Sub-theme 04: [SWG] Organizations and Organizing in Social Movement Fields

Donatella della Porta
Scuola Normale Superiore, Italy
Klaus Weber
Northwestern University, USA
Mario Diani
University of Trento, Italy

Call for Papers

The organizational means through which collective action campaigns and large scale social movements get mobilized and coordinated have been a focus of research since the 1960s. A growing body of work at the intersection between organization studies and collective action research has developed on this topic (Weber & King, 2014). Analysts have, for example, sought to identify traits that distinguish social movement organizations (SMOs) from political parties or interest groups (Lofland 1996; Rucht, 1995), and organizing models that best serve aggrieved citizens’ needs (McCarthy & Zald, 1977; Piven & Cloward, 1977). While the debate on the organizational models for social movements is still open, scholars singled out a variety of organizational forms of collective action rather than a defining organizational model for social movements, or a most effective one (Snow et al., 2019, p. 8). Empirical studies also point to the heterogeneity in social movement fields seem to confirm this impression (see e.g., Diani, 2015; Kriesi, 1996; della Porta, 2007, 2015; Saunders, 2013).
The historical evolution of SMOs (by which in this context we mean simply “organizations engaged in social movements”, whatever their profile) has been similarly ambiguous. Research on SMOs in the Global North suggests a broad trajectory towards institutionalization, professionalization and bureaucratization, with the result of blurring the distinction between the organizational models of SMOs and NGOs (Bakker et al., 2013; Minkoff, 2002). The organization of many collective action fields in which movements contend has arguably followed a similar path, increasingly resembling settled industries with structured mobilization networks and institutional channels of contention (McCarthy & Zald, 1977; Meyer & Tarrow, 1998; Soule & King, 2015).
However, the view of a general transition of SMOs “from informality to professionalization”, or, in the case of fields, towards their segmentation in non-communicating niches (Diani, 2015), has come under scrutiny for a number of reasons. Some are related to the nature of contentious collective action as arising in waves (see e.g., Koopmans, 2004): while earlier protest waves (most notably those of the 1960s and 1970s) tended to institutionalize, recent developments have spurred new organizational models and new connections between ‘old’ and ‘new’ actors in collective action fields. Examples are found in the global justice campaigns of the late 1990s-early 2000s or the protest waves of 2011 and, indeed, 2019 (Almeida, 2010; della Porta, 2017; Rossi, 2017). Other factors are more context specific. Neoliberal developments and financial crises have reduced state capacity and cut access to institutional resources for SMOs, thus disrupting trends to professionalization while state repression has pushed towards more horizontal networks. And digital communication technologies have deeply affected organizing processes, facilitating the coordination of local campaigns and the emergence on a large scale of communities of practice/belief (Caiani & Parenti, 2016; Pavan, 2012). Some have gone as far as casting the rapid development of web-based forms of coordination alongside traditional bureaucracies as a paradigmatic move from “collective” to “connective action” (Bennett & Segerberg, 2013).
Recent trends indeed point to the persistent (or resurgent) vitality of grassroots forms of organizing, including some that are entirely online, and at their capacity to mobilize new constituencies, in fields that range from social justice and climate change to nationalist and right wing causes (della Porta, 2015). Loose networks of informal and participatory oriented groups have protested against the retrenchment of citizenship rights, and also experimented with organizing practices oriented at prefiguring alternative political and social future. Coupled with the destabilization of traditional political alignments in many countries, these developments have renewed questions about the changing profiles of specific organizations, and the overall structure of social movement fields. Contemporary movements invite, in other words, a renewed theoretical focus on multi-level organizing processes that connect various types of formal organizations, partial organization and ephemeral organizing processes within broad fields (e.g., Ahrne & Brunsson, 2011; Diani, 2015; Gerhards & Rucht, 1992).
This sub-theme focuses on the changing organizing models of social movements in recent times, at the organizational and field levels. We invite empirical and theoretical contributions addressing, in the frame of the broad questions highlighted above, one or more of the following topics:

  • Origins of changing forms of movement organizing: Are there generational and life course differences in ‘organizational’ tastes? What affordances and limitations to organizing do changing technologies and media environments create?

  • Structural conditions for new organization forms: How do national and transnational political economies and issue fields enable particular organizing forms? How do transformations in capitalism affect organizational processes? How does repression affects organizational forms during protest campaigns? How do variations in social capital, social structure and mobilization network affect approaches to organization? What is the role of economic, political and cultural crises for new organizing models?

  • Process of organizing and mobilization: How do new issues, frames, ideologies and forms of protest emerge? How do they shape the structure of movement fields?

  • Comparative analyses of organizing forms: How should cross-national, cross-area, cross-domain variation in movement fields and organizations be explained? What drives the use of formal vs. informal forms of organizing in collective action fields?

  • Consequences for movement mobilization: Do new organizing forms and structures pose challenges or opportunities for movement transnationalization (e.g., Europeanization, bridges with the Global South)?

