From Grassroots Mobilization to Professional Protest: How ‘Ordinary Folk’ Become ‘Organized Folk’

Monday, 16 July 2018: 18:26
Oral Presentation
Amanda CROMPTON, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom
Justin WARING, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom
Social movements are usually characterised as collective social action, ranging from local ‘grassroots’ groupings to global networks. Interest in the mobilisation of social movements suggests the construction of a movement narrative is influenced by a range of resources, including those associated with the individuals that participate in collective action. For example, activists may bring specialist skills and resources to the movement that facilitate mobilisation, from rhetorical skills and political acuity, to technical competencies or social networks. Although many studies look at the mobilisation process, few have examined the specialist skills and competencies of key actors in the evolution of movements, including how individuals help a movement transition from ‘grassroots’ to ‘national’ political engagement. Developing new theoretical insight, we draw on ideas within the sociology of professions to analyse how activists draw on their professional background to influence the formation and development of grassroots movement, in relation to other actors both within the movement and the wider field. Our empirical case is the mobilization of grassroots protest against high-speed rail in the UK. The study shows that activists’ perceived professional background became integral to their positioning within the movement, as technical specialists, movement leaders, and representatives in political forums. In part, this reflected recognised professional attributes, such as the ability to command expertise or mobilise social networks, but in other ways reflected a particular ‘style’ or notion of professionalism that promoted the social legitimacy of the movement. As such, the internal dynamics and external representation of the movement was increasingly characterised as a ‘professional protest’ with actors establishing their position according to their past occupational experience, but also their ability to project a particular style of protest.