Publication Details

Hess, D. & Martin, B. (2006). Repression, backfire, and the theory of transformative events. Mobilization: an international journal, 11 (2), 249-267.


Repression sometimes can lead to greater movement mobilization: repressive events that are perceived as unjust have the potential to generate enormous public outrage against those seen as responsible. One result of repression - backfire - can contribute to the understanding of the conditions under which some repressive events may become transformative for social movements. Three case studies that highlight the processes involved in backfire are examined: the 1930 Salt March in India, in particular the beatings at Dharasana, that mobilized popular support for independence; the 1991 massacre in Dili, East Timor, which stimulated a massive expansion in international support for East Timorese independence; and the arrest of alternative cancer therapist John Richardson in 1972, which led to a huge growth in the U.S. movement for alternative therapies. The cases generate a preliminary understanding of the potential scope of backfire, the processes involved in backfire, and new hypotheses.