  • Cultural-political consequences of new forms of movement organizing: Does the organization of protest transform conceptions and practices of democracy? Do contemporary organizing models entail new imaginaries, identities and utopias?

  • Changing dynamics of contention: Does the role of path commercial and NGO actors in contentious politics change (and if so, why?) What are paths of state repression and resistance to changing organization of protest?


  • Ahrne, G., & Brunsson, N. (2011): “Organization outside organizations: the significance of partial organization.” Organization, 18 (1), 83–104.
  • Almeida, P. (2010): “Social movement partyism: Collective action and oppositional political parties in Latin America.” In: N. van Dyke & H. McCammon (eds.): Strategic Alliances: New Studies of Social Movement Coalitions. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 70–96.
  • de Bakker, F.G.A., den Hond, F., King, B., & Weber, K. (2013): “Social movements, civil society and corporations: Taking stock and looking ahead.” Organization Studies, 34 (5–6), 573–593.
  • Bennett, L., & Segerberg, A. (2013): The Logic of Connective Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Caiani, M., & Parenti, L. (2016): European and American Extreme Right Groups and the Internet. Oxford: Routledge.
  • della Porta, D. (ed.) (2007): The Global Justice Movement. Boulder: Paradigm.
  • della Porta, D. (2015): Social Movements in Times of Austerity. Cambridge: Polity.
  • della Porta, D. (2017): Where Did the Revolution Go? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Diani, M. (2015): The Cement of Civil Society: Studying Networks in Localities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Gerhards, J., & Rucht, D. (1992): “Mesomobilization: Organizing and framing in two protest campaigns in West Germany.” American Journal of Sociology, 98 (3), 555–595.
  • Koopmans, R. (2004): “Protest in time and space: The evolution of waves of contention.” In: D.A. Snow, S. Soule & H. Kriesi (eds.): The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements. Oxford: Blackwell, 19–46.
  • Kriesi, H. (1996): “The organizational structure of new social movements in a political context.” In: D. McAdam, J. McCarthy & M.N. Zald (eds.): Comparative Perspective on Social Movements. Political Opportunities, Mobilizing Structures, and Cultural Framing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, , 152–184.
  • Lofland, J. (1996): Social Movement Organizations. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
  • McCarthy, J.D., & Zald, M.N. (1977): “Resource mobilization and social movements: A partial theory.” American Journal of Sociology, 82 (6), 1212–1241.
  • Meyer, D.S., & Tarrow, S. (eds.) (1998): The Social Movement Society: Contentious Politics for a New Century. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Minkoff, D. (2002): “Macro-organizational analysis.” In: B. Klandermands & S. Staggenborg (eds.): Methods of Social Movement Research. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 260–285.
  • Pavan, E. (2012): Frames and Connections in the Governance of Global Communications: A Network Study of the Internet Governance Forum. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Piven, F.F., & Cloward, R. (1977): Poor People’s Movements. New York: Pantheon.
  • Rossi, F.M. (2017): The Poor’s Struggle for Political Incorporation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Rucht, D. (1995): “Parties, associations and movements as systems of political interest intermediation.” In: J. Thesing & W. Hofmeister (eds.): Political Parties in Democracy. Sankt Augustin: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, 103–125.
  • Saunders, C. (2013): Environmental Networks and Social Movement Theory. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Snow, D.A., Soule, S., Kriesi, H., & McCammon, H. (2019): “Mapping and opening up the terrain.” In: D.A. Snow, S. Soule, H. Kriesi & H. McCammon (eds.): The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Social Movements. Oxford: Blackwell, 1–16.
  • Soule, S.A., & King, B.G. (2015): “Markets, business, and social movements.” In: D. della Porta & M. Diani (eds.): Oxford Handbook of Social Movements. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 696–708.
  • Weber, K., & King, B. (2014): “Social movement theory and organization studies.” In: P. Adler, P. du Gay, G. Morgan & M. Reed (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Sociology, Social Theory and Organization Studies: Contemporary Currents. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 487–509.
Donatella della Porta is a Professor of Political Science, Dean of the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences and Director of the PD program in Political Science and Sociology at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Florence, Italy, where she also leads the Center on Social Movement Studies (Cosmos). Among the main topics of her research: social movements, political violence, terrorism, corruption, the police and protest policing. Donatella is the author or editor of 92 books, about 150 journal articles and 150 contributions in edited volumes.
Klaus Weber is a Professor of Management and Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management, and Deputy Director of Buffett Institute for Global Affairs at Northwestern University, USA. His research uses cultural and institutional analysis to understand the intersection between social movements and the economy, the political economy of globalization and development, and environmental sustainability. His research has been published widely in management and sociology journals.
Mario Diani is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Trento, Italy, where he has served as Head of the Department of Sociology and Social Research and as Dean of the Faculty of Sociology. His research addresses network theories of social movements and collective action, the structure of civil society in cities, political and protest participation, social capital and multicultural democracy, organizations in movements, and global networks of mobilization. Mario has written and edited twelve books, including most recently the 3rd edition of “Social Movements”, and has published extensively in European and American sociology journals as well as in edited book.