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Coalition, or Death

An immigrant advocacy organization in town recently hired an consultant whom it hoped would cast an impartial eye and help it to improve organizational effectiveness. The consultant's recommendation: forget about coalitions. So what's wrong with coalitions? They're expensive. They're time-consuming, organizationally demanding, resource-intensive, emotionally challenging, and they tend to dampen, divert, or change an organization's goals. That's the damning decision this consultant offered and the organization accepted, and, in my mind, I imagine it did so gleefully. After all, what organizational leader doesn't want to do it her way, to compromise with no one, and avoid the management problems and messy diplomacy of interorganizational networks? But aren't organizational coalitions the only way that a splintered opposition can form a powerful and effective front? This seems to be the assumption of some authors I've been reading lately (Maryjane Osa, Mario Diani). For instance, the late Great Alberto Melucci (1996) argued (with his typical flare for obfuscation) that social movements face a persistent internal tension: "[T]he need to ensure the survival of the [social movement] by means of asymmetry-producing functions is flanked by the impossibility of rendering this asymmetry explicit throguh its formalization , since, should this happen, the solidarity and the interpersonal relations are subjected to the threat of breakdown" (p. 345). In other words, don't let the coalition recognize it's differences lest the cozy maternal bonds of collectivism should shatter into an organization for every opinion and every issue. Coalition, or death. To her credit, Osa (2003) goes beyond assuming and examines the effects on mobilization success of changing network structures among oppositional groups. Comparing two protest waves in authoritarian Poland (1966-70 and 1976-81) she finds evidence that a strong coalition of organizations in the second period led to the the successful formation of the powerful Solidarity trade union. She finds that in the second period key religious organizations "acted to anchor to the opposition domain and provide a foundation for growth and diversification" (p. 101); that civic organizations committed to coalition-building occupied central positions in the organizational field; and the radical flank of the organizational field served to divert the authorities' repressive resources away from more centrist oppositional groups. Anheier (2003) also provides some evidence that dense interorganizational relations characterized the organizational field that eventually coalesced as the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany. Is coalition-building expensive and time-consuming? Yes, of course, but can we afford to abandon it? I intend to cast an eye to the literature that the consultant drew from when he or she decided that a diverse and atomistic social movement is an effective one.

“Coalition, or Death”