold with the emergence of Covid-19, as it was no longer possible to safely conduct face-to-face interviews (we have completed 200 of 1000 interviews). We will continue in 2021. Similarly, we have developed the survey questionnaires for Armenian and Ukraine. We were on track to conduct these surveys in spring 2020, but they have now been postponed to 2021.


The decisions made by individual members of a regime's security forces directly affect the ability of that regime to stay in power. Recognizing when security forces stay loyal and when they defect is critical for understanding both regime change and stability. We extend the study of military loyalty and ?street-level bureaucrats? beyond the familiar environs of Western public bureaucracies to study the security apparatus of autocratic governments (hence, ?street-level autocrats?). The central idea behind the notion of street-level bureaucrats/autocrats is that individual discretion and decision-making autonomy influence the manner in which policy is implemented and enforced. When ordered to use force to quell protests, members of the police and military do not always comply. Individual policemen and soldiers may refuse to follow orders or may even join the protesters. Our approach stands in contrast to existing research, which fails to adequately consider the motivations and actions of all actors within the ruling coalition, from the incumbent government down to the individual member of the security apparatus, such as the soldier on the street. Our approach also stands in contrast to the tendency to study either the opposition side or the incumbent side when analyzing failed or successful regime changes. We use a mixed-methods approach combining in-depth case studies, large-N quantitative analysis based on new data we collect, including public opinion surveys, as well as game-theoretical analysis. These approaches are complementary; the quantitative analyses allow us to identify general patterns across a wide set of cases, while the qualitative analyses allow us to test the causal mechanism. We propose that accounting for the actions of these street-level autocrats?the individual policemen and soldiers that make up the security apparatus?is fundamental to fully understanding both regime transition and the stability and legitimacy of the order that emerges.

Publications from Cristin

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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam