Sunday, December 15, 2013

Social Forces 92(2)

Social Forces, December 2013: Volume 92, Issue 2

Income Inequality

Convergence in National Income Distributions
Rob Clark
Previous studies have drawn attention to cross-national convergence across a wide range of topics. In this study, I test for convergence in a new empirical setting, examining the degree to which national income distributions have become more similar to one another over time. Using the Standardized World Income Inequality Database, I construct a set of samples that vary in longitudinal and cross-sectional coverage during the 1965–2005 period. The results show that national income distributions have converged substantially since the 1970s. Moreover, the rise in inequality among Eastern European nations during the early 1990s accounts for only about 30 percent of all convergence during the sample period. Additional analyses suggest that globalization may be playing an important role in homogenizing inequality levels. Finally, a decomposition of the convergence trend shows that income distributions are drawing closer together both between and within world regions. Overall, convergence is the product of (a) inequality levels rising among egalitarian societies; and (b) inequality levels declining in stratified nations, indicating a trend toward moderate levels of inequality from both directions.

Economic Elites, Investments, and Income Inequality
Michael Nau
Stratification research documents that income inequality is on the rise. Common explanations include changes in technology, demography, and labor market institutions. This study documents an additional driver of inequality that has been critical to the concentration of income among elites: income from investments. As they have turned to their investment portfolios for income, economic elites have become less reliant on the returns to labor. This finding indicates that the current debate over elite incomes, which tends to focus on the rise of “the working rich,” needs to be expanded to include the role of income-producing wealth. Additionally, such changes have left a dramatic imprint on the entire income distribution, with investment income contributing to a growing share of overall income inequality. While family structure, labor markets, and technological change remain important topics in the study of income inequality, the findings presented here underscore the additional importance of wealth and property ownership.

Intergenerational Determinants of Income Level in Finland
Outi Sirniö, Pekka Martikainen, Timo M. Kauppinen
This study estimates the level of intergenerational transmission of income in Finland and assesses the contribution of parental and personal socioeconomic and demographic characteristics to this relationship. We used a longitudinal register-based data set covering two decades and selected cohorts born between 1973 and 1976 for analysis. The results demonstrate strong intergenerationality, with those from the lowest and highest income quintiles being the most probable to remain in the same income quintile in adulthood. Approximately half of these associations are attributable to parental characteristics among men and by personal characteristics among women. Our results further show complex interactive effects, with higher-income parents unable to entirely protect their offspring from the negative impact that unemployment, single parenting, and living alone has on personal income levels. These findings demonstrate significant and multifaceted intergenerational continuities in income level even in a Nordic welfare state such as Finland.


Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else Is Doing It Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample
Rose McDermott, James H. Fowler, Nicholas A. Christakis
Divorce represents the dissolution of a social tie, but it is also possible that attitudes about divorce flow across social ties. To explore how social networks influence divorce and vice versa, we exploit a longitudinal data set from the long-running Framingham Heart Study. The results suggest that divorce can spread between friends. Clusters of divorces extend to two degrees of separation in the network. Popular people are less likely to get divorced; divorcées have denser social networks, and they are much more likely to remarry other divorcées. Interestingly, the presence of children does not influence the likelihood of divorce, but each child reduces the susceptibility to being influenced by peers who get divorced. Overall, the results suggest that attending to the health of one’s friends’ marriages may serve to support and enhance the durability of one’s own relationship, and that, from a policy perspective, divorce should be understood as a collective phenomenon that extends beyond those directly affected.

Population Size, Network Density, and the Emergence of Inherited Inequality
Reuben J. Thomas, Noah P. Mark
The inheritance of social standing from one generation to the next did not occur for most of the time that humans have lived, but became common only once human societies grew beyond a certain size. This paper offers a theory of how social inheritance may have resulted from this change in size, simply through the accompanying decrease in social network density. This decrease brought about differentiation in social network positions, creating structural advantages and disadvantages in group decision processes. As these processes determined social worth and leadership in societies, social network position became integral to social status and political prestige. And because network position tends to be passed from parent to child, social status came to be passed on, not (at first) through the inheritance of power or property, but through the inheritance of social connections. To illustrate the relationship between structural advantage and network density, we use a mathematical model of social influence in an array of small networks, as well as larger random networks to show how network position becomes increasingly determinant of social status as density decreases and network positions become increasingly differentiated. We use these results to further predict the conditions under which “who you know” matters more than “what you know.”

