Department of Sociology
University of Colorado, Boulder
Conflict Resolution Consortium
Campus Box 327
University of Colorado
Boulder, Colorado 80309
March 20, 1989
Working Paper #89-8.
This paper was written with a small grant from the Conflict Resolution Consortium, University of Colorado. Funding for the Consortium and its Small Grants Program was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
The statements and ideas presented in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Conflict Resolution Consortium, the University of Colorado, or the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
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Most observers of the peace movement focus on its external activities (See end note 1). Mass demonstrations in support of nuclear disarmament, civil disobedience, and the like receive much public attention. Yet the peace movement does more than organize public events. In grass-roots peace movement organizations (PMO's) much activity is directed internally, toward creating and maintaining a collectivist form of organization, in which authority and power are vested in the collectivisty, rather than in any individual either by virtue of his or her official position (as in a bureaucracy) or personal characteristics (Rothschild-Whitt 1979).
Yet this internal activity of PMO's has not been adequately studied, and the form of collectivist organization and the reasons for its use are poorly understood. This paper analyzes the collectivist organization of PMO's and argues that its utilization has both instrumental and ideological rationales: it is both a means to an end, and an end in itself. It begins by reviewing the current literature on the structures and processes of social movement organizations. The ideal-type PMO is described, and the processes through which collectivist organization contributes to achieving the instrumental ends and serves the ideological purposes of PMO's is elaborated. Finally, the importance of internal organization for PMO goals is discussed from a larger theoretical perspectve. In social movement research, the role of organizational style in the mobilization of participants may help explain "how structural change is transformed into action" (Klandermans and Tarrow 1988:10). For sociological theory generally, the structure-into-action question is directly pertinent to attempts to bridge microsociological and macrosociological explanations of social action.
Until the 1960s, collective action theorists were little concerned with the organization of social movements. The focus of their research was on explaining individual participation in social movements; such participation was assumed to be relatively rare, and participants to be arational or irrational (Jenkins 1983:528). In response to the massive increase in social movement participation in the 1960s, resource mobilization theory was formulated. It shifted attention away from the psychology of the individual to the social movement organization and the resources which such organizations mobilize for their ends.
While resource mobilization theory takes the important step of recognizing the role of organizations in the rise and fall of social ovements, it does not adequately address the variety of organizational forms that movement participants create. This shortcoming stems from the theory's assumption that actors are rational and self-interested. It is assumed that organization is based on rational principles rather than ideology. Yet ideology plays a central role in the organization of PMO's.
The key to explaining peace movement organization is understanding the purposes of PMO's. The particular organizational form adopted by a movement depends on its goals (Zald and Ash 1966) and its identity (Downey 1986:360). If the primary goal of a social movement organization is personal change, then decentralized structures with a minimum division of labor are argued to be more effective, because they generate personal bonds and solidarity. If the goal is instrumental change, then centralized structures with a clear division of labor are more efficient, because decisions can be made more quickly (McCarthy and Zald 1977). But even while this analysis acknowledges the effect of a movement's goals on its organization, it posits a dichotomy between instrumental action and expressive action to which grass-roots PMO's do not subscribe. In such organizations, participants self-consciously create organizational forms that serve as means to achieve some instrumental goal and as ends in themselves. Two such ends are the self-empowerment of participants, and the creation of nonviolent social structures within the organization. (Nonviolent social structures are those in which each individual has a say in making those decisions that affect her or his life.) The instrumental goal of PMO's is, of course, nuclear disarmament.
The creation of nonviolent social structures within PMO's may be characterized as "prefigurative" politics, as opposed to "strategic" politics (Breines 1980). In her analysis of New Left organizations, Breines (1980) explains that prefigurative politics gave rise to the creation within movement organizations of relationships that "prefigure" the desired future society. Prefigurative politics dictate forms of organization that tend to be found in grass-roots peace movement organizations. These organizations "are, for the most part, unstructured, decentralized, and extraparlaimentary, with strong internal organizations, rather than unified bureaucratic structures" (Klandermans and Tarrow 1988:22).
