When Do Leaders Matter? Hypotheses on Leadership Dynamics in Social Movements

Mobilization: An International Journal, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 1-22, 2006

22 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2006

Abstract

Leaders are central to social movements, yet scholars have devoted relatively little attention to understanding the concept of leadership or its effects on movements. In this article, we explore leadership's influence on movement dynamics by examining Nigeria's Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), the Catholic Left-inspired Plowshares movement, the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, and the liberation movement in El Salvador. Building on Bourdieu, Putnam, and the existing literature on social movement leadership, we argue that these movements' leaders possessed "leadership capital" having cultural, social, and symbolic components. We then turn our attention to the conditions under which leadership capital affects three key processes in movement development: mobilization of aggrieved parties, activation of third-party supporters, and responses to repression. We conclude by calling for more comprehensive, systematic, and comparative investigation of factors influencing leadership in domestic and transnational movements.

Keywords: social movements, leadership, social capital, leaders, cultural capital, Bourdieu, Putnam, Ogoni, Zapatistas, Plowshares, El Salvador, anti-war movements, contentious politics, leadership capital, weak ties, Granovetter, charisma

JEL Classification: L3, L30, M3, M13, N4, N47, N46, O19, Z00, Z1, Z10

Suggested Citation

Nepstad, Sharon Erickson and Bob, Clifford, When Do Leaders Matter? Hypotheses on Leadership Dynamics in Social Movements. Mobilization: An International Journal, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 1-22, 2006. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=913744

Sharon Erickson Nepstad (Contact Author)

University of New Mexico ( email )

MSC05 3080
1915 Roma NE
Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001
United States

Clifford Bob

Duquesne University ( email )

600 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15282
United States

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