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The moral foundations of activism


The proposed project will address the role of moral conviction in collective action: i.e. cooperative effort toward social change such as the Occupy movement and the Arab spring. Existing theory and research indicates that strong, long term commitment to social change results from a politicization process wherein individuals come to identify with a social movement and internalize its norms and values, resulting in action on its behalf. We argue that this politicization process results in the formation of a moral conviction about the goal of collective action, and 1) that this moral conviction is responsible for the effects of politicization on collective action readiness, but also that it has the potential 2) to sour the relation between activists and non-activists and to lower activists’ ability to attract followers, and 3) to lead to the dehumanization of political opponents and to justify the use of aggressive forms of collective action. Building on his established expertise, the Fellowship enables Dr. Zaal to provide a novel perspective on engagement in collective action, and to offer new insights in the mobilization and radicalization processes that are vital to understanding social change but have received little attention in the collective action literature. The proposed project provides the ideal opportunity for Dr. Zaal to achieve these research objectives and to develop a position of professional maturity. During the project, Dr. Zaal will benefit greatly from regular face-to-face meetings with Professor Barreto, an internationally renowned expert on social change, and from the training he will receive from her on social identity, social influence, morality and dehumanization. In addition, Dr. Zaal will benefit from being embedded in the Social, Environmental and Organizational Research Group, one of the most successful social scientific research groups worldwide, and from the complementary training opportunities offered by the University of Exeter.

Call for proposal

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The Queen's Drive Northcote House
EX4 4QJ Exeter
United Kingdom
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 221 606,40
Administrative Contact
Samantha Irish (Ms.)