Resistance: A Primer for Advocates and Change Agents

15 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2009 Last revised: 20 Apr 2009

See all articles by Roger L. Conner

Roger L. Conner

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Date Written: April 2, 2009


It is well-known that people resist proposals for change for reasons that are independent of a rational calculation of self-interest. This article explores two sources of resistance that affect public policy advocates in particular: "Resonance," (negative associations with past experience or other policy domains), and a desire t avoid the psychological and material costs of "transition," (the process of adjustment, personal and institutional, that comes with any significant change).

The author argues that conventional advocacy, in which one side "names the change" and attempts to force others to go along, inherently triggers negative resonance and heightens fears of transition. If advocates can engage opposing groups in some form of negotiation or collaboration to "name the change," these sources of resistance will diminish.

Finally, even where collaboration is not possible, the article suggests that advocates who are self-aware about the risks and losses that they are asking decision-makers to undergo will avoid the tendency to assume that the worst about the intentions of other participants in public disputes.

Keywords: advocacy, ethics, lobbying, conflict resolution, transition, policy, public policy, social psychology, psychology

JEL Classification: L30, L31, D70, D73, D74, D78, D79

Suggested Citation

Conner, Roger L., Resistance: A Primer for Advocates and Change Agents (April 2, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Roger L. Conner (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
615-343-3207 (Phone)
615-469-3207 (Fax)

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