Do Social Connections Create Trust? An Examination Using New Longitudinal Data
Jennifer L. Glanville, Matthew A. Andersson, Pamela Paxton
The origins of generalized trust remain unclear despite its importance to social, political, and economic functioning. Social capital theory and previous cross-sectional research suggest that informal social ties may be a source of trust. Using the 2006–2008 General Social Survey panel, we assess the relationship between changes in informal social ties and changes in trust. As the first US longitudinal analysis to address this question, our fixed-effects analysis is not biased by time-invariant factors, such as personality, or other sources of unobserved heterogeneity. We further control for changes in religious attendance, television viewing, family structure, health status, and educational attainment. Our fixed-effects results, as well as results from an auxiliary cross-lagged analysis, yield support for the proposition that informal social ties enhance trust.


Micro- and Macro-Environment Population and the Consequences for Crime Rates
John R. Hipp, Aaron Roussell
Few studies have explored Louis Wirth’s propositions regarding the independent effects of population size and density, due to the conceptual difficulty in distinguishing between them. We directly address this conundrum by conceptualizing these as micro-population density and macro-population density. We propose two novel measures for these constructs: population density exposure to capture micro-density, and a measure of population within a twenty-mile radius to capture macro-density. We combine the theoretical insights of Wirth with routine activities theory to posit and find strong nonlinear effects of micro-density on crime rates, as well as the moderating effect of macro-density. We find strong evidence of macro social processes for population size, including that (1) its strongest effect occurred for crimes generally between strangers (robberies and motor vehicle thefts); (2) there was virtually no effect for homicides, a type of crime that often occurs among non-strangers. For micro-density, our findings include (1) strong curvilinear effects for the three types of property crime; (2) diminishing positive effects for robbery and homicide; and (3) a strikingly different pattern for aggravated assault. The effects for micro-density are stronger than for macro-density, a finding unexplored in the extant literature. We discuss the implications of these results within the context of Wirth’s theoretical framework as well as routine activities theory and suggest ways to extend these findings.

Immigrant Revitalization and Neighborhood Violent Crime in Established and New Destination Cities
David M. Ramey
Recently, scholars examining the link between immigration and crime have proposed an “immigrant revitalization perspective,” wherein larger immigrant populations are associated with reduced violent crime in aggregate areas. However, research supporting this claim typically draws on findings from research on heavily Latino neighborhoods in “established destination cities” and rarely takes into account the massive dispersal of immigrants across the country at the end of the twentieth century. Using a representative sample of neighborhoods in large US cities, this project analyzes violent crime rates for 8,628 census tracts, divided by racial and ethnic composition, nested within 84 cities, classified by immigration history or “destination” status. Findings suggest that the immigrant revitalization process may be heavily contingent on neighborhood- and city-level context. Specifically, neighborhoods with relatively small and recent immigrant populations may rely on receptive contexts provided by established destinations to revitalization neighborhoods and contribute to lower violent crime rates.


Emigration from China in Comparative Perspective
Yao Lu, Zai Liang, Miao David Chunyu
Comparative research on international migration has increasingly focused on immigrant integration rather than the process of emigration. By investigating the different streams of Chinese migration to the United States and Europe, as well as the different stages of Chinese migration to the United States, this study examines the way in which both receiving and sending contexts combine to shape the process of emigration. Using data from a 2002–2003 survey of emigration from China’s Fujian Province, we demonstrate that under restrictive exit and entry policies and high barriers to migration (i.e., clandestine migration from Fuzhou to the United States), resources such as migrant social capital, political capital (cadre resources), and human capital all play a crucial role in the emigration process. However, the roles of these resources in the migration process are limited when migration barriers are sufficiently low and when local governments adopt proactive policies promoting emigration (i.e., legal migration from Mingxi to Europe). Comparisons over time suggest that the importance of migrant social capital, political capital, and human capital has strongly persisted for Fuzhou-US emigration, as a result of tightening exit and entry policies. Despite these marked differences between Fuzhou and Mingxi emigration, the results also point to two general processes that are highly consistent across settings and over time—the cumulative causation of migration and the advantage conferred by traditional positional power (cadre status).

