Doctoral Dissertation Research: The Institutionalization of Social Movements and the Growth of Grassroots Lobbying

  • McCarthy, John David (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details



John D. McCarthy

Edward T. Walker

Pennsylvania State University

As social movements increasingly began to professionalize and work within established channels of influence in the wake of the 1960s and 1970s wave of activism, their tactics began to be adopted by corporations, trade associations, and related interest groups through the practice of 'grassroots lobbying.' Today, a growing industry of public relations and political consulting firms provide for their clients a variety of such lobbying services, including petitioning, direct mail, and community organizing. How did this form of political activity become prominent, and what sorts of groups are most likely to take such action? This project asks three major questions about the development and present-day operation of grassroots lobbying firms: (1) What historical and organizational factors shaped the development of this practice? Does the historical pattern of organizational founding suggest that these tactics were, in fact, learned from institutionalized social movements? (2) Which types of groups in society are most likely to employ a firm to carry out such operations? For example, are political parties, corporations, or interest groups the most likely to work with a grassroots lobbying firm? (3) What factors best account for the tactics in which each group engages? For example, are firms that have primarily corporate clients more or less likely to engage in community organizing? In order to address these questions, this research will build from a set of directory listings provided by the magazine Campaign & Elections, a well-known and reputable source for those seeking information on political consulting and lobbying services. Once the complete set of grassroots lobbying firms listed in Campaigns & Elections from 1990-2004 is enumerated, further information on each firm will be sought from four other sources: directories of public relations firms, registered Washington lobbyists, and public and private corporations, as well as the websites of each organization.

Broader Impacts: The study examines a neglected aspect of the political process-one that has enormous consequence for the formation of public opinion and the outcomes of legislative decisions. The proposed research will be the first to systematically examine the newest and most innovative means by which corporations, trade associations, interest groups, and political campaigns attempt to gain popular support for their policies. Communities both inside and outside of the academy will benefit by understanding the extent to which grassroots lobbying tactics have proliferated, as well as the role that social movements play in the process.

Effective start/end date9/1/058/31/07


  • National Science Foundation: $7,472.00


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