Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 15 > Issue 3

A Model of Protests, Revolution, and Information

Salvador Barbera, MOVE, Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics, Spain, salvador.barbera@uab.cat Matthew O. Jackson, Department of Economics, Stanford University, USA, jacksonm@stanford.edu
Suggested Citation
Salvador Barbera and Matthew O. Jackson (2020), "A Model of Protests, Revolution, and Information", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 15: No. 3, pp 297-335. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00019002

Publication Date: 06 Jul 2020
© 2020 S. Barbera and M. O. Jackson
Social movements,  Civil conflict,  Political networks,  Game theory
RevolutiondemonstrationprotestsrevoltrebellionstrikeArab Springhomophily


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In this article:
Relation to the Literature
A Static Model as a Building Block
Learning from Others Prior to a Revolt, and the Impact of Homophily
Extensions of the Model
Concluding Remarks


A collective action or revolt succeeds only if sufficiently many people participate. We study how potential revolutionaries' ability to coordinate is affected by what they learn from different sources. We first examine how people learn about the likelihood of a revolution's success by talking to those around themselves, which can either work in favor or against the success of an uprising, depending on the prior beliefs of the agents, the homogeneity of preferences in the population, and the number of contacts. We extend the analysis by examining the effects of homophily on learning: people are more likely to meet others who have similar preferences, undercutting learning. We introduce variants of our model to discuss other ways of learning about the support for a revolution. We discuss why holding mass protests before a revolt provides more informative signals of people's willingness to actively participate than other less costly forms of communication (e.g., via social media). We also show how outcomes of revolutions in one region can inform citizens of another region and thus trigger (or discourage) neighboring revolutions. We also discuss the role of governments in avoiding revolutions and learning about their citizens' concerns; in particular, by observing the strength of protests and counter-protests.