Social Movements and Tactical Choice


  • Jeff A. Larson

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice, Towson University
    • Correspondence address: Jeff A. Larson, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice, Towson University, 8000 York Rd., Towson, MD 21252, USA. E-mail:

    Search for more papers by this author


For much of the past 40 years, the study of social movement tactics has viewed organizers' choices as driven by a desire to maximize efficacy and efficiency within a context of scarce resources and structural constraints. As sociologists increasingly turned toward culture, a new orientation emerged to view tactical choice as a process of gathering, interpreting, and evaluating information within dynamic, uncertain, and often-contradictory contexts. The importance of the cultural turn has been amply demonstrated in studies of such things as identities, emotions, and collective action frames, but the full implications of its insights continue to be discovered. Four insights in particular warrant greater attention: many core concepts in the study of social movements have an interpretive, subjective, and contingent nature; tactics are a means of communication; social structures are imbued with culture, and culture is thoroughly structured; and social movements sometimes behave irrationally, and what appears to be irrational behavior often is in fact rational. I briefly discuss three areas of scholarship – collective identities, diffusion, and institutional fields – that demonstrate innovative ways that sociologists continue to combine and incorporate these insights and point the way toward a more sophisticated understanding of social movements and tactical choice.