Love, Anger and Social Change

35 Pages Posted: 11 May 2019 Last revised: 30 May 2019

See all articles by Deborah Cantrell

Deborah Cantrell

University of Colorado Law School

Date Written: April 17, 2019


Emotions matter to social movement activists, including social movement lawyers. Emotions motivate activism and emotions sustain the long hard work of social change. Movement activists and lawyers know that from their own lived experiences. Further, when we listen to movement activists talk about their work, we hear them speak commonly about two emotions in particular—love and anger. To be a social movement activist (whether lawyer or non-lawyer) means to have passion about one’s cause, and to have a fire in the belly to keep going despite setbacks and slow progress. We hear activists and movement lawyers talk about how the love for their cause gets them out into the street to protest or keeps them resilient in the face of a hostile legal system. We also hear them talk about how angry they are about the wrongs they experience.

What is missing is a clearer, more nuanced understanding and articulation of the role of emotions, particularly love and anger, in social movement work. This Article pulls together social science research studying emotions in social activism and political philosophy that considers the role of anger in society to challenge assumptions that we make about love, anger, and social activism. The article demonstrates that we oversubscribe to love and anger in their reflexive, hot forms—the raised voice and rough gesticulations of anger, or the ardent loyalty of love that stridently demarcates “us” from “them.” Because we oversubscribe to the hot forms of emotion, when we intend to express emotion in its moral form (i.e., “I feel injustice.”), we mistakenly believe that form of emotion must also be expressed in a hot way. In other words, we discredit an activist, and activists discredit each other and themselves, as not really believing in the justness of the cause unless it is shown with hot emotions.

Keywords: law and emotions, law and social change, law and social movements, social movements and emotions, love, anger

Suggested Citation

Cantrell, Deborah, Love, Anger and Social Change (April 17, 2019). 12 Drexel L. Rev. ___ (2019); U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19-14. Available at SSRN:

Deborah Cantrell (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

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