Community Poverty, Industrialization, and Educational Gender Gaps in Rural China
Hua-Yu Sebastian Cherng, Emily Hannum
This paper investigates community impoverishment and industrialization as explanations for educational gender gaps in rural China with analysis of a multi-province household survey and a longitudinal study of youth in one impoverished province. We consider attributes of poor communities that might shape gaps and the related roles of household and community poverty. Three major results emerge from this paper: community impoverishment, not industrialization, correlates with gaps; poverty and isolation shape gaps differently at different educational levels; and girls in relatively wealthy households fare better than boys at the transition to high school. Results suggest the importance of theorizing differences by educational stage and the need for research that conceptualizes the non-local dimensions of industrialization as potential considerations in educational decisions.


The Hidden Costs of Contingency: Employers’ Use of Contingent Workers and Standard Employees’ Outcomes
David S. Pedulla
The rise of contingent employment relations has been one of the most profound shifts in the US economy over the past forty years. While recent scholarship has begun to examine the consequences of organizations’ use of contingent workers for the full-time, standard employees in those workplaces, important limitations remain in this line of research. First, much of the research in this area relies on small, nonrandom samples of organizations and data that are decades old. Second, limited attention has been paid to the mechanisms through which the use of contingent workers shapes standard employees’ attitudes and outcomes. Finally, the varied consequences of using different types of contingent workers have been underdeveloped in the literature. In this article, we address these limitations of existing research, contributing insights about the differential consequences of how organizations obtain flexibility as well as the nature of job insecurity in the “new economy.”

What’s So Special about STEM? A Comparison of Women’s Retention in STEM and Professional Occupations
Jennifer L. Glass, Sharon Sassler, Yael Levitte, Katherine M. Michelmore
We follow female college graduates in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 and compare the trajectories of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related occupations to other professional occupations. Results show that women in STEM occupations are significantly more likely to leave their occupational field than professional women, especially early in their career, while few women in either group leave jobs to exit the labor force. Family factors cannot account for the differential loss of STEM workers compared to other professional workers. Few differences in job characteristics emerge either, so these cannot account for the disproportionate loss of STEM workers. What does emerge is that investments and job rewards that generally stimulate field commitment, such as advanced training and high job satisfaction, fail to build commitment among women in STEM.


The Influence of Political Dynamics on Southern Lynch Mob Formation and Lethality
Ryan Hagen, Kinga Makovi, Peter Bearman
Existing literature focuses on economic competition as the primary causal factor in Southern lynching. Political drivers have been neglected, as findings on their effects have been inconclusive. We show that these consensus views arise from selection on a contingent outcome variable: whether mobs intent on lynching succeed. We constructed an inventory of averted lynching events in Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina—instances in which lynch mobs formed but were thwarted, primarily by law enforcement. We combined these with an inventory of lynching and analyzed them together to model the dynamics of mob formation, success, and intervention. We found that low Republican vote share is associated with a higher lethality rate for mobs. Lynching is better understood as embedded in a post-conflict political system, wherein all potential lynching events, passing through the prism of intervention, are split into successful and averted cases.

Welfare States and the Redistribution of Happiness
Hiroshi Ono, Kristen Schultz Lee
We use data from the 2002 International Social Survey Programme, with roughly 42,000 individuals nested within twenty-nine countries, to examine the determinants of happiness in a comparative perspective. We hypothesize that social democratic welfare states redistribute happiness among policy-targeted demographic groups in these countries. The redistributive properties of the social democratic welfare states generate an alternate form of “happiness inequality” in which winners and losers are defined by marital status, presence of children, and income. We apply multilevel modeling and focus on public social expenditures (as percentage of GDP) as proxy measures of state intervention at the macro level, and happiness as the specific measure of welfare outcome at the micro level. We find that aggregate happiness is not greater in the social democratic welfare states, but happiness closely reflects the redistribution of resources in these countries. Happiness is redistributed from low-risk to high-risk individuals. For example, women with small children are significantly happier, but single persons are significantly less happy in the welfare states. This suggests that the pro-family ideology of the social democratic welfare states protects families from social risk and improves their well-being at the cost of single persons. Further, we find that the happiness gap between high- versus low-income earners is considerably smaller in the social democratic welfare states, suggesting that happiness is redistributed from the privileged to the less privileged.


