How do institutions generate stability within and limited diversity across social movements? To answer this question we draw on select strands of Institutional Analysis and introduce the concept of institutional movement logics (IMLs), cultural templates made up of combinations of issues, tactics, and targets that provide social movement organizations with a focus of attention, a source of meaning and identity, and a vision of how to “do” contention. Movement organizations can be observed in clusters based on their IMLs that define the dominant set of logics within that field. In this way, IMLs account for patterns of stability and diversity within social movement fields. We provide evidence of the empirical utility of the IML approach with an analysis of Seattle’s social movement field between 1999 and 2005.  Using scaling methods to elicit clusters of movement organizations by their combinations of issues, tactics, and targets, along with archival and interview data, we find that this field was structured by robust and stable partitions between three distinct IMLs. With this analysis we advance an institutional logics approach for understanding social movements, showing how Social Movement Theory can concretely benefit from a tighter integration with Institutional Analysis.



What is the role of institutional processes in social movement organizations? Recent reconsiderations of the relationship between social movement theory (SMT) in institutional analysis (IA) have focused mainly on what SMT can do for IA (see McAdam and Scott 2005 and Walker 2012 for reviews of recent research). A basic insight is that SMT’s robust conceptualization of agency, conflict and change can be used to shore up the weaknesses of classical IA (McAdam and Scott 2005). The resulting adoption of a “movement-like imagery” of institutional actors, processes and structures has cast movements as innovative agents of change.  Largely overlooked, however, is how institutional processes generate stability within social movements, the agents of change themselves.  SMT, for its part, has understated the sources of stability in movements. Institutions are seen as exogenous conditions (typically anchored in governments) that create or limit opportunities for mobilization (Meyer and Minkoff 2004), while “institutionalization” is conceived as a process of change drawing (some) movement actors into the formal political process (e.g., Meyer and Tarrow 1998). That means that the question of how movement activity is routinely embedded in and structured by institutional processes continues to be a relatively neglected issue. This paper concerns itself with precisely this question.

Much as SMT has enriched IA, we believe SMT can also benefit from a more robust conceptualization of institutional diversity. SMT’s tendency toward case studies has obscured higher order patterns of diversity that cannot be reduced to the attributes of particular movement actors.  Organizational activity in all fields—and social movement fields are no exception—is constituted by diverse and sometimes competing conceptions of institutional order (Thornton, Ocasio, and Lounsbury 2012). These conceptions of how to “do” contention take shape in organizational forms and practices that communicate to others what sort of organization they are (Clemens 1996; Polletta 2004, 2005; Rao and Giorgi 2006); they are limited in number and embedded in a field of relations with other movement actors.

In the analysis that follows, we advance an institutional logics approach for understanding social movements, showing how SMT can concretely benefit from a tighter integration with IA. We assemble selected strands of Institutional Analysis into a conceptual and analytic framework to account for stability and diversity within social movement fields. At the center of the analysis is the construct of institutional movement logics (IMLs). This is the social movement analog of the institutional logics that structure cognition and action in broader societal sectors (Thornton et al. 2012).  Our goal is to provide a robust account of the endogenous institutional processes operating within social movements, that is, to theorize the institutional foundations of social movement fields.

The Institutional Foundations of Social Movement Activity

We are not the first to propose to analyze movements using the tools of institutional analysis (see Schneiberg and Lounsbury 2008 for a recent attempt. We take these previous efforts as a useful starting point while addressing some important conceptual limitations.

Institutional Analysis: Non-instrumental Value and Implicit Cognitions

The first wave of Resource Mobilization theories (e.g., Zald and Ash 1966; McCarthy and Zald 1977) found inspiration in an “old institutionalist” tradition in organizational studies (e.g., Selznick 1957). The basic insight is that the form and decision-making structure of movement organizations become endowed with meaning and value beyond their instrumental utility. In this view, (political) institutions serve as a context to which movement actors adapt that imparts value on resources  (e.g., Tilly 1978; McCarthy and Zald 1977).

Recent research inspired by the “new institutionalism” has moved beyond the emphasis on values to reveal the tacit and taken-for-granted dimensions of actors’ cognitions (e.g., Elsbach and Sutton 1992; Clemens 1996; Armstrong and Bernstein 2008).  From this perspective SMO forms come to be embedded in taken-for-granted organizational routines that structure the implicit cognitions of organizational actors. Much of this research retains the focus on adaptation and resource mobilization, while  broadening the category of resources to include cultural and symbolic elements (e.g., Clemens 1996; Ganz 2000; Polletta 2004, 2005).

We draw on both of these approaches while also noting their limitations.  First, they concentrate on the effects of institutional context on movement outcomes and have neglected to ask how routine movement action is structured by institutional processes.  Second, they narrowly focus on a single movement effectively defining social movement fields on the basis of issues (e.g. Clemens 1996; Soule 1997; Moore 1999). This attends to within-movement diversity of form and strategy but ignores commonalities across movements. Finally,  we have no coherent account of which organizational features are most likely to acquire non-instrumental worth. We propose that moving to the field level may help to ameliorate these analytical limitations.

Field Theories: A Multi-Organizational, Relational Perspective

Moving to the level of the social movement field offers three interrelated analytical advantages. First, field theories point to a higher level of analysis beyond the SMO, foregrounding patterns that emerge in clusters of organizations (DiMaggio and Powell 1983; Armstrong 2002).  Fields are sites of struggle that enable and constrain organizational activity (Martin 2003; McAdam and Scott 2005). Second, field theories draw attention to a multi-institutional context that better reflects the diversity of SMO motivations, strategies, issues, tactics, targets, and forms (Morrill 2006; Armstrong and Bernstein 2008). What was once considered “extra-institutional,” and therefore necessitating its own theories, can now be understood within a single framework as a set of fields that influence one another and operate by the same general principles. Finally, field theories provide relational mechanisms that account for how actors identities emerge from processes of comparison and contrast with other actors (Martin 2003). From this perspective, a thing is characterized not by its inherent attributes but by its social position relative to others in the  field. As its relations change, so too will it.

It is important to theorize social movements as both challengers in fields (e.g., Rao, Morrill, and Zald 2000; Lounsbury, Ventresca, and Hirsch 2003) and actors whose routines, cognitions, and decision-making processes are anchored in a social movement field. In our conceptualization, a social movement field is characterized by (a) partial geographic localization, (b) shared, tacit understandings that orient, justify, and give meaning to organizing activity ; and (c) a set of actors interacting with varying levels of knowledge of one another. Fields do not require direct exchanges, nor are they circumscribed by issue area. An actor’s identity, decision-making, structures, and strategies are established by generating comparisons both in terms of contrasts and solidarity with other actors.

This formulation is compatible with abstract conceptions that define fields as sites of organized striving (Martin 2003). We add specificity to this approach by pointing both to a field’s location in concrete rather than abstract space (Mohr 2005) and to the existence of a set of cultural logics that define the relevant dimensions of differentiation (Thornton et al. 2012). Movement actors who occupy the same location but lack shared understandings and those who have little awareness of one another would fail to constitute a social movement field.

