The originality and potential contribution of the Swiss project lay both within the very specific Swiss political system that is included in the general comparative design, as well as within the specific research question focusing on how structural features of the political system (contextual factor 1) affect the mobilizing context (contextual factor 2) and how both of these contextual factors impact the individual protester level.
Including Switzerland in the comparative design strongly increases the variety in political systems in the sample. The Swiss case will provide a significant added value to the research, as Switzerland is a paradigmatic case in which open political opportunity structures (both in regard to the formal institutional setting as well as the prevailing strategies of the political authorities) often lead protesters to use moderate action repertoires. This has been shown in previous studies at the aggregate level (movement mobilization) (Giugni 1995; Giugni and Passy 1997; Kitschelt 1986; Kriesi et al. 1992, 1995). Here we would like to examine this effect at the individual level (movement participants). By comparing the Swiss case with the other countries, it will be in particular interesting to assess the impact of the presence of direct democracy as a main institutional channel for making claims addressed to the state or other targets (Giugni and Wisler 1999). Thus, the very open character of the Swiss political system makes the country an excellent case for comparison maximizing diversity. In addition, the fact that Switzerland is, in contrast to all other countries in the sample, not an EU member state increases its relevance in the comparison. While a significant amount of protests in the other countries is expected to be directly or indirectly targeting the EU, this should be different in the Swiss case. In view of the openness of Swiss society, our first research question reads: to what extent are Swiss protesters more likely addressing international power holders (rather than national ones) than those in other countries?
In addition to contributing to the general comparative project, strengthening its general analytical power and broadening its scope, the Swiss team will also address a specific research question within the general research question of the who, why and how of protest: To what extent and how do national political system features affect the more specific mobilizing contexts and how do both these context factors together impact on the features of the individual protesters? The main focus of the Swiss team, thus, deals with the macro level, more precisely with how different macro and meso contexts (the stable political system level and the more variable mobilizing context level) are interacting with each other. Of course, as in all individual country projects, the ultimate dependent variable is formed by the characteristics of the individual protesters. This is visualized in the figure below: the full line between ‘nation’ and ‘mobilizing context’ and the dotted lines between both ‘nation’ and ‘mobilizing context’ and ‘protesters’.
This research question places the Swiss individual project firmly within one of the most fruitful research paradigms in the study of social movements: the political opportunity structure (POS) approach (Kriesi 2004; Kriesi et al. 1995; Meyer 2004; Tarrow 1998). This approach attempts to explain the course and the success/failure of social movements by drawing upon certain features of the institutionalized political system. Its main limitation, however, is that it does not allow for making predictions about the individual level. In other words, it does not advance hypotheses about what kind of protesters will show up under what kind of circumstances. Yet, one could, for example, hypothesize that in open political systems citizens are more inclined to used moderate forms of protest. The aim of the Swiss individual project is precisely to fill this gap by extending the POS approach to make it suitable for individual-level predictions and analyses. In order to do so, the project focuses on the ‘mobilizing context’ (della Porta and Rucht 1995), a concept that captures intermediary factors relating to the demand and supply of protest situated between the typical POS variables (political system) and the individual level variables (protesters’ characteristic, here especially the who, why and how of protest participation).