Free spaces are arenas insulated from the control of elites in organizations and societies.
In planning, this is related to “defensibility”.
A basic question is whether they incubate challenges to authority. We suggest that free spaces foster collective empowerment when they assemble large numbers of people, arouse intense emotion, trigger collective identities, and enable individuals to engage in costly collective action.
Fair enough. Now for the novel bit:
We analyze challenges to authority that invite repression: mutinies of regiments in the East India Company’s Bengal Native Army in India in 1857. We take advantage of an exogenous source of variation in the availability of free spaces—religious festivals. We predict that mutinies are most likely to occur at or right after a religious festival and find that the hazard of mutiny declines with time since a festival. We expect community ties to offer alternate avenues of mobilization, such as when regiments were stationed close to the towns and villages from which they were recruited. Moreover, festivals are likely to be more potent instantiations of free spaces when regiments were exposed to an oppositional identity, such as a Christian mission. Yet even free spaces have a limited ability to trigger collective action, such as when the political opportunity structure is adverse and prospective participants are deterred by greater chances of failure. These predictions are supported by analyses of daily event-history data of mutinies in 1857, suggesting that free spaces are an organizational weapon of the weak and not a substitute for dissent.