While the field perspective provides a general analytic focus, it is silent in terms of the processes constitutive of routine organizing activity. In the following section we review recent reconsiderations of the interplay of culture and structure in social movements to shed light on this issue.

The Duality of Structure and Culture

Traditional views of culture in SMT were hampered by an oppositional view of culture and structure (Polletta 2004, 2005). These analysts defined culture as a residual category of phenomena serving primarily to refract the determining force of structures. Culture was viewed as the subjective, or expressive, variable that accounts for deviations from instrumental rationality or the (mis)recognition of political opportunities, or as an instrumental resource on a par with other resources (Polletta 2004, 2005). Recently, movement scholars have begun to think about culture as constitutive of structure (Polletta 2004, 2005).  This requires moving beyond the imagery of structure as a conditioning factor and culture as an all-encompassing system. Instead, culture links to resources and organizational structures via a logic of affinity. We partially draw on this approach in what follows.

We conceive of movement actors as attempting to match organizing logics to structural capabilities, with these capabilities themselves being subject to recipe-like institutionalization.  This generates predictable (and empirically specifiable) correspondences between resources, organizational structures, and organizing templates. The correspondence of culture, structures, and practices has been recognized in the organizational theory literature as constitutive of “institutional logics.” In the following sections we adapt this set of analytical resources for understanding social movement organizing.

The Institutional Logics Perspective

Thornton et al. (2012: 2) define institutional logics as “the socially constructed, historical patterns of cultural symbols and material practices, including assumptions, values, and beliefs, by which individuals and organizations provide meaning to their daily activity, organize time and space, and reproduce their lives and experiences.” They argue that institutional logics shape decision-making by directing and narrowing the focus of attention to the set of options that is available or appropriate for the circumstances, as actors perceive of them. Alternatives are not considered, not necessarily because current options are endowed with independent meaning and value, but simply because they are out of sight and thus out of mind (Ocasio 1997).

Although not stated explicitly in the original definition, logics have often been conceived of as the unitary organizing principles of a society’s major sectors (Thornton et al. 2012).  We find that this formulation is much too broad for our purposes. Because we aim to explain institutional variation within social movement fields, we require a conception of institutional logics that does not map institutional variation to the existence of different “societal sectors.” This would result in the implication that the social movement sector is endowed with a monolithic movement logic (Mayrl 2012). However, within a given field, competing logics should be associated “with distinct sets of practices, symbolic representations, and ultimately, vocabularies of practice” (Thornton et al. 2012: 161). What we require is a conception of institutional logics that would allow us to map substantively interesting intrafield variation in the different ways of “doing” contention (Polletta 2004: 162).

Cultural Frame Institutionalism: Logics as Combinations and Codes

A variant of the institutional logic perspective conceives of competing logics as frames that define a situation for constituents, allies, antagonists, bystanders, and stakeholders (Clemens 1996). We find this approach useful for conceptualizing intrafield variation in movement activity. From the perspective of this cultural-frame institutionalism (Rao et al. 2005; Rao and Giorgi 2006), institutional logics manifest as competing sets of cultural logics  in a given field. These logics are cognitive and normative schemas that actors draw upon for organizational sense-making in institutional contexts. In addition to providing frameworks for organizing, cultural logics convey to other actors the forms of action that are seen as  legitimate or appropriate while ruling out others.

Cultural logics are primarily characterized by their “code-like character” (Rao and Giorgi 2006: 273, emphasis in the original). The notion of code should be understood in at least three major senses. As a genetic code, cultural logics take the form of organizational competences that provide templates, routines, and procedures for organizing. As a penal code, they provide a set of normative frameworks prescribing the best way to go about doing things and imposing sanctions upon those who deviate (Polletta 2004: 169). As a semiotic code, cultural logics have a communicative function (Polletta 2005). The adoption of  a given cultural logic implies a commitment to a prescribed organizational structure and pattern of activity. Cultural logics, independently of any internalized motives or intent (Swidler 2001: 163), also convey organizational identity to others, saying something about the organization (Clemens 1996).

Three properties of cultural logics are most substantively relevant from our perspective.

First, they are constituted by a given combination of relevant elements; actors maintain continuity by repeatedly linking together similar sets of elements (Rao et al. 2005). New logics emerge when institutional entrepreneurs blend and recombine elements that were previously segregated (Rao and Giorgi 2006). Second, cultural logics fix identity, attention, and activity by providing actors with a manageably small set of possibilities for strategic action and deliberation (Ocasio 1997). Cultural logics are thus akin to institutional schemas, defined as recipes or models for “doing things,” templates for the organization of routine contentious activity  (Polletta 2004: 168, 2005, 2008: 84-85, ). Finally, cultural logics constrain actors via the “public knowledge” they generate (Swidler 2001: 163). Organizations become committed to identities linked to their typical organizing routines. This means that any change in cultural logic will communicate something about the organization’s commitment to a given vision of change, regardless of an organization’s intention to convey this message.

Institutional Movement Logics and the Combination of Organizational Features

Given the above, we aim to develop an institutional logics approach to the study of social movement organizing that incorporates and recognizes: (a) the non-instrumental (valuational and cognitive) status of organizations and the taken-for-granted cultural logics that define alternative organizing forms; (b) institutional diversity of organizing forms within concrete social movement fields; (c) processes of institutional differentiation and segregation that produce a limited and relatively stable set of cultural logics driving distinct forms of organizing; (d) the communicative and expressive role of distinct institutional movement logics; and finally (e) the combinatorial nature of cultural logics of organizing within fields.

Drawing selectively on the theoretical lineages of Institutional Analysis outlined above, we define an institutional movement logic (IML) as a cultural template embedded in the practices and relations of social movement actors that provide them with a focus of attention, source of meaning and identity, and vision of how to “do” contention. We are not content, however, to stop with an abstract concept of logics unmoored from a concrete research strategy for measurement and analysis.  In that spirit, we contend that IMLs correspond to the selection and (more importantly) combination of key organizational elements by movement actors that provide a focus of attention, source of meaning and identity, and vision of how to “do” contention.

We turn to both classical and recent social movements literature to identify which features, when combined, are most central to IMLs. Several important studies point to the value of thinking about social movements in combinatorial terms, although to our knowledge they have not been explicitly recognized for this trait. From this literature, though there is not complete agreement, we see some convergence around combinations of a few common elements: targets and tactics (Tilly 1978; Earl and Kimport 2008; Walker, Martin, and McCarthy 2008); claims-makers, objects of claims, and actions (Tilly and Wood 2003); identities, tactics, and demands (Koopmans 2004: 25); demands, tactics, and arenas (Meyer and Staggenborg 2012); targeting, timing, and tactics (Gans 2004).

