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Rethinking the Legislative Process: "Buffering Opportunities" as Limits of Social Movement Influence in Environmental Policymaking

Sat, August 20, 8:30 to 10:10am, TBA


To what extent do professionalized social movement organizations (SMOs) influence public policy development? How might their involvement change throughout the multi-stage legislative process? These questions have long perplexed political sociologists and social movement scholars. We want to understand when, and how, movements matter, but the complexities of the legislative process itself, and the difficulty of disentangling the multiple interests that simultaneously converge on moving legislation, have presented serious methodological challenges. Employing a novel research design, I trace the dynamic influence of a coalition of environmental advocacy organizations seeking to move an ambitious climate bill through the legislature of a politically progressive state. Combining a close reading of each draft of the legislation with 33 interviews with the key players (beyond just the social movement actors) involved in its development, I advance a theory of “buffering opportunities” within the legislative process by which elite decision-makers buffer their bills-in-development from direct SMO influence. I show how the details of legislation matter, and how changes in them can be used to gauge changes in SMO influence over time. My findings have implications for environmental policymaking specifically and for political process theory more generally.