Persistence and change among nationally federated social movements

John D. McCarthy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

36 Scopus citations


National social movement organizations (SMOs) with widely dispersed local affiliates have been common since the turn of the twentieth century when prototypical groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) were founded. Social movement groups like them have continued to proliferate up to the present. At the turn of the twenty-first century, I will show, approximately one quarter of local SMOs in the United States are affiliates of national ones. The majority of those local affiliates work to mobilize members and adherents for collective action projects. This portrait of the U.S. social movement sector, however, is at odds with increasingly widespread understandings of the predominant modern social movement form – “advocates without members” (Putnam 2000 and Skocpol 1999a) – and images of typical recent citizen behavior – “civic disengagement.” The several intersecting puzzles that emerge from these contrasting images motivate the analyses that follow. In spite of the growth of professional social movement forms, why has the federated form that mobilizes local adherents and members remained a popular one among social change entrepreneurs as they have formed new SMOs? Has the form undergone noticeable changes in recent decades? What key theoretical mechanisms are most important in accounting for the persistence and change of the SMO federated form? I draw upon the insights of organizational sociology as I seek to understand how regulatory and other environmental influences shape the evolving nature of the population of federated SMOs in the United States. Ultimately, of course, the level of citizen activism is importantly dependent upon this population of organizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSocial Movements and Organization Theory
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages33
ISBN (Electronic)9780511791000
ISBN (Print)9780521839495
StatePublished - Jan 1 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)


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