The parallels between these studies give us confidence that our empirical specification of IMLs incorporates features that are widely recognized as vital to movement organizing, and therefore the ones that are most amenable to acquire “recipe-like” form (Clemens 1993; Tilly 1978). Accordingly, IMLs are defined as the typical combinations of issues, tactics, and targets (ITT combinations) exhibited by a set of organizations at given point in time.

How can ITT combinations be empirically specified and linked to IMLs at the field-level? As Martin (2003: 8) has argued, analysts can infer the existence of field processes by their effects.  The prototypical field effect consists of the patterned distribution (clustering ) of actors and their attributes  across a field, which is itself constituted by the non-random organization of elements (Martin 2003: 4). IMLs should thus be evident in the clusters of ITT combinations observable in a social movement field. The key empirical implications are that we should find both relative stability and limited diversity in the number of ITT clusters.[1] To demonstrate the usefulness of this approach, we map the IMLs constitutive of the social movement field in Seattle, Washington at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Empirical Application        

Given that our aim is to map the institutional structure of a social movement field at a given point in time, we proceed largely inductively and allow the data to dictate the contours of institutional variation within the field at this point in time. We employ a data-reduction strategy—correspondence analysis (CA)—that has been successfully used to explore variation in institutional logics animating organizational fields (e.g. Breiger and Mohr 2004). In a second step, we draw on our theoretical and substantive knowledge of the field to generate an ideal-typical characterization of the logics constitutive of the field at this point in time. We then provide empirical evidence that these logics modulate the activity and self-conceptions of Seattle’s SMOs.

Data Sources and Analytic Strategy

Following previous work on institutional logics (e.g. Thornton and Ocasio 1999), we combine archival, observational, quantitative, and in-depth interview data for forty SMOs to empirically specify the IMLs structuring the social movement field in Seattle, Washington between 1999 and 2005.  Seattle’s historically large, diverse, and active field of social movements makes it a rich location for the study of institutional movement logics.

We define a social movement organization as any organization that (1) participates in contentious campaigns, (2) is not elite-led, and (3) engages in public displays of grassroots strength (adapted from Tilly 2004). The forty SMOs in our analysis address a wide range of issues, including peace, environmental protection, labor, women’s rights, poverty and homelessness, animal rights, global justice, and human rights.  They range from multi-million dollar non-profit organizations to tiny community groups.

The sample of SMOs, part convenience and part random, reflects a two-phase data collection process. In the first, the first author located and interviewed a convenience sample (16 organizations) in the summer of 2006 before learning that it would not be possible to include all of Seattle’s SMOs.  In the second, begun immediately thereafter, we compiled a comprehensive list of SMOs in the city (436 in total) from The Seattle Times newspaper and several online events calendars and activist directories (including archived versions dating back to 1999).  This served as a sampling frame for the random sample (24 organizations). To offset the disproportionate weight of smaller, less influential SMOs in the field, we randomly selected twenty SMOs from each of three levels of visibility (a proxy for organizational size for which we have no data), measured as the number of media sources in which an SMO is mentioned (from among those used to generate the sampling frame). Representatives from 40% of these agreed to an interview. SMOs in the convenience sample do not differ significantly from the rest on characteristics such as age, size, resources, formal structure, scope, or visibility, but we do find very slight differences in their selection of issues, tactics, and targets (advertisements, letter-writing, and targeting schools are less common; the issue of abortion is more common).  We do not believe that these differences significantly alter our conclusions.

We acknowledge three potential sources of bias. First, the sample is likely to over-represent surviving SMOs because failed organizations more easily evade detection.  Fortunately, these are precisely the organizations that a field analysis requires since it is they who constitute the field.  Second, the sample is biased toward left-wing social movements.  Despite concerted efforts to find additional conservative organizations, fewer than ten SMOs in the sampling frame address right-wing issues (e.g., anti-abortion, anti-communism, pro-Iraq War). This fact is almost certainly a distinctive feature of Seattle, long recognized as a liberal stronghold.  Third, less common, peripheral logics are more likely to go undetected. Nonetheless, sampling should capture the more robust and influential IMLs in the field, which is precisely our intention.  We will revisit the potential limitations of the analysis in the conclusion.

Interviews, both by phone and in-person, typically lasted one-hour (plus or minus a half-hour) and unfolded as subjects narrated their organization’s history during the study period.  The retrospective interview is likely to privilege coarse-grained changes over fine-grained changes and capture the main currents of an organization’s work which also happen to be those most important for understanding IMLs.

We supplement these data with archival data from newspaper, Internet, and organizational sources.  Student coders skimmed 35 months of reports from The Seattle Times spanning the study period, coding them for the names of participating organizations and their issues, tactics, and targets.  We also conducted extensive searches of SMO websites, activist directories, and events calendars (including archived versions found at archive.org) and recorded similar information.  For some SMOs we also gathered annual reports, campaign FAQ sheets, and other printed material detailing their work.  These archival sources played a secondary and supporting role to the interview data and helped fill gaps and add detail to the accounts of our interviewees.

Next we organized the data in a matrix with SMOs in the rows and issues, tactics, and targets (generated from interviews and archive sources) in columns, and each cell indicating whether or not an SMO adopted a given issue, tactic, or target. Each row, therefore, corresponds to a particular SMO’s ITT profile, that is its combination of issues, tactics, and targets.  We repeated this for each of the seven years (1999–2005). In the analysis that follows, we use pseudonyms for all SMOs.

Correspondence Analysis

We use correspondence analysis (CA) to analyze the matrix of associations between variables and graphically represent them in a multidimensional space (Clausen 1998).  CA plots categories based on chi-square distances between them (Greenacre 1993).  The basic idea is to come up with a manageable number of dimensions that fits each row and column object in low dimensional space that minimizes the total chi-square distance. Organizations with similar combinations of issues, tactics, and targets are assigned similar scores (and therefore locations) on each dimension. Similarly, proximity between issues, tactics, and targets indicates that they are combined by SMOs in similar ways.[2]

CA also provides a score for each dimension indicating how much of the total variance in the table each accounts for. Variance in this context is the chi-squared distance of each point from the average ITT profile, which is plotted at the origin (0,0). The farther an organization is from the origin, the more unique is its ITT profile and therefore the more definitive it is of an institutional movement logic.


The correspondence analysis reveals two key features of Seattle’s social movement field during this period: stability and diversity.  We take up each in turn.  

Short-Term Stability

Figures 1 and 2 depict the field at four points in time between 1999 and 2005.[3]  From year to year, the distribution of organizations, issues, tactics, and targets is remarkably stable, indicative of the durable structure of the field. Notice in Figure 1, for example, the same three organizations forming an imaginary triangle in all four maps: ELDF (upper-right corner), AAP (upper-left corner), and SCHE (bottom center). As we will discuss below, these organizations anchor three institutional logics constituting this field.

{Figure 1 about here}

Figure 1. SMOs in Seattle’s Social Movement Field (1999–2005).

