2 May 2009

The 'voice' of protest and the 'exit' of emigration

I noted earlier today that there has been a fierce argument about whether it was those seeking to emigrate from the GDR that provided the final push that knocked over the house of cards, or the tens of thousands of demonstrators who took peacefully to the street to demand changes. This was also something that was the focus of a discussion with a friend originally from West Germany but who now lives in the East, and an East German who was heavily involved in supporting the critical groups within the church. My friend from West Germany reported that the West German media had focussed on the would-be-emigrants, while my friend from the East said that while many factors were involved it was impossible to overlook the role of the peaceful demonstrations.
One of the academic tools used to analyse the discrepancy has been the triad - Exit, Voice and Loyalty - by Albert O. Hirschman, originally drawn up to analyse the way that consumers react to a decline in, say, the quality of goods or declining organizations - exit (switching custom elsewhere) or voice (demanding that things get better). Loyalty to the organization in question is a variable that can moderate the choice of exit (making it less likely) especially if brand loyalty is strong and the barriers to exit high. Exit, Voice and Loyalty was published in 1970 but the basic approach seems to have immediate relevance to the situation in East Germany in 1989 - and Hirschman himself produced an essay in 1993 applying his anaysis to the GDR (Exit, Voice, and the Fate of the German Democratic Republic: An Essay in Conceptual History, in: World Politics, 45(2): 173-202).

The US sociologist Steven Pfaff has gone further with a book length study "Exit-Voice Dynamics and the Collapse of East-Germany", based on empirical research in Leipzig and Saxony. Up to a certain level, argues Pfaff, mass exit can stimulate the voice of protest, but that beyond that point, it weakens it by taking out of the situation the activists and other key individuals involved in protest: "... a repressive equilibrium creates a false sense of security for rulers. In East Germany, where both exit and voice options were long blocked by a consolidated hard-line regime, no widespread exercise of voice could be expected. But neutralization might have posed a threat. Poorly performing organizations are generally corrected only when exit or voice demonstrates the need for reform and empowers actors to make the necessary changes." (Source p.26)


Holy-Disorder said...

What is interesting about this is the third issue of loyalty and how those involved in using their voice to protest were loyal to a different vision of the future, those emigratin had loyalty to the vision offered by the west. It's a very interesting dynamic especially when applied to organisations as well as to countries

Post a Comment