Activism as a heroic quest for symbolic immortality: An existential perspective on collective action

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Excellent research exists on the conditions that generate political and social activism. Yet a central issue has remained perplexing: how does the personal need to stand out as unique and heroic interact with the concern for the positive image of the group, and the desire to protect and bolster its status, goals and shared values, in propelling collective action? Inspired by existential theory and research, this paper proposes an existential perspective on activism that identifies the human desire for a sense of meaning and significance as an important motivation underlying individuals' choice to engage in collective action. This study outlines an integrative model of collective action, combining insights from existential psychology with insights from the social identity perspective, to bridge together needs and concerns associated with both personal identity and group identity into a single model of collective action through the concept of death-anxiety buffering mechanisms. This model suggests that collective action is an effective means to satisfy existential needs through bolstering and protecting group interests and values on the one hand, and realizing the activist's heroism project on the other. Suggestions for future research are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-65
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Social and Political Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

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  • Collective action
  • Existential psychology
  • Social identity theory
  • Terror management theory
  • Violent activism


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