The Activist's Dilemma: The Trade-off between Raising Awareness and Recruiting Support

When and Where

Wednesday, January 17, 2018 12:15 pm to 1:30 pm
Room 3130, Sidney Smith Hall, 100 St. George Street


MATTHEW FEINBERG, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto


Abstract: Social movements are critical agents of change that vary greatly in both tactics and popular support. Prior work shows that a class of protest actions we call "extreme protest behaviors" - actions that are highly counter-normative, harmful to others, or both - are effective for gaining publicity. However, in this talk, I will present results showing that these protest actions typically decrease popular support for social movements by reducing feelings of identification with them. This effect obtained in experimental tests of responses to animal rights, Black Lives Matter, and anti-Trump protests. I will highlight how these findings suggest an "activist's dilemma" exists - the same protest actions that effectively raise awareness also risk reducing popular support. I will also present evidence suggesting that activists and strong supporters of political causes engage in extreme protest behaviors in part because they do not perceive this trade-off, believing that extreme tactics are effective both for gaining publicity and recruiting popular support.

Watch video recording of Matt Feinberg talk at

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