An ethnographic study of two crowd events was carried out in order to develop a hypothesis about the experience of empowerment in collective action. Qualitative comparison of an anti-roads occupation and a mass eviction suggests that empowerment as an outcome of collective action is a function of the extent to which one's own action is understood as expressing social identity, a process we term collective self-objectification. The comparison indicates that empowerment is not reducible to the experience of success. While both events came to be construed by participants as ‘victories’, their associated emotions (joy versus despair and anger) and rationales for future participation (confidence versus enhanced self-legitimacy) were different. The relation between collective self-objectification and self-efficacy is discussed. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.