Using Group Consciousness Theories to Understand Political Activism: Case Studies of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Ingo Hasselbach


concerning this article should be addressed to Lauren E. Duncan, Department of Psychology, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063. Email:


ABSTRACT I describe and integrate several theories of group consciousness and collective action, along with 3 case studies of political activists. I have 2 goals: (1) to use the theories to help us understand something puzzling about each life and (2) to use the cases to complicate and expand the theories. Barack Obama's case raises the question of how someone with a politicized Black identity evolved into a politician working for all oppressed people and complicates racial identity development theory. Hillary Clinton's case raises the question of how a middle-class White girl raised in a conservative family became a prominent Democratic Party politician and complicates group consciousness theories by demonstrating the importance of generation and personality. Ingo Hasselbach's (a former German neo-Nazi leader) case illustrates relative deprivation theory and raises the question of whether theories developed to explain subordinate group consciousness can be applied to movements of dominant group consciousness.