Intensifying the Countryside: A Sociological Study of Cropland Lost to the Built Environment in the United States, 2001–2006
Matthew Thomas Clement, Elizabeth Podowski
This study illuminates the systemic drivers of land-use intensification with the example of cropland lost in the construction of the built environment. The analysis integrates county-level variables from US government sources with data from the National Land Cover Database, which tracks permutations of specific land-use transitions over time. In a fixed-effects analysis, the area of cropland lost to the built environment is regressed on different measures of population and economic growth. Results indicate that natural increase and net migration differentially affect the loss of cropland at the local level across the continental United States, challenging the traditional focus in environmental sociology on overall population growth. This study also advances the concept of aristocratic conservation as a process by which increasing residential affluence slows down the intensification of land. The results of the analysis are discussed in terms of what land-use intensification means for environmental sustainability and town-country relations.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Social Psychology Quarterly 76(4)

Social Psychology Quarterly, December 2013: Volume 76, Issue 4 

Self-Esteem, Reflected Appraisals, and Self-Views: Examining Criminal and Worker Identities
Emily K. Asencio

Unpacking "Self": Repair and Epistemics in Conversation
Galina B. Bolden

Counting on Coworkers: Race, Social Support, and Emotional Experiences on the Job
Melissa M. Sloan, Ranae J. Evenson Newhouse, and Ashley B. Thompson

Volunteer Identity Salience, Role Enactment, and Well-Being: Comparisons of Three Salience Constructs
Peggy A. Thoits

The British Journal of Criminology 54(1)

The British Journal of Criminology, January 2014: Volume 54, Issue 1

Hot Pants at the Border: Sorting Sex Work from Trafficking
Sharon Pickering and Julie Ham
The role of borders in managing sex work is a valuable site for analysing the relationship between criminal justice and migration administration functions. For the purposes of this article, we are concerned with how generalized concerns around trafficking manifest in specific interactions between immigration officials and women travellers. To this end, this article contributes to a greater understanding of the micro-politics of border control and the various contradictions at work in the everyday performance of the border. It uses an intersectional analysis of the decision making of immigration officers at the border to understand how social differences become conflated with risk, how different social locations amplify what is read as risky sexuality and how sexuality is constructed in migration. What the interviews in our research have demonstrated is that, while the border is a poor site for identifying cases of trafficking into the sex industry, it is a site of significant social sorting where various intersections of intelligence-led profiling and everyday stereotyping of women, sex work and vulnerability play out.

‘In Exile Imprisonment’ in Russia
Laura Piacentini and Judith Pallot
This article considers the geographical dispersal of prisoners in Russia. The concept of ‘in exile imprisonment’ is developed to delineate an exceptional penal terrain. The authors examine the historical ‘traces’ of exile in Russian penal culture and argue that the persistence of ‘in exile imprisonment’ does not fit easily into official narratives about the development of penality in that country. The culture of ‘in exile imprisonment’ continues to impose limits on prison reform in Russia.

Criminality in Spaces of Death: The Palestinian Case Study
Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian
This study examines how Palestinian dead bodies and spaces of death in occupied East Jerusalem are ‘hot spots’ of criminality. The arguments raised challenge traditional hot-spot theories of crime that build their definition of criminality around official state statistics and information and visible spaces of crime. The paper offers a bottom-up analysis of crimes against the dead and their families in East Jerusalem, examining the manner in which modes of denial, the logic of elimination and accumulation by dispossession shape experiences of death and dying in a colonial context.

Revisiting the Gun Ownership and Violence Link: A Multilevel Analysis of Victimization Survey Data
John N. van Kesteren
The link between gun ownership victimization by violent crime remains one of the most contested issues in criminology. Some authors claim that high gun availability facilitates serious violence. Others claim that gun ownership prevents crime. This article revisits these issues using individual and aggregate data on gun ownership and victimization from the International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS). Analysis at country level shows that the level of handgun ownership is positively related to serious violence but not for less serious violent crimes. Multilevel analyses on the data from 26 developed countries show that owners of a handgun show increased risk for victimization by violent crime. High ownership levels, however, seem to diminish the victimization level for the less serious violent crimes for the non-owners.

Explaining and Controlling Illegal Commercial Fishing: An Application of the CRAVED Theft Model
Gohar A. Petrossian and Ronald V. Clarke
The study explores why certain fish are at risk of being taken illegally by commercial fishers. Fifty-eight illegally caught species were individually matched with 58 controls using a standard classification of fish. Consistently with the CRAVED model of theft, illegally caught species were more Concealable (sold through more ports of convenience), more Removable (caught with longline vessels), more Abundant and Accessible (to known illegal fishing countries), more Valuable (larger), more Enjoyable (more often found in recipes) and more Disposable (highly commercial). Fisheries authorities should: (1) focus on ports of convenience, (2) monitor longliners, (3) exert pressure on known illegal fishing countries and (4) educate consumers about vulnerable species.

