Experiences of Participation in Collective Action

Research team: Avelie Stuart

Supervisor: Dr Ngaire Donaghue and Dr Emma Thomas

Date: January, 2011


The aim of this study was to examine the perceptions of both participants and non-participants in collective action (concerted efforts to bring about social/political change). The aim was to find out both the attractive and repelling aspects of collective action, in order to gain insight into why people who are concerned about socio-political issues may not get involved in attempts to bring about change. I was also particularly interested in whether people would report not seeing themselves as being the “right kind of person”.


101 (undergraduate and community) participants completed an open-ended survey, that asked them to describe what ‘interests’ and ‘concerns’ they had about their involvement in collective action. 64% female, mean age 32.5. Average frequency of reported participation was ‘every few months’. Most common collective action was signing petitions and donating money (80%), around half of participants had boycotted goods or companies, purchased fair trade goods or signed up to an online collective action group. 28% had attended a protest, and 17% of participants had joined an (offline) activist group. Responses were analysed thematically.

Results & Discussion

Three subsets of participants completed the survey – 1) People who were very experienced in collective action, 2) People who wanted to be more involved in collective action, and 3) People who were involved in a minor way and reported being satisfied with the level of collective action they participated in.

For the first group, they spoke in depth about their own personal experiences about some of the challenges and opportunities that collective action had presented them. They tended to state that everyone was capable of being involved, although some people had the characteristics that made them more determined and better leaders. The second group often spoke about wanting to be more involved, but didn’t know how or had trouble with the idea of being involved in crowds of protesters, in which they may lose their ability to share their own voice. Some people also reported concerns about the effect greater involvement might have on them, or how they were perceived by others. The third group typically reported greater levels of satisfaction about their involvement, and expressed the view that a great number of people all do their part was likely to lead to success.

The themes that were generated from this exercise that will be developed in future research were – 1) perceptions of incongruence between self and “activists”; concerns about “group fit”; and stereotypes of activists and protesters in particular.