Focal Points, Dissident Calendars, and Preemptive Repression

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This article explains temporal variation in repression as a function of the “dissident calendar,” the set of events that serve as natural focal points for coordination. The core argument is that regimes can anticipate the events that create these focal points and engage in preemptive repression to survive their passing. This dynamic produces predictable, often cyclical patterns in repression. An analysis of dissident detentions in China from 1998 to 2014 shows that “focal events” alone appear to be responsible for more than 20 percent of dissident detentions over the analysis period. Such detentions tend to be shorter and rely less on formal criminal procedures, suggesting a “catch-and-release” dynamic. Additional analysis of detentions in Tibet shows how the calendar may vary by issue or group.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1032-1052
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • China
  • Tibet
  • authoritarian
  • collective action
  • detention
  • dissidents
  • focal point
  • human rights
  • mobilization
  • preemptive
  • repression


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