It should be noted that in actuality, peace movement organizations run the gamut from large, centralized national organizations to small, local, decentralized (grass-roots) organizations. (The same continuum of organizational forms is commonly found in other social movements, especially in the "new social movements" such as the feminist movement, the environmentalist movement, and the gay and lesbian rights movement.) It is the grass-roots organizations of the peace movement which are the focus of this paper, as they are the organizations that tend to experiment with collectivist forms of organization. A description of such forms is provided in a following section.
The other currently dominant paradigm in social movements research, the theory of new social movements, offers more insight into the selfconscious creation of collectivist organization in the peace movement. While American scholars were developing resource mobilization theory, their European counterparts formulated new social movements theory in response to the same phenomenon. This theory posits a qualitative break between social movements before and after the 1960s. The latter are conceived of as "new" in that their values, action forms (organization and tactics), and constituencies are "a reaction to structural change in Western industrialized societies" (Klandermans and Tarrow 1988:11).
Though the theory of new social movements tends to deemphasize movement organization and focus instead on the wider socio-historical context in which social movements arise, paradoxically it provides a greater understanding than does resource mobilization theory of the structures and processes created in peace movement organizations. This is because these structures and processes, and those used by many grass-roots organizations in other "new social movements" such as the women's and environmentalist movements, are a reaction against the increasing bureaucracy and hierarchy in modern social institutions. In these movements organizational structures and processes are an "action form," a method of protest in itself rather than simply a means to mobilize resources. Hence the protest against bureaucracy and hierarchy includes the creation of collectivist organizations within the movements.
Yet while new social movements theory addresses the why of the collectivist organization of PMO's, it is too macrosociological to address the how of their concrete manifestations. It's macrosociological perspective precludes an elaboration of the enormous amount of time, energy, and thought that peace activists invest in creating and practicing collectivist organizational forms. The theory neglects the more specific instrumental and ideological reasons that collectivist organization is used, and how it operates to these ends.
The structures and processes through which organizations operate are, at root, about conflict. Social organization involves "decisionmaking dilemmas" that derive from managing relationships, resources, activities, and values (Brown and Hosking 1986:72). Organizational structures and processes are essentially mechanisms for resolving such dilemmas in order to channel the activities of diverse individuals toward a common goal. Social movement participants, including peace activists, have been among the most aware of the importance of group structure and process in dealing with conflict.
Yet curiously, there is almost no overlap between the literature on conflict resolution theory and that on social movement organizations. One reason may be that the bulk of conflict resolution theory has appeared only in the last decade and has not yet been applied to social movement organizations. Studies of conflict resolution tend to focus either on small-group, experimental research, or, when research is conducted in a natural setting, on conflict resolution in business organizations. These are of only limited applicability to the study of peace movement organizations. While experimental research typically studies short-term social interaction among subjects who lack an understanding of the political implications of social organization, PMO's are groups of individuals who interacting over an extended period, selfconsciously create and maintain an organization baseed on nonviolent principles. The research on conflict resolution in business settings is relevant only to bureacratic, hierarchical, profit-making organizations, of which peace movements are the antithesis.
The model of collectivist organization that PMO's utilize is not unique to them. It is found, with variation, in other social movement organizations such as feminist groups, alternative schools and health centers, and worker-controlled businesses. Rothschild-Whitt (1979) has written the most comprehensive description of what she terms the idealtype collectivist organization as an alternative to rational-bureaucratic organizations. She describes the collectivist organization as differing from bureaucratic organization along eight dimensions:
The structures and processes of grass-roots PMOs generally fit this model. They are described in various books and pamphlets written by activists with experience in grass-roots PMO's, and in some scholarly articles. The following description of PMO collectives is gleaned from these works (Coover, Deacon, Esser and Moore 1977; Lakey n.d.; Women's Information Center n.d.; Wheeler and Chin 1984; Downey 1986; Wehr 1986; Palm 1985) and from personal observations by the author while participating in PMO's. Since the peace movement as a whole is decentralized, it is accepted and even encouraged for organizations within it to adapt this model as they see fit. Hence the following description is meant, as are Rothschild-Whitt's (1979) eight dimensions, as merely an ideal type. Peace movements organizations found in reality will vary according to the degree to which they fit these organizational characteristics.