Figure 2 shows that the issues, tactics, and targets associated with these organizations are also highly stable from one year to the next.  Notice that federal government targets (GOVFED) lie just above the origin near the y-axis, public at-large (PUBLIC) is in the upper-right quadrant, and state (GOVSTATE) and local governments (GOVLOCAL) appear in the lower-left quadrant. With respect to tactics, lawsuits can be found in the upper-right, education (educ.tact) in the upper-left, and strikes and civil disobedience (civdis) on the bottom. The first dimension separates human rights (human) and foreign policy (foreign) issue domains from environmental (enviro) and urban issues, and the second dimension opposes both of these clusters to economic issues (e.g. labor and poverty). These results suggest that the institutional movement logics characteristic of this field display a high level of stability.

{Figure 2 about here}

Figure 2. Issues, Tactics, and Targets in Seattle’s Social Movement Field, 1999–2005. Issues appear in light gray lowercase font, targets appear in uppercase gray font, tactics appear in black lower case font.

The stable distribution of organizations, issues, tactics, and targets in this space is remarkable in light of the series of events that roiled the political waters during the study period: massive anti-WTO protest in Seattle (1999), transition from Democratic to Republican presidency (2000), September 11th attack (2001), initiation of US-led wars in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003).  Social movement theories point to these sorts of events as political opportunities for the growth, change, and success of social movements (Meyer and Minkoff 2004).  Political opportunities, expanding and contracting as the polity becomes more or less vulnerable, attentive, and responsive to social movement challenges, have been shown to influence issues, tactics, and targets (e.g., Kriesi et al. 1995; Walker et al. 2008). This gives us reason to expect changes in the social movement field to match the shifting opportunities in the political environment.

Some of these events reflect expanding opportunities, like the anti-WTO protests that brought material and symbolic resources to Seattle (Smith 2001) and the attention of local, national, and international political elites who were compelled to respond. The Iraq War divided lawmakers and the public, expanding opportunities for a peace movement that marched in numbers not seen since the 1960s. Other events appear to have curtailed opportunities for social movements, like the election of George W. Bush and the September 11th attack (Hadden and Tarrow 2007). The field’s stability is puzzling from a political opportunity perspective but can be understood as the product of a stable set of IMLs that provide SMOs with a focus of attention, a source of meaning and identity, and a vision of how to “do” contention.

Stable IMLs need not imply that there is no change in the social movement field.  The case of the peace movement is instructive.  In 2003, the year of the Baghdad invasion, the number of SMOs in Seattle working on peace issues grew substantially (see also Hadden and Tarrow 2007) and yet the field’s overall shape did not change. Prior to 2003, four SMOs in our sample advocated peace, three located on the left side of Figure 1 (IR, PSCAW, PSIS) and one on the right (WLPJ).  Consequently, “peace” also falls on the left side (Fig. 2).  By 2003, five new peace SMOs had formed (CNPJ, OI, PP, SNCP, SPC), and all appear on the left side of that graph.  Motivated by the same IML as peace organizations that preceded them, these new SMOs adopted similar combinations of issues, tactics and targets. This suggests that even when new actors enter the field, their emergence might be shaped by the preexisting structure of IMLs in the field.

Diversity of IMLs

Having established the stability in Seattle’s social movement field during this period, we now provide a more detailed characterization of its diversity. As noted above, we conceive of an IML as a higher order set of cognitive schemas and normative templates that give meaning to social movement actors. In addition, IMLs give order to a field by organizing the distribution of organizations endowed with different objective characteristics and by providing each organization with a distinct focus of attention (Ocasio 1997; Thornton et al. 2012: 93), preferred mode of governance, and structure of decision-making and participation (Polletta 2002; Thornton et al. 2012: 95–98). The diversity of IMLs, therefore, should be contained to a limited number of competing conceptions of movement organizing.

{Figure 3 about here}

Figure 3. Issues, Tactics, and Targets in Seattle’s Social Movement Field, 2003. Issues appear in light gray lowercase font, targets appear in uppercase gray font, tactics appear in black lower case font.

Figure 3 shows the CA biplot for 2003—roughly the midpoint of the study period and the year with the greatest organizational density (N = 39)—in which we see the distribution of organizations, issues, targets, and tactics projected into the same space. In Figure 4 we add several organizational attributes as supplemental points (see fn. 3) into the same CA space. As supplemental points their positions are determined by the dimensional space defined solely in terms of the combinations of issues, tactics, and targets. Both figures provide evidence that Seattle’s social movement field is indeed organized around three distinct and coherent IMLs  that roughly correspond to the lower-half, upper-left, and upper-right areas of the biplots.[4] The horizontal axis opposes what we refer to as a public crusader logic against a professional insider logic. The vertical axis opposes both of these against an urban activist logic.  Table 1 summarizes the IMLs in terms of eight defining characteristics. We emphasize that these are ideal types—many SMOs display only some characteristics of their respective IMLs, but not all.

{Figure 4 about here}

Figure 4. Key SMO Attributes and Institutional Movement Logics in Seattle’s Social Movement Field, 2003. Attributes appear in lowercase gray font and logics appear in lowercase black font.

To verify the validity of our tripartite division, we explore the extent to which these boundaries are associated with patterns of SMO affiliation. Whether IMLs influence affiliations or affiliations influence IMLs, we expect to find a strong correlation between the two. We asked each interviewee to mention any organizations that their SMO worked with and 22 (55%) named one or more SMOs in this study (or a coalition organization that others also named). In total, we observe 43 dyadic relationships connecting SMOs in this study, 37 (86%) of which are within-IML ties. This indicates that organizations that share an IML are substantially more likely to work together than are organizations with different IMLs. This pattern cannot be reduced to the standard issue-based conception of social movements when many of these organizations in fact adopt multiple issues. This finding bolsters our confidence in the boundaries we have identified.[5]

In the discussion of these logics that follows, we adopt a strategy of qualitative case selection and provide examples from cases chosen to illuminate the most salient features of SMOs located in each region of the CA diagram.

Public Crusader Logic

The public crusader logic (clustered in the upper-left quadrant of Figures 3 and 4) combines small, inclusive, non-bureaucratic organizational forms with outsider tactics, volunteer labor, decentralized decision-making, and post-materialist values.[6]  Its organizational adherents are among the youngest, poorest, and most localized in the field and they prefer to make their claims not within the political arena but in the realm of public opinion.  In what follows we concentrate on  the Animal Rights League (ARL), our primary exemplar of this logic, supplemented by qualitative data from the Seattle Peace Coalition (SPC), one among a new crop of public crusaders that emerged in the field with the onset of the Iraq War.

