As Dr Leandro Herrero is away, the Daily Thoughts will be taking a short “pause” this week. In the meantime, Daily Thoughts HQ has picked some of the top posts on social movements for you to enjoy. The following post was first published in March 2016…
Scholars of social movements have noticed and described how people often create a stronger and faster sense of association and belonging when they are united not necessarily by high purpose strategic goals but by tactics. For example, there are people who ‘like’ demonstrations, or strikes, or mega-mailing campaigns, or a particular type of community activities, or digital campaigns on ‘anything’.
Said like that it sounds like an offense to the high purpose, a way of dismissing the overarching narrative. But this is of course not the intention. On the contrary, it is healthy to accept that ‘the cause’ may in fact attract multiple motivations. It is naïve to think that there is a full, single alignment ‘on topic’ in any given social movement.
The case of street demonstrations, not a social movement on its own, of course, is a good example. An ‘anti-war’ demonstration will host anti-war people, anti-capitalists (perhaps), greens (perhaps), genuine people wanting to reform society, people who have not much to do that day, angry-with-the-government people, and people who join pretty much any demonstration available.
‘United by tactics’ is the misunderstood other side of the coin of ‘united for a cause’.
We see this micro-scale inside the organization. There are people who thrive in some presentation rituals; people who are very prone to meetings, and, in general, people who have the ‘what and how’ to do at a higher level than the ‘why’.
In particular, the rituals of monthly reviews and reports, fixed time staff meetings, budget cycles, review boards and overscheduled conference calls, tend to take over organizational life, and become very stable (because they are effective glue-rituals even if not very efficacious). A significant number of people in the organization are connected by the dynamics of the cyclical presentations and other tribal activities, and get ‘hooked on them’, the organizational equivalent of the ‘hooked on tactics’ of collective action in the macro social world.
‘Collective action’ is always a surprising laboratory of human dynamics. Within the organization, our process-rituals, needed as they may be, tend to suck energy and resources. But also people, ‘hooked on the process’.
Only our good dose of emotional and social intelligence could come to the rescue, not to destroy those processes or tribal rituals, but to identify them and, at the very least, be very clear on what they are supposed to do, why they were created in the first place, and how effective and/or efficacious they may be.