Contention in the form of protests, riots, and direct action is a central political practice in contemporary democracies. It is also a staple of sociological analysis, after slowly crystallizing as a distinct object of analysis from the 1970s onward. Lately, however, it has become unclear what this distinctiveness consists of and how it may help guide studies of contention: What distinguishes contention from other practices? I argue that contention can be seen as an ontologically distinctive experience. What sets this experience apart is that it expresses a potential for conflict that underlies all social formations. We can take these expressions of conflict as objects of analysis. This means asking how the conflict expressed in contentious practices is ascribed meaning. I develop this perspective theoretically and show how it may facilitate new empirical analyses of contention’s boundaries, its relation to truth, and ethical relations in contention.