The animal rights movement is emblematic of the post-materialist value orientation typical of public crusaders (Inglehart 1981). In much the same way, human rights, peace, global justice, and queer rights also reveal a preference for quality-of-life issues (self-autonomy, recognition of an identity, equality) over material concerns for physical and economic security.  Public crusaders take their post-materialist claims to the public at-large (or some subset thereof) in the hopes of “raising awareness,” influencing public opinion and attitudes, or promoting individual-level (lifestyle) change.  A representative of the Animal Rights League described the targets of its efforts in this way: “Anybody that comes up to the table we’ll talk to…but we really are trying to reach teens.”  When asked about the possibility of targeting a business, school, or government, he quickly dismissed these options and explained why the public is the only plausible target:

So, everyone can take a stand, everyone can change. You know, vivisection—it’s like, people can’t really have much of an impact on that, you know?  I mean, you can go to school, become a researcher, do community research, [and] invent alternatives [to vivisection], but most people aren’t going to do that. But everybody can just go home and decide to stop eating animals.

ARL’s perceptions of movement success, of progress toward its stated goals, are contingent upon (subjectively estimated) changes in public opinion. Our SPC informant describes a similar measure of success, even as he acknowledges substantial and ongoing setbacks for his organization:

The movement now is very split. We don’t work together anymore with [another Seattle peace organization] and there’s a lot of loss of momentum by SPC. But you know, I think we’ve accomplished a lot in terms of change—you know, helping to change public opinion. I mean, we’re only one factor, obviously, between the war stories from soldiers coming back, people slowly figuring out, you know, how they were scammed.

These comments reveal an unyielding belief in individual-level change and a steadfast focus of attention on the public as the primary target. Alternative targets, such as private firms, governmental agencies, or other institutions, seem out of place in this conception of how to effect social change. In this respect, the public crusader logic comes closest to what Armstrong and Bernstein (2008) have argued in their “multi-institutional” approach, that much social movement contention occurs outside of the polity.

Adherents of the public crusader logic generally look no further than their local community when waging campaigns (SPC is prototypical in this respect), although in this regard ARL diverges from this tendency.  Its locus of mobilization attempts and campaign targets span the U.S. (it distributes animal rights literature and merchandise via its online store).  More typical of this logic is ARL’s campaign against a local pet store that sells puppies raised in “puppy mills.”  Recounting the decision to launch this campaign, ARL’s representative explains,

I went down to Florida in 2002 or 2001, I can’t remember…[to gather signatures for an initiative] to ban gestation crates, and…I saw puppy stores everywhere…I was so outraged, I just wanted to protest them. And then I got back [to Seattle] and…I saw one, and I was like “Oh, there’s one! I want to protest it!”

Quite aware that the problem of puppy mills is not unique to Seattle, ARL nevertheless understands its role as acting at the local level.  This tendency toward localism can also be seen in the vast coalition of neighborhood-based anti-war organizations that sprang up in the months prior to the Iraq invasion (including SPC, CNPJ, and SNCP), each of which recruits in its respective neighborhood and organizes locally to persuade this faction of the general public.

Public crusaders tend favor outsider tactics (e.g., demonstrations, marches, boycotts, civil disobedience, vigils, fasts, strikes), so named for their relative illegitimacy among political insiders.  Typical examples include Project Sunshine’s (PS) display of politically themed puppets in local parades, South Neighborhood Committee for Peace’s (SNCP) annual “peace fair,” Western Organization for Animal Rights’s (WOAR) vigils, and Independence Now’s (IN) public demonstrations and hosting of traveling speakers in educational forums.  Indicative of its tactical inclination, Seattle Peace Coalition’s representative cites Gene Sharp, author of The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973), as an important influence on that organization’s choice of tactics.  ARL sees its primary strategy as that of distributing leaflets, videos, and books by way of its website, tabling at local events, and picketing in front of local businesses.

Despite the mass-based character of social movements, organizations vary in the extent to which they rely on member participation. The public crusader logic prescribes inclusion.  Inclusive organizations seek to involve constituents in an organization’s work by lowering barriers to participation and requiring little commitment. Exclusive movement organizations, by contrast, require heavy commitments of time and energy and establish strict criteria that serve to limit member participation (Zald and Ash 1966; Curtis and Zurcher 1974). ARL adheres to an inclusive approach despite its evident drawbacks:

People come in and out, you know.  Some people come in for a while, then they go out, and they don’t ever come back. And then some people come in and then they go out and then they come back in and then go out.

Public crusader SMOs prefer a decision-making structure that they view as consistent with their commitment to inclusiveness. The primary distinction here is between centralized and decentralized structures.  Centralized structures place the power to arbitrate atop a hierarchy, whether with a single leader, a board of directors, or a national headquarters. The public crusader logic prescribes decentralization, oftentimes viewed in moral terms and closely tied to the kind of world (e.g., more democratic) these activists want to prefigure (Polletta 2002).  Even ARL, despite the fact that its founder and sole paid staff member appears to be the only permanent and paid member of this SMO, operates in a decentralized manner.  His role, he explains, is not to make all decisions, but rather to set boundaries within which others may make decisions:

If somebody suggests an event, like, “Hey, here’s an event,” you know…I’m like, “That’s a good one, we can do that.”

Interviewer: But nobody ever comes along and says, “I think we should [illegally] lock ourselves down to something?”

You know, you can call me the director, or you can call me the dictator of the group, whatever you like, you know. If they want to do that, you know, I just tell them that, hey ARL’s not the…group to be involved with if they want to do that.  If they want to do positive [vegetarian] outreach, you know, then we’re happy to work with them.

Public crusader adherents tend to be young, resource poor, small and primarily volunteer-driven SMOs.  ARL was founded at the beginning of our study period, 1999, just two years after the median founding year for this set of organizations, 1997.  With one staff member paid for half-time work, ARL is in the minority of public crusaders, the majority of which (61%) have no paid staff and instead rely exclusively on volunteers.  Public crusaders avoid the trappings of bureaucracy, including formal written records, a clear division of labor, and a strong distinction between personal and official space. Characteristically, the headquarters of ARL is in the home of its founder.  The median operating budget for these organizations, as it is for ARL and SPC, tends to be small to non-existent.

Professional Insider Logic

The professional insider (located in the upper-right portion of Figs. 3 and 4) is the logic of the social movement establishment.[7] With a paid cadre of specialized activists focusing on changing federal and state policies, these are the SMOs described in classic statement of resource mobilization theory (McCarthy and Zald 1977).  Although environmentalists predominate in this region of Seattle’s social movement field, they are not alone, and not all environmentalists adopt this logic.  Environmental Concerns Community (ECC) is exemplary.

