Sub-theme 16: Becoming Agents of Change: Societal Disruption, Resistance, Movements, and the Formation of Activists

Craig Prichard
Massey University, New Zealand
W.E. Douglas Creed
University of Rhode Island, USA, & University of Melbourne, Australia
Samer Abdelnour
University of Edinburgh Business School, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

As we write, the world appears to be engulfed in protest. Mass movements are fighting inequality, corruption, and seeking political freedom in Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Gaza, Hong Kong, Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere. Millions of people around the world, particularly youth, are marching in protest of the slow response by established institutions and politicians to the climate emergency.
Mass protest, civil disobedience, and resistance to authoritative, transgressive and oppressive conditions, figures, and institutions, is a ubiquitous and seemingly universal attribute of human organizing (Canetti, 1960; Melucci, 1989). The question of why, how and in what form we become agents of such resistances, bent on challenging and changing the existing relations and conditions, is an enduring question for organization studies (Davis et al, 2005; Gusfield, 1970; McLaughlin, 1969).
Historically such work has tended to regard social, economic and political conditions, and the perceived opportunities they afford for various repetories of protest and resistance, as the seedbed of resistance (Gamson & Meyer, 1992). More recent scholarship, meanwhile, focuses on how individuals and groups come to embrace, shape and, in some instances, collapse activist identities and participation in movements (Elidrissi & Courpasson, 2019; Meyer & Jepperson, 2000, Skoglund & Böhm, 2019; Seo & Creed, 2002; Wright et al., 2012). Such work also includes a focus on collectivities and movements themselves as agents of intentionality and change (Abdelnour et al., 2017).
A related, and perhaps underdeveloped, area of scholarship explores the intersection of reflexivity and narrative identity formation, whereby individuals and groups come to reflexively narrate activist identities, and embrace and internalize social movement narrartives as their own (Creed et al., 2014; Lok et al., 2019; Polletta, 1998), or encounter episodic shocks that force the discarding one identity for another (e.g., “drop your tools”, Weick, 1993).
The purpose of this sub-theme is to both extend and challenge these trajectories of research in resistance and activism. This sub-theme will, for instance, welcome scholarship that draws on notions of identity formation, narrative and reflexivity to engage the underlying problem of agency, activism and resistance in new ways and in the process develops our understanding of how individuals and collectivities come together to enact social movement agency.
Below, we identify some questions that contributors to the stream might consider. These are simply illustrative, and our list not meant to be exhaustive. We would welcome work that identifies new concepts, questions, and challenges related to the sub-theme. Particularly, we welcome research that looks at societal disruption across multiple levels of analysis.

  • How does the threat of climate catastrophe, or other societal and institutional disruptions, shape the formation of change agency?

  • How do individual author the self as activist change agents?

  • How do activist movements author and/or embrace collective intentionality?

  • How, in what ways, do biography, emotion, disenfranchisement, and psychological lack affect engagement with and enactment of activism?

  • How does collective action emerge from, and form, activist collectives?

  • How do culturally and historically sedimented features of human experience support and shape action and the articulation of activist identities?

  • What is the organizing structure of activism narratives, or discourses, and how do they produce, and shape activist subjects and vice versa?

  • What is the role, place, effect of social media in processes of collective organizing and action?

  • What roles might principle-based agency and disinterested agency play in activist organizing?

  • How are activist careers organized, sustained and reshaped?

  • How is activism a function of personal histories, and the working out of the desires of the other and/or significant others?



Abdelnour, S., Hasselbladh, H., & Kallinikos, J. (2017): “Agency and institutions in organization studies.” Organization Studies, 38 (12), 1775–1792.
  • Canetti, E. (1984): Crowds and Power. Macmillan, 1984.
  • Creed, W.E.D., DeJordy, R., & Lok, J. (2014): “Myths to work by: Redemptive self-myths and generative agency for organizational change.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 41, 111–156.
  • Davis, G.F., McAdam, D., Scott, W.R., & Zald, M.N. (eds.) (2005): Social Movements and Organization Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Elidrissi, Y.R., & Courpasson, D. (2019): “Body Breakdowns as Politics: Identity regulation in a high-commitment activist organization.” Organization Studies, first published online on September 9, 2019:
  • Gamson, W., & Meyer, D.A. (1996): “Framing political opportunity.” In: D. McAdam, J.D. McCarthy & M.N. Zald (eds.): Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements: Political Opportunities, Mobilizing Structures, and Cultural Framings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Gusfield, J.R. (1970): Protest, Reform and Revolt: A Reader in Social Movements. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Lok, J., Creed, W.E.D., & DeJordy, R. (2019): “From ‘Church Cruise Director’ to ‘Rabbi’: Authoring the agentic self through conventions of narrative necessity.” Research in the Sociology of Organizations, 65B, 63-83.
  • McLaughlin, B. (ed.) (1969): Studies in Social Movements: A Social Psychological Perspective. New York: The Free Press.
  • Melucci, A. (1989): Nomads of the Present: Social Movements and Individual Needs in Contemporary Society. Edited by J. Keane & P. Mier. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Meyer, J.W., & Jepperson, R.L. (2000): “The ‘actors’ of modern society: The cultural construction of social agency.” Sociological Theory, 18 (1), 100–120.
  • Polletta, F. (1998): “Contending stories: Narrative in social movements.” Qualitative Sociology, 21 (4), 419–46.
  • Seo, M.-G., & Creed, W.E.D. (2002): “Institutional contradictions, praxis, and institutional change: A dialectical perspective.” Academy of Management Review, 27 (2), 222–248.
  • Skoglund, A., & Böhm, S. (2019): “Prefigurative Partaking: Employees’ Environmental Activism in an Energy Utility.” Organization Studies, first punblished online on June 15, 2019:
  • Weick, K.E. (1993): “The collapse of sensemaking in organizations: The Mann Gulch disaster.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 38 (4), 628–652.
  • Wright, C., Nyberg, D., & Grant, D. (2012): “‘Hippies on the third floor’: Climate change, narrative identity and the micro-politics of corporate environmentalism.” Organization Studies, 33 (11), 1451–1475.
Craig Prichard is Associate Professor in the School of Management at Massey University in Aotearoa, New Zealand, where he teaches courses in organization change, leadership and entrepreneurship. His published work has focused the formation managerial subjectivities and has appeared in ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Organization’, ‘Culture and Organization’, and he was Co-editor-in-Chief of ‘Organization’ from 2012–2017. Craig’s current research involves working as an activist in new and alternative industry develpment projects.
W.E. Douglas Creed is a Professor of Management at the University of Rhode Island, USA, and a Visiting Professorial Fellow in the Faculty of Business and Economics at the University of Melbourne, Australia. His work on voice, social identity, emotions and agency in institutional change processes has appeared in ‘Academy of Management Review’, ‘Academy of Management Journal’, ‘Organization Science’, ‘Journal of Management Inquiry’, and in recent handbooks on organizational institutionalism, organizational identity, and organizational paradox. Douglas is currently conducting research on city resilience strategies.
Samer Abdelnour is Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management at the University of Edinburgh Business School, United Kingdom. His published work employs organization and institutional theory to study social intervention in humanitarian and post-war settings. Samer’s work appears in ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Organizational Research Methods’, ‘Energy Research & Social Science’, ‘International Political Sociology’, ‘Journal of International Business Studies’, and ‘Journal of Business Research’.