9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN25 Social Movements

2009-09-04 09:00:00 2009-09-04 10:30:00 Friday, 4 September 09:00 - 10:30 Emotions, Identity and Mobilisation Building I, 1E5

Why Do People Join Protest Politics? The Impact of Activists' Cognitive Map for Joining Contentious Politics

Social movements theories was criticized for their structural and objective bias (Goodwin, Jasper, Poletta). Structural and objective dimensions dominated studies of protest politics, both at macro and micro level. From past studies, we have a clear understanding of who get involved in protest and how activists join contention. Individual resources and socialization processes have been identified as important social mechanisms for joining political activism. Social networks have also been identified as key processes for joining protest. However, scholars have neglected what activists have in their mind and how their cognitive world influences their participation. In other words, why do activists join protest remain understudied. The aim of the paper is to redress this pitfall by analyzing what protestors have in their mind and how their cognitive world favors activism. We discuss this theoretical questioning by analyzing a specific type of activists: activists who are engaged to defend others' rights and wellbeing. Are these people like the rest of us or do they have a singular cognitive map that favors activism to defend other's rights? From her study on Jews rescuers during WW2, Monroe (1996) argues that rescuers' cognitive map is a key variable to understand pro-social action. Jews rescuers had a self-extension of themselves and specific cognitions on others. They perceived a shared humanity where non-rescuers set barriers between individuals. By building on Monroe theory, the paper examines two types of cognitions: activists' representation of society and others, and activists' representation of political community. The questions are: (1) do activists have a specific representation of humankind (self-extension) that would explain their activism, and (2) do activists have specific representations of political community (and public good) that favors protest activity?

We study activists who are involved to defend migrant's rights (in Switzerland). First, we compare both dimensions of cognitive map with the whole Swiss population in order to grasp the specificity of their cognitive map. Second, we examine whether this cognitive map explains (and to what extend) participation in protest politics. We combine quantitative and qualitative data to examine activists cognitive map.