Like the public crusader logic described above, ECC and other professional insiders share a post-material value orientation.  Their issues of choice (including environmental protection, media democratization, alternative transportation, and urban growth management) reflect quality-of-life and lifestyle concerns.  Unlike the public crusader logic, however, professional insiders target governments more often than the public.  This leads them into arenas with very different sets of actors, authorities, institutionalized norms, practices, and institutional logics.  In particular, they are most active at the state and federal levels of government.  According to its agent, EEC has “a history and a role of being sought as a representative...of the environmental community” in state politics.  When asked why, he pointed to the SMO’s long standing in state environmental politics (it was founded in 1967) and said, “The purpose initially of ECC was to kind of provide a common coordinated voice for the environmental community down in the legislature.”  Though he recognizes the role that publics play in legislative politics, he makes clear that the legislature is the ultimate target and voters are simply a means to an end.  When asked whether ECC uses rallies or tabling to reach these publics (as public crusaders do), he replied,

I don’t think we’ve really done that much yet, but yeah, it’s trying to integrate those people from those districts into our—you know, just for instance, when we do a lobby day, [we] try to emphasize getting people from these districts down to the capitol, try to emphasize getting letters-to-the-editor in the papers that those people read…buying ads...and picking where you’re doing those ads based on where you’re trying to get the key votes.

Consistent with its state-level target, the statewide (and often region-wide) scope typical of a professional insider campaign contrasts sharply with the localism of the public crusader logic. Professional insiders mobilize support and develop frames in trans-local terms, as can be seen in the names of the SMO themselves (e.g., Washington Conservation Coalition, Northwest Conservation Society, Washingtonians for Healthy Urban Living). ECC, as a member of a statewide coalition of prominent environmental SMOs (including WCC, WHUL, NEA, UFO, and WTS), works collaboratively on an agreed-upon set of state-level legislative priorities each year.  With its attention so trained on state-level politics, its representative seems to take its choice of geographic scope thoroughly for granted: “We’re not geographically focused.” When pressed to clarify, he conceded,

Well, we have Washington State, but what I—within the state there’s a bunch of, you know, county or [local] watershed groups, that sort of thing, or there are regional groups that...span Alaska to California.

This sort of tacit understanding of ECC’s scope demonstrates how IMLs direct an SMO’s focus of attention. The same can be seen with respect to tactics.  ECC’s mix of tactics (lobbying, letters-to-the-editor, advertisements) reflects a well-honed repertoire of insider tactics (which may also include lawsuits, press conferences, testifying, phone calls and letters to politicians).  Aside from its use of rallies, ECC’s repertoire is typical.

Well, historically, I think, we probably are seen as more of a lobbying group...I think there’s a degree of truth to that, but our kind of tactical portfolio is pretty broad.  We have an organizing capacity—

Interviewer: Organizing what?

Organizing people to engage in the [political] process, so...[we] organize workshops and trainings, get people to write letters to the editor, get people to email, phone bank, go down and testify, rallies in the capitol, meet with their local legislators off-session.

As he expressed a need for developing new tactics, he lamented (and assumed) that new tactics are not available because they are difficult to imagine:

It’s really hard to come up with new ideas...We tend, I think, to justify or devalue new ideas because they’re hard to come up with...That actually should be the other way around—it should heighten the value of that because it’s rare and it’s difficult.

According to the professional insider logic, member participation is exclusive, that is, reserved for a relatively small subset of an SMO’s membership (typically professional staffers).  Other members may occasionally be called upon (e.g., to contact their legislators) in support of the staff’s work, but a small, professional cadre handles the vast majority of the work.  Even if inclusion is sometimes beneficial, ECC insists that it can be ineffective or even detrimental:

[Y]ou could get five hundred people from the district calling—legislator doesn’t give a shit! In fact, that may dig in [her] heels even more, and so you intentionally don’t have a grassroots presence in some areas ‘cause you know the person’s against you, they’re never gonna be with you, and all you’re going to do is inflame them. You’re going to tick ‘em off. And so your grassroots strategy is actually intentionally non-existent.

Professional insiders prefer to rely on the cultivated routines, hierarchies, and skills of their specialized staffs and boards of directors.  Consistent with that orientation, professional insiders are old, wealthy, and large organizations. The median year of founding among these organizations is 1981, fully sixteen years older than that of public crusaders.  Their operating budgets are the largest in the field, with a median of $825,000, and nearly all maintain a paid staff of organizers (median=10 FTE staff) and a dedicated office for the organization.  ECC, founded in 1967, is typical with its staff of ten, budget of $750,000, and space in a downtown office building.  Professional insiders are likely to be bureaucratic and centralized, reflecting high levels of institutional isomorphism—realized via both cognitive and normative mechanisms—in relation to the organizations and agencies they encounter in the policy-making arena (DiMaggio and Powell 1983).

Urban Activist Logic

Clustered in the lower portion of the CA graphs (Figs. 3 and 4) we find evidence of the urban activist logic.[8]  This IML is characterized by a concern for social and economic justice and issues tightly linked to the local political economy (e.g. low-income housing, homelessness, labor).  As seen by its location in the CA diagram (towards the extreme bottom/middle), Seattle Committee to House Everyone (SCHE) serves as a prototypical exemplar of this logic.

The bulk of SCHE’s work aims to provide housing and support services to homeless and formerly homeless people in Seattle.  Its material value orientation sets it apart from the IMLs discussed above but puts it in the company of the city’s labor unions and other advocates for the poor. This orientation is expressed by our informant in the language of “survival,” “security” and “safety.” Ironically, this seems to imply a relational distancing from “activists” and “progressives” within the local social movement field (in spite of SCHE’s dedication to typically progressive causes):

People in SCHE, the majority of them, don’t think of themselves as activists or progressives. They’re just trying to survive, you know, that’s what they’re—that’s what they’re working on, surviving.  They’re not out to change the world.  They’re just trying to—working on surviving.

The urban-activist logic thus borrows and recombines (in creative ways) organizing frameworks (and frames) from the labor movement, urban styles of advocacy for the poor, and even movement traditions that use religious congregations as sites for resource mobilization (KCJC and PSIS are in fact ecumenical organizations with both individual and congregational members).  Rather than targeting the public (as do public crusaders) or federal and state governments (as do professional insiders), this logic orients SMOs toward the local community and policies of city and state governments.  Consistent with this choice of arena, the scope of their campaigns is also local and we therefore see a corresponding tendency to collaborate with other local actors.  For instance, SCHE’s primary activity revolves around the establishment, support, and maintenance of community run shelters and encampments for the homeless. This has led it to partners with other local organizations seen as both ideological allies (in their shared concern for the poor) and legitimating resources vis-à-vis the local political environment:

Churches are sympathetic to homeless people, and, you know, our relationships with churches are very important.  That’s who owns most of the property where we have our shelters, and our tent cities...So, you know, our relationship with the church community’s real important. Some politicians like us more than others, you know.

Interviewer: More so when you have church relations?

Sure, sure.

Network ties within the community reinforce the local orientation of urban activists.  For instance, Affordable Housing Institute (AHI)—in fact, a spin-off of SCHE—is a well-connected player in local and statewide housing policy that works closely with developers and local and state politicians and agencies to increase Seattle’s stock of housing for low-income people.  Our informant with AHI said of Seattle, “It’s a small town,” and it must therefore maintain positive ties with the local business community (i.e., developers) because “we’re all going to the same restaurants; we’re all going to the same theaters; and we’re all seeing each other all the time...There definitely has to be a cooperative spirit to get anything done around here.”