The Imagination of Desistance: A Juxtaposition of the Construction of Incarceration as a Turning Point and the Reality of Recidivism
Michaela Soyer
This essay investigates the discrepancy between the negative impact incarceration has on life outcomes and offenders’ subjective perception of incarceration as a positive turning point. Building on three years of fieldwork with 23 juvenile offenders in Boston and Chicago, this essay contends that the institutional structures of juvenile justice encourage the teenagers to frame their incarceration a positive turning point. At the same time, the punitive framework of incarceration restricts the young men’s ability to exercise creative agency in relation to their desired non-deviant identity. Consequently, they are unable to develop viable strategies of action that could sustain desistance after their release.

Agreements in Restorative Justice Conferences: Exploring the Implications of Agreements for Post-Conference Offending Behaviour
Hennessey Hayes, Tara Renae McGee, Helen Punter, and Michael John Cerruto
Agreements are key outcomes in restorative justice conferences. However, there is debate over the effectiveness of such agreements to reduce post-conference offending. Research suggests that many young offenders are satisfied with their agreements and perceive them as fair. We know less about the linkages between young offenders’ experiences with agreements and post-conference offending. Drawing on observation and interview data from 32 young offenders who attended conferences, we found that nearly all young people felt their agreements were satisfactory and fair. However, most offenders felt that the agreement phase of the conferencing process did not have an impact on their post-conference offending behaviour. These findings further inform the debate over agreement requirements and have policy implications for conferencing programmes.

Is the Effect of Perceived Deterrence on Juvenile Offending Contingent on the Level of Self-Control? Results from Three Countries
Helmut Hirtenlehner, Lieven J.R. Pauwels, and Gorazd Mesko
The aim of this paper is to study the interplay of perceived deterrence and level of self-control in explaining individual differences in self-reported offending. Different theories of crime come to different conclusions in this regard. Some postulate independent negative effects of perceived sanction risk on offending (Deterrence Theory), while others assume that low self-control undermines the deterrent effect of legal sanctions (Self-Control Theory) or, conversely, that sanction threats are only relevant for individuals characterized by a lack of self-control (Situational Action Theory). Here, the question of the exact nature of this interplay is addressed from an empirical point of view. Based on three independent surveys of adolescents conducted in three European countries (Austria, Belgium and Slovenia), we examine whether juveniles with low self-control are more, equally or less susceptible to the deterrent effect of legal sanctioning. Our findings consistently support Situational Action Theory’s conceptualization of the linkage between self-control and deterrence. All three studies provide evidence that deterrent effects are greatest among adolescents of low self-control.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

American Sociological Review 78(6)

American Sociological Review, December 2013: Volume 78, Issue 6

The Returns to Criminal Capital
Thomas A. Loughran, Holly Nguyen, Alex R. Piquero, and Jeffrey Fagan
Human capital theory posits that individuals increase their labor market returns through investments in education and training. This concept has been studied extensively across several disciplines. An analog concept of criminal capital, the focus of some speculation and limited empirical study, remains considerably less developed theoretically and methodologically. This article offers a formal theoretical model of criminal capital indicators and tests for greater illegal wage returns using a sample of serious adolescent offenders, many of whom participate in illegal income-generating activities. Our results reveal that, consistent with human capital theory, important illegal wage premiums are associated with investments in criminal capital, notably an increasing but declining marginal return to experience and a premium for specialization. Furthermore, as in studies of legal labor markets, we find strong evidence that, if left unaccounted for, nonrandom sample selection causes severe bias in models of illegal wages. We discuss theoretical and practical implications of these results, along with directions for future research.

