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Gendering the European Parliament

The Psychology of Political Participation and Social Movement Activism: An Embedded Perspective

Contentious Politics
Political Participation
Political Psychology
Social Movements
Section Number
Section Chair
Katerina Vrablikova
University of Bath
Section Co-Chair
Sonja Zmerli
Sciences Po Grenoble

The decision to become active in politics originates in people’s minds. Psychological factors, such as values, motivations and emotions, have been found to be important triggers of political activism. Psychological forces also mediate the effects of other factors determining people’s political participation. Social movements and politicians play a prominent role in the mobilization of emotions, values and opinions. Yet, psychological factors are not only important for individual political behavior, but also play a crucial role for collective outcomes, such as movements and protest events.

For some time now, values and attitudes have been a central focus in political participation research, with prominent examples involving research on post-materialist values, political efficacy, or norms of citizenship (Inglehart 1979; Dalton 2008). Recently, research on social movements and collective action started to focus on the role played by emotions of anger or frustration for involvement in political action (van Stekelenburg and Klandermans 2013) and framing of emotions and feelings in recruitment of mobilizing actors and their communication about political problems (Goodwin, Jasper, and Polletta 2004; Stolle and Micheletti 2015). This Section will focus on further development and thorough integration of these perspectives to improve understanding of what drives people to become politically active. The Section will particularly focus (1) on how psychological traits interact with other factors influencing political action, such as socio-political context, mobilization, material conditions and biological traits, (2) on how psychological mechanisms connect those traits and conditions with individual and collective participatory outcomes, and (3) on the role of social movements in “psychology” of political action.

The examination of psychological factors and processes in political activism has been rather split into either qualitative studies, which formulate various psychological mechanisms but do not really examine controlled effects on activism, and quantitative studies that treat various psychological factors in a rather isolated and static manner (unconditional effects of variables) rather than as mechanisms or moderators (Hedström and Ylikoski 2010). This Section aims to bring together the two approaches, because in order to fully understand the role of psychological factors as drivers of political activism, we need to study them in an embedded way.

Chair: Kateřina Vráblíková is a post-doctoral lecturer at the University of Mannheim. She specializes on how political context affects mobilization of social movements and people’s attitudes and values and their decision to participate.

Co-chair: Sonja Zmerli ( is a full professor of political science at Sciences Po Grenoble. She specializes on Political Psychology. She is (co)editor of Politische Psychologie. Handbuch für Studium und Wissenschaft, 2015 (Political Psychology. Handbook for Study and Science).

Ideas for Papers include discussions of whether different types of cognitive mechanisms (e.g. commitment, moral shock) play a role in triggering and performing different types of action (high risk activism, charity work, etc.), how political actors frame emotions and particular issues and their role in mobilization, what mechanisms tend to explain the relationship between genetic predispositions, attitudinal variables and political action, how various micro-level psychological processes (identity change, judgments) contribute to large-scale participatory outcomes like mobilization of movements, and new empirical applications of the mechanism-based approach, etc.

1. Socialization to participation (David Campbell, University of Notre Dame)
The Panel examines the mechanisms through which socializing agents (parents, peer groups) and dynamics of socializing contexts (the level of politicizations, cross-cutting networks, etc.) induce norms and values facilitating political activism.

2. Life events and activism (Sonja Zmerli, Sciences Po Grenoble)
The Panel invites Papers that focus on people's reactions to live events like parenthood or retirement, their participatory consequences and underlying mechanisms.

3. Emotions and mobilization (Michele Micheletti, Stockholm University)
The Panel focuses on how mobilizing actors frame emotions and feelings, on the role of anger, fear or joy for political activism and their intervening role for other factors like grievances and mobilization.

4. Psychological linkages between macro-context and participation (Kateřina Vráblíková, University of Mannheim)
The Panel is focused on the interaction between cues sent by political context and the heuristics used by ordinary citizens and political actors in mobilization for political activism.

5. Identity, framing and activism (Joost de Moor and Pauline Ketelaars, University of Antwerp)
The Panel focuses on group-level and individual dynamics between sense and framing of collective identity, diagnostic and prognostic frames used by mobilizers and people’s own framing of their action and the role for mobilization.

6. Issue positions, party ID, participation (Peter Van Aelst, University of Antwerp)
Political participation has been “issue” blind assuming that the pathways of how people get involved in politics apply regardless the issue of participation. The Panel focuses on how issues of participatory events, people’s issue positions or polarization interact with party or movement identity.

7. Biological sources of engagement (Sven Oskarsson, Uppsala University)
What role does biology play for people’s involvement in politics? The Panel aims at examining the effect of genes and their interaction with values, attitudes and personality traits on political participation.

8. Discussion panel: complex theories and methodological challenges (Kateřina Vráblíková and Joost de Moor)
Panelists: Sonja Zmerli, Michele Micheletti, David Campbell, Peter Van Aelst, Sven Oskarsson and open discussion with the audience.

Dalton, Russell J. 2008. “Citizenship Norms and the Expansion of Political Participation.” Political Studies 56 (1): 76–98.
Goodwin, Jeff, James M. Jasper, and Francesca Polletta. 2004. “Emotional Dimensions of Social Movements.” In The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements, edited by David A Snow, Sarah Anne Soule, and Hanspeter Kriesi, 413–22. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.
Hedström, Peter, and Petri Ylikoski. 2010. “Causal Mechanisms in the Social Sciences.” Annual Review of Sociology 36 (1): 49–67.
Inglehart, Ronald. 1979. “Political Action: The Impact of Values, Cognitive Level, and Social Background.” In Political Action: Mass Participation in Five Western Democracies, edited by Samuel H. Barnes and Max Kaase, illustrated edition edition, 343–81. Beverly Hills, Calif: Sage Pubns.
Stolle, Dietlind, and Michele Micheletti. 2015. Political Consumerism: Global Responsibility in Action. New York: Cambridge University Press.
van Stekelenburg, Jacquelien, and Bert Klandermans. 2013. “The Social Psychology of Protest.” Current Sociology 61 (5-6): 886–905.

Panel List

Code Title Details
P022Biological Sources, Emotions and Values in Participation View Panel Details
P150Framing and Political Activism View Panel Details
P298Perceptions, Attitudes and Political Engagement View Panel Details
P342Psychological Linkages between Macro/Meso-Context and Participation View Panel Details
P387Socialization to/by Participation View Panel Details
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