Moral Identity and Protest Cascades in Syria

Wendy Pearlman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations

Abstract

Cascade models explain the roles of the intrepid few who initiate protest and the masses who join when the expected utility of dissent flips from negative to positive. Yet questions remain about what motivates participation between those points on the causal chain, or under any conditions of high risk. To explain these anomalies, this article employs theories of moral identity to explore the interdependence of a facet of decision making that rationalist models typically regard as fixed: individuals' awareness of and need to express values central to their sense of self. Three mechanisms describe ways that individuals' responses to early risers trigger moral identity-based motivations for protest. First, by conjuring normative ideals, first movers can activate bystanders' urge to follow their example in order to earn their own self-respect. Secondly, by demonstrating the joy of agency, early risers can inspire bystanders' desire to experience the same gratification. Thirdly, by absorbing punishments, early risers can activate onlookers' sense of moral obligation to contribute to collective efforts. These mechanisms redouble bystanders' sense of the inherent value of protest, apart from its instrumental utility, and intensify their acceptance of risks, independent of the actual risks anticipated. Original interviews with displaced Syrians about their participation in demonstrations illustrate these processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)877-901
Number of pages25
JournalBritish Journal of Political Science
Volume48
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018

Keywords

  • Arab spring
  • Syria
  • cascades
  • identity
  • mechanisms
  • morality
  • protest
  • social movements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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