Redefining Relationships: Explaining the Countervailing Consequences of Paternal Incarceration for Parenting
Kristin Turney and Christopher Wildeman
In response to dramatic increases in imprisonment, a burgeoning literature considers the consequences of incarceration for family life, almost always documenting negative outcomes. But effects of incarceration may be more complicated and nuanced. In this article, we consider the countervailing consequences of paternal incarceration for a host of family relationships, including fathers’ parenting, mothers’ parenting, and the relationship between parents. Using longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, we find recent paternal incarceration sharply diminishes parenting behaviors among residential but not nonresidential fathers. Virtually all of the association between incarceration and parenting among residential fathers is explained by changes in fathers’ relationships with their children’s mothers. Consequences for mothers’ parenting, however, are weak and inconsistent. Furthermore, our findings show recent paternal incarceration sharply increases the probability a mother repartners, potentially offsetting some losses from the biological father’s lesser involvement while simultaneously leading to greater family complexity. Taken together, the collateral consequences of paternal incarceration for family life are complex and countervailing.

Community Social Capital and Entrepreneurship
Seok-Woo Kwon, Colleen Heflin, and Martin Ruef
The literature on social capital and entrepreneurship often explores individual benefits of social capital, such as the role of personal networks in promoting self-employment. In this article, we instead examine social capital’s public good aspects, arguing that the benefits of social trust and organization memberships accrue not just to the individual but to the community at large. We test these arguments using individual data from the 2000 Census that have been merged with two community surveys, the Social Capital Benchmark Survey and the General Social Survey. We find that individuals in communities with high levels of social trust are more likely to be self-employed compared to individuals in communities with lower levels of social trust. Additionally, membership in organizations connected to the larger community is associated with higher levels of self-employment, but membership in isolated organizations that lack connections to the larger community is associated with lower levels of self-employment. Further analysis suggests that the entrepreneurship-enhancing effects of community social capital are stronger for whites, native-born residents, and long-term community members than for minorities, immigrants, and recent entrants.

The Mechanics of Social Capital and Academic Performance in an Indian College
Sharique Hasan and Surendrakumar Bagde
In this article we examine how social capital affects the creation of human capital. Specifically, we study how college students’ peers affect academic performance. Building on existing research, we consider the different types of peers in the academic context and the various mechanisms through which peers affect performance. We test our model using data from an engineering college in India. Our data include information about the performance of individual students as well as their randomly assigned roommates, chosen friends, and chosen study-partners. We find that students with able roommates perform better, and the magnitude of this roommate effect increases when the roommate’s skills match the student’s academic goals. We also find that students benefit equally from same- and different-caste roommates, suggesting that social similarity does not strengthen peer effects. Finally, although we do not find strong evidence for independent friendship or study-partner effects, our results suggest that roommates become study-partners, and in so doing, affect performance. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that peer effects are a consequential determinant of academic achievement.

Worker Replacement Costs and Unionization: Origins of the U.S. Labor Movement
Howard Kimeldorf
The embattled state of U.S. labor has generated a voluminous body of research on the processes of deunionization contributing to its decline. Revisiting the less researched topic of unionization, this study explores the social conditions facilitating union growth during the labor movement’s formative years. Focusing on the first decade of the twentieth century—in many respects for labor, a period not unlike the present—I seek to explain the pattern of organizing success and failure across industries and occupations. I find that the most organized settings occurred where workers had greater disruptive capacities due to the high cost of being replaced during work stoppages. The highest replacement costs were associated with three conditions: scarcity of skilled labor, geographically isolated worksites that raised the cost of importing strikebreakers, and time-sensitive tasks that rendered replacement workers economically impractical. Workplaces that had at least one of these conditions formed the backbone of the early U.S. labor movement. The conclusion considers the impact of declining replacement costs on current challenges facing U.S. labor.

Alliances and Perception Profiles in the Iranian Reform Movement, 1997 to 2005
Mohammad Ali Kadivar
What accounts for the formation and disintegration of social movement alliances? The dominant approach in social movement studies stresses the role of political opportunities and threats in facilitating or undermining alliances between oppositional groups. This article argues, by contrast, that the convergence and divergence of contenders’ perceptions mediate between political opportunities and shifting alliances. Whereas previous studies conceptualize perceptions as global assessments of actors’ environments, I disaggregate three dimensions of the concept: optimism about state elites, optimism about state institutions, and optimism about contentious collective action. The Iranian Reform Movement of 1997 to 2005 offers a nearly ideal case for the study of perceptions and alliances, because it encompasses a variety of opposition groups whose alliances formed and disintegrated over the course of the movement’s rise and decline. This article examines shifting perceptions of opportunity among these groups and documents how these perceptions affected alliances, independent of state repression and groups’ ultimate goals.