An important distinction should be made between formal procedures and operating procedures in an organization (Knoke 1986:11). The way an organization operates in practice may be more or less consistent with its formal policies regarding such practice. Studies of bureaucratic organizations have shown informal operating procedures to significantly mollify the effect of the formal structure on interactions within the organization. To date no studies have been made of organizations with collectivist structures to assess the consistency between formal and operating procedures. It is hypothesized that such organizations do not operate as collectively as their formal structures would imply. However, this is an empirical question that merits investigation. Pending such investigation, it is nevertheless useful to analyze the formal structure of PMO's, keeping in mind that what is analyzed here is an ideal type.
Another relevant point that has not been empirically investigated is that collectivist organizations cannot remove all differences in power and authority. Rothschild-Whitt (1979) points out that even if a collectivist organization were completely successful in practice, inequality in authority and power would remain based on such individual differences as level of commitment and verbal skills. The most that collectivist organization can do is remove the bureaucratic basis for inequality.
Since authority is vested in the collectivity, the structure of PMO's is decentralized. PMO's either have no leadership positions, or if they do, the positions are rotated among members. Often when several peace organizations or groups of activists desire to coordinate activities, such as at a public demonstration, each sends a "spokesperson" to a "spokes council." But even then such persons have no decision-making authority; their role is merely to communicate between their own groups and the spokes council.
PMO meetings are "facilitated" rather than presided over by one participant. The facilitator's job is not to set the agenda and make decisions for the group, but rather to help the group accomplish a commmon task it sets for itself. Usually participants take turns facilitating meetings, and co-facilitators may work together.
The characterization of PMO's as "leaderless" should be qualified in two senses. First, if PMO's lack leaders in the conventional sense of individuals with formal power over others, the larger movement nevertheless includes individuals who provide symbolic or charismatic leaderhip--Caldicott, Rear Adm. Gene Laroque (ret.), and Randall Forsberg, to name a few. Such individuals have no formal power but have moral authority, based on their commitment, skills, knowledge, or experience. Wehr (1986) points out, though, that there is no one charismatic leader, and that furthermore this type of leadership is spread across many levels and organizations. This point reinforces the conception of the movement as "leaderlessness."
Second, it is perhaps more accurate to term PMO's "leader-ful" than leaderless. Rather than no participants having power and authority, as the term "leaderless" would imply, in PMO's all participants have power and authority. This is an important consequences of collectivist organization for participants. PMO participants experience themselves as leaders and hence their behaviors and attitudes are not characterized by apathy and alienation, as is often the case for non-leaders in hierarchical organizations, but by commitment and involvement.
Though decentralized, collectivist PMO's are not, as is commonly misunderstood, without a formal a structure. PMO's generally attempt to heed Freeman's (1984) warning that there is no such thing as a "structureless" group. All organizations have some kind of decision-making structure, whether explicit or implicit, centralized or decentralized. If no formal structure is created, then the informal structure that inevitably emerges in any group will take over, giving rise to an elite based on friendship, political ideology, and the like. Without a formal structure, the rise of such an elite goes unchecked, as there is no formal basis for removing their power.
One facet of the leaderlessness of PMO's is the minimization of the division of labor. This corresponds to one of the abovedimension in Rothschild-Whitt's list (1979). Rather than assigning a particular task to that participant(s) who is the most skilled at performing it, PMO's often rotate responsibility so that as many participants as possible gain experience in performing each task. This is meant to encourage all participants to develop personal skills such as writing, speaking, and facilitating meetings. It encourages participants to share their knowledge and experience with each other rather than hoarding it and using it to gain power or authority. In addition, rotating tasks insures that each person performs both the less prestigious, more menial tasks and the more prestigious tasks, minimizing the differentiation of participants.
In terms of organizational processes, collective authority gives rise to the use of consensus decision making. Again, organizational structures and processes are essentially mechanisms for resolving conflict; consensus decision making is the basic process used for resolving conflicts in PMO's. It operates as follows. For a decision to be made, all those present must be satisfied with it. When participants do not agree, they air their views and discuss alternatives until one can be found that is acceptable to all. Full agreement is not always possible, and conventions have arisen that allow for decision making in such circumstances. If a participant disagrees with a particular decision but not strongly enough to it from going through, she or he may "stand aside," essentially abstaining from the making the decision but registering