The urban activist logic allows for productive political compromises if they result in concessions from powerful decision-makers. However, when their interests are ignored or when the organization perceives a chance of co-optation by these authorities, the urban activist logic allows movement actors to resort to well-established tactics designed to generate disruption and coax a response.  This mix of insider and outsider tactics makes these organizations a rather conspicuous bunch with a discernable influence in local politics and a high visibility in the community.  Urban activists value having a seat at the table of powerful decision-makers, are prepared to make productive compromises, and are willing to raise a ruckus when their interests are ignored.

For instance, SCHE, drawing three-quarters of its budget from local sources, routinely interacts with bureaucrats and politicians but appears to be a reluctantly political actor. Its representative explains that in a context in which city officials lack the ability or political will to help homeless people, SCHE has established several squats around the city that tread a legally ambiguous line.  Aware of the organization’s outsider status, he displays a certain cynicism toward those who would question its use of tactics:

The primary thing that SCHE does is things that help people survive and that’s mostly [to provide] shelter of one sort or the other. And because we don’t have other resources that a traditional organization would have, like property, or much money commensurate to what we’re doing, our primary resource is the community working together, and apparently that’s controversial at times...Whenever we say, “Well, we’ve got to stay in a shelter and this is where we’re going to put the shelter,”...you know, for some reason it upsets other people. They don’t think it should be in their backyard.  

Unlike the other two IMLs, the urban activist logic places relatively little emphasis on member participation and the structure of decision-making. This can be seen in the diversity of the organizations making up this group.  Two of the labor unions (MAS, PSEW) are centralized, but two are not (LJ, SWU).  Some encourage inclusive participation (e.g., SCHE, CHA), others prefer exclusion (e.g., AHI).  Together with this flexibility in forms of membership participation and decision-making structure and the mixture of insider and outside tactics, the urban activist logic can be distinguished from both the public crusader and professional insider logics.

Urban activist SMOs tend to be comparatively old, large, bureaucratic, and wealthy.  At the median, this type of organization was founded in 1977, retains a staff of eight employees, a dedicated office space, and an annual operating budget of just under $500,000.  SCHE is typical in terms of budget ($490,000) and staff (8), but is rather young for an urban activist SMO (founded in 1990) and lacks a clear division of labor characteristic of a bureaucracy.


In this paper we examined the institutional foundations of social movement activity. Moving beyond current approaches, we argued that SMOs both participate and embed themselves in institutional fields within which multiple visions of how to “do” contention co-exist. We refer to these as institutional movement logics. Our main substantive claim is that social movement fields are constituted by these logics that focus the attention of SMOs while shaping their goals, strategies, identities, and practices. The empirical analysis of Seattle’s social movement field at the turn of the century shows how one can identify IMLs based on combinations of issues, targets, and tactics. These ITT combinations are defined in relation to one another and provide actors with a coherent normative vision of how to organize. Our study uncovered three such IMLs, each linked to a distinct set of attributes at the SMO level. We believe the institutional logics approach allows for a better conceptualization of certain key theoretical issues at the intersection of social movement theory and institutional analysis, thus bringing some balance to recent attempts to combine the two.

Analytical Contributions to Social Movement Theory

Our study contributes to several lines of scholarship, including recent attempts to cross-fertilize SMT and organization theory (Schneiberg and Lounsbury 2008) and to rethink the role of culture in movements (Polletta 2008). We synthesize a wide range of research and theory to motivate the notion of institutional movement logics, an analytically concrete and empirically specifiable construct that can explain how routine activity in movement organizations is conditioned by field-level processes. We go beyond previous attempts in specifying the most important building blocks of movement logics and outlining tangible mechanisms that may account for both differentiation and consolidation of distinct logics within  social movement fields.

Our empirical analysis triangulates multiple sources of evidence to reveal three movement logics operative in Seattle’s movement field at a key point in its history. These IMLs seem to have both analytical and phenomenological validity (Martin 2003) that makes them applicable to future studies outside of our empirical setting. Further research, however, may discover different IMLs.  While our analysis pertains  to a single movement field in a relatively short time-scale, our results provide evidence for the prima facie applicability of the IML construct  to other cases  at longer time scales.

Limitations of the Empirical Analysis

While we believe that the virtues of our analytical framework are separable from the concrete case under consideration here, our empirical analysis does have limitations. These should be taken as qualifications to our substantive claims and lessons for future attempts to apply the IML framework.

With respect to breadth and representativeness of the sample, time and cost constraints limited us to forty organizations rather than a full census (which we estimate would include nearly 500 Seattle-based SMOs). In spite of this numerical restriction, we believe that the set of organizations included in our study is representative of the full range of relevant movement actors. The three IMLs that we describe are thus broadly representative of the set of cultural logics characteristic of this field.  

That said, sampling is likely to disproportionately leave out SMOs at the periphery of the field as well as those endowed with unusual (whether innovative or emergent) logics. Given this, our conclusions should be taken as applying to established SMOs rather than emergent or declining ones. Future  research interested in describing emergent or peripheral logics will require a  different sampling strategy (e.g. snowball sampling from a theoretically chosen seed case).

One type of movement actor that is underrepresented in our case is conservative organizations.  This omission is surely a reflection of Seattle’s historically left-leaning politics and probably does not reflect the adoption of peripheral logics on the part of these SMOs given the ample evidence that right-wing organizations opt for established forms (e.g., Cunningham 2013).  Nonetheless, the omission of conservative SMOs does raise important questions about possible IML differences across the political spectrum. While it it is possible that right-wing organizations would opt for different IMLss, it is also possible that their tactics and targets (if not issues) might significantly overlap with those of left-wing SMOs. We leave this question open for future research.

Another issue pertains to the validity of retrospective interview data (e.g., Golden 1997). Asking respondents to recall seven years of organizational activity runs up against memory limitations, introducing  potential biases. For example, respondents are more likely to accurately recall organizational characteristics (e.g., issues, tactics, targets) if they are central and enduring features of their organizations.  Likewise, organizational changes consistent with the prevailing IML are more accurately recalled than changes that diverge from the current IML. In this study we have focused on core organizational features since these are the most empirically relevant for characterizing IMLs. The results of our analysis thus reflect the central tendencies at work.

Suggestions for Future Research

Our theoretical and empirical discussion has brought up a variety of substantive questions that are beyond the scope of a single paper.  A strength of the analytic framework that we provide here is precisely that it does not commit the analyst to take strong a priori stances on these set of issues. We conclude with a brief exploration of several important sets of questions for future research.

How Do IMLs Emerge, Change, and Decline?

Questions regarding IML emergence, change, and decline all center on the issue of institutional change. A growing literature at the intersection of IA  and SMT points the way toward theoretical progress on this issue (Clemens and Cook 1999; McAdam and Scott 2005; Schneiberg and Lounsbury 2008; Walker 2012). Change mechanisms so far highlighted in this literature may serve as guideposts for theorizing institutional change in social movement fields. 

One approach locates the impetus for change in the intentional efforts of outsiders. These actors disrupt existing institutional arrangements by mobilizing emergent cultural logics (e.g., Clemens 1996; Rao, Morrill, & Zald 2000; McAdam and Scott 2005). These changes may or may not correspond to the intentions of outsiders, but they can be traced to their mobilization efforts. This is consistent with theories that highlight the role of institutional vulnerabilities that present challengers with opportunities to successfully influence the institutional order (e.g., Moore 1999; Walker, Martin, and McCarthy 2008). As noted at the outset, these studies treat challenges as “extra-institutional” and consequently have overlooked the institutional foundations of social movements.

A second approach casts institutional change as the product of the routine functioning of fields as new logics are institutionalized and de-institutionalized s (e.g., Rao and Giorgi 2006; Lounsbury, Ventresca, & Hirsch 2003).  From this perspective, logics emerge as established players recombine old elements in novel ways (Morrill 2006).

We believe that a combination of these two approaches to the issue of IML emergence and change is the most promising avenue. One might ask how IMLs emerge and promote changes in neighboring fields and to what extent they may diffuse across movement fields via well-established  mechanisms (Strang and Soule 1998). Conversely, researchers may focus on how competition between different IMLs may account for the decline of once dominant movement logics. This study suggests that the appropriate time frame to observe these processes may be longer than what has been implied by social movement studies (e.g., Zald and Ash 1966). A study design meant to specify these field-level dynamics is likely to require information on SMOs across a relatively long-time span.

How Do Actors Choose among IMLs? 

A key premise of our argument is that social movement fields are characterized by the existence of multiple and sometimes-competing logics. This implies that the choice of a given ITT combination necessarily precludes others while carrying practical, material, and semiotic import for the organization. From the vantagepoint of SMOs, movement fields present a range of IMLs from which to choose, but the choice of one logic or another is conditioned by several factors. These include, in addition to the choice set, the organization’s relative location within the field (and/or at the intersection of multiple fields), and the organization’s existing stock of routines, resources, and previous experience. In addition, the attention-focusing function of IMLs,  implies that even new organizations are likely to choose IMLs in predictable ways, as was the case with peace organizations in Seattle emerging in 2003.

An important topic for future research concerns the relationship between cultural logics and the organization’s relational embeddedness in the field (e.g. Ansell 2003). To what extent do an organization’s relations with other movement actors influence its choices of issue-tactic-target combinations? Conversely, do ITT choices influence relations with others? In this study we found a strong relationship between interorganizational relations and IMLs, but lacking longitudinal data we are not able to disentangle the direction of causation.  

Another issue is the extent to which IML choice is modulated by collective identity dynamics. It is likely that cognitive and affective identification with broad cultural labels plays an important role (e.g. Poletta 2005). As such, the IMLs that give meaning to these forms will signal shared beliefs and values, thus drawing boundaries (exclusive and inclusive) in relation to other actors. Some IMLs are seen as “appropriate” for certain actors given their collective identity choice (Polletta 2004). In-depth ethnographic or comparative historical approaches, more effective at getting at the thick meaning of IMLs for organizational actors, may be more profitable for addressing this issue.

What is the Relationship between Frames and IMLs? 

While both collective action frames and IMLs deal with the cultural constitution of contentious activity, they do so at different levels of analysis and by highlighting distinct mechanisms. Much research on framing stays at the organizational or movement level, a step below the field level (e.g., Cress and Snow 2000). Master frames, on the other hand, operate at a level that transcends spatially and temporally bounded social movement fields (Snow and Benford 1992). Whether IMLs enjoy such cross-field prevalence should, at this stage, be seen as an empirical question.

Both frames and IMLs can be seen as “sense making” and “attention focusing” devices for social movement actors, but they operate via clearly distinct mechanisms. For instance, frames tend to be used for more deliberate types of justification, diagnosis, prognosis, and motivation. IMLs, on the other hand, structure routine movement activities even during times when no explicit contention is taking place and even in the absence of explicit deliberation.

Although we see them as analytically and empirically distinct, we believe that frames and IMLs are likely to be systematically linked. This opens up questions of whether and how IMLs interact with framing dynamics and the extent to which they condition one another. For instance, an IML that combines the issue of animal rights, conventional tactics, and a public target would be constrained to adopt very different frames for their activity than one that combines the same issue with disruptive tactics and business targets.  If IMLs do indeed constrain (and enable) frames, this raises the intriguing possibility that IMLs have an elective affinity with particular audiences, and we may therefore speak of IML alignment.  It is also likely that frames likewise shape IMLs, as when movement actors engage in frame bridging or frame extension combine previously unconnected issues.


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Table 1. Three Ideal-Typical Institutional Movement Logics.

Professional Insider

Urban Activist

Public Crusader






State and federal policy making

Local political economy (govt. and businesses)

Public opinion

Geographic Scope

Non-local (state- and region-wide)



Tactical Orientation


Mix of insider and outsider


Member Participation


Exclusive or inclusive


Decision Making/Governance


Centralized or decentralized


Organizational characteristics

Old, large, wealthy, professional, bureaucratic

Old, large, wealthy, professional, bureaucratic

Young, small, poor, volunteer, non-bureaucratic


[2] We use Nenadic and Greenacre’s (2007) CA package for the R statistical environment. This routine is based on the singular value decomposition of (a normalized version of) the two-way table of counts. Biplots are generated via the ggplot2 plotting system (Wickham 2009) using the (symmetric) row and column coordinates from the simple CA solution.

[3] We exclude several extreme outliers from the calculation of the dimensions and add them as supplementary data points in the maps due to their disproportionate influence on the dimensions despite having relatively small frequencies. As supplemental points, we can still observe their relative positions without misinterpreting their contributions to the variance of the dimensions (for more on supplemental points see Clausen 1998).

[4] Of the many conceivable ways these graphs could be divided, the division we present here comes from our careful inspection of the qualitative and quantitative data.  Nonetheless, our intention is to demonstrate the conceptual utility of IMLs and methodological advantages of correspondence analysis for detecting them, and whatever clusters an analyst might identify would serve that same purpose.

[5] We thank an anonymous reviewer for suggesting this validity check.

[6] 18 organizations fall into this category: ARL, OI, PS, IN, IR, IAS, CNPJ, WOAR, CAW, AAP, PSC, IOF, CSC, SSF, PSCAW, SNCP, SPC, and PP.

[7] Eleven organizations fall in this category: NEA, ELDF, UFO, WCC, DA, NCS, WTS, PPPL, ECC, WHUL, and FD.

[8] Eleven organizations fall into this category: PSIS, AHI, SUE, WUW, SCHE, SWU, WLPJ, UHC, KCJC, LJ, and CHA.