The Volatility of Collective Action: Theoretical Analysis and Empirical Data

Winnifred Louis, Emma Thomas, Craig McGarty, Morgana Lizzio-Wilson, Catherine Amiot, Fathali Moghaddam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


Collective action is volatile: characterized by swift, unexpected changes in intensity, target, and forms. We conduct a detailed exploration of four reasons that these changes occur. First, action is about identities which are fluid, contested, and multifaceted. As the content of groups’ identities change, so do the specific norms for the identities. Second, social movements adopt new tactics, or forms of collective action. Tactical changes may arise from changes in identity, but also changes in the target or opponent groups, and changes in the relationships with targets and with other actors. Factions or wings of a group in conflict may in turn form identities based on opposition or support for differing tactics. Third, social movements change because participant motivation ebbs, surges, and also changes in quality (e.g., becoming more subjectively autonomous, or self-determined). Finally, political social change occurs within socio-political structures; these structures implicate higher-level norms, which both constrain and emerge from actions (e.g., state openness or repression). Our analysis presents idealized and descriptive models of these relationships, and a new model to examine tactical changes empirically, the DIME model. This model highlights that collective actors can Disidentify after failure (giving up and walking away); they can Innovate, or try something new; and they can commit harder, convinced that they are right, with increased moral urgency (Moralization) and redoubled efforts (Energization).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-74
Number of pages40
Issue numberS1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


  • activism
  • collective action
  • democracy
  • deradicalization
  • protest
  • radicalization
  • self-determination
  • social identity
  • social movements


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