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The Mind of Activists: A Cognitive Approach to Contentious Participation

Gian-Andrea Monsch
Université de Lausanne
Gian-Andrea Monsch
Université de Lausanne
Florence Passy
Université de Lausanne
Open Panel

Abstract

In the social movement literature, we know fairly well who participates in protest politics (social anchorages, value structure, etc.) and how people join contention (social networks). However, the question of why individuals participate in protest politics is hardly addressed. The paper focuses on activists'' mental maps in order to understand why activists join contentious politics. Cognitions (i.e. subjectively evaluated relation to specific objects) are less stable than values and thus raise serious challenges in establishing a causal relationship between cognitions and participation. Constant resocialization of individuals could not allow scholars to assess whereas a specific cognitive map has lead individuals to join protest politics. However, scholars could assess whereas activists, once they participate in protest politics, strongly differ from inactive citizens regarding their cognitive map. The paper adresses this issue by comparing activists'' cognitive map from the rest of the population on specific cognitive dimensions. Do activists subjective world differ - and to what extent and what specific dimensions - from inactive citizens? The answer to this question constitutes the first step in evaluating the importance of cognitions in order to participate in protest politics. The paper is part of a larger project comparing activists in distinct political contentious sites in Switzerland.