From institutional tipping points to affective and direct tips: mythical institutions, policy ineffectiveness, and nonlinear political dynamics in East Germany, 1989–1990

Moshe Maor*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Studies concerning nonlinear political dynamics, such as regime change, focus on macro-level structural factors and political agency. Tipping points are pitched mainly at these levels, and scholars therefore devote less attention to meso-level factors. To bridge this gap, this article develops a verbal model focusing on the collapse of mechanisms that sustain mythical state institutions as drivers of such dynamics. A mythical institution enjoys a reputation for power and influence among the public based on widespread and persistent stereotypical beliefs that embody a collectivity’s sense of origin and tradition, high performance and stability, and/or vision and mission. The argument advanced here is that nonlinear political dynamics may occur when the collapse of such mechanisms reflects on the unquestioned legitimacy that the mythical state institution enjoys, creating massive embarrassment for the regime because its mythical institution’s status requires government intervention to prevent believers from “fleeing” and/or revolting. This, in turn, undermines or debunks this institution’s myth, thereby generating high levels of anxiety, fear, anger, or other (mixes of) emotions. Which emotional process dominates depends on which reaction is stronger at the moment in question. When the level reaches an affective tipping point, citizens begin to update their evaluations and consider new information. This leads to behavioral convergence (e.g., mass protest, mass emigration, violence), which is in turn accelerated when the regime’s counter-response is publicly perceived as ineffective, thus highlighting the irreversibility of this process. This argument is illustrated herein by examining the 1989 collapse of East Germany’s emigration restrictions system.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)449-467
Number of pages19
JournalPolicy Sciences
Volume56
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.

Keywords

  • Affective tipping points
  • Behavioral tip
  • Institutional tip
  • Mythical institutions
  • Nonlinear political dynamics

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