Explaining the membership and trajectories of Social Movement Organizations (SMOs)---a comparative case-study of Attac Germany and France

Date of Completion

January 2010


Political Science, General|Sociology, Organizational




The research aims to do both, explain the development in membership of one of the largest alter-globalization movement, and prototypical new social movements, namely Attac in Germany and France as well as establish activists' general engagement patters. Mainly based on 182 interviews conducted with members, sympathizers and former members of the Attac organization, I find that Attac France was strong during its first seven years of its existence thanks to its efficient campaigns, its ideological attraction, and its accommodating structure. I also discover that, as a result of internal fights, the organization started to decline in 2005. People left out of annoyance with the disunity inside Attac and/or because this crisis wiped out Attac's political clout. In contrast to the rather fluctuating membership patterns of Attac France, Attac Germany has grown moderately and more sustainably in the past 10 years, thanks to politically relevant events, the association's ideological attraction and its complaisant group atmosphere based on the consensus principle. ^ In the second part of the dissertation, I extrapolate from the cases of Attac Germany and France by explaining an individual's motivations to become and remain active in a SMO. I find that there are mainly two types of activists. First, more instrumentally oriented people—activists whose goal is policy change—are short term oriented, show fluctuating patterns of involvement and have no special connections to a particular group. In contrast more ideologically oriented people—individuals who deem activism the right thing to do—are long term oriented, have stable patterns of involvement and are emotionally connected to a particular group. In addition, I uncover that while the third motif, the identity motif (people look for an accommodating structure and complaisant atmosphere) is complementary to the two other motifs; it plays a stronger role in determining engagement patterns of more rational people as compared to more ideological oriented activists. Based on these observations, I create a typology of three different organization types in the final part of the dissertation and theoretically discuss possible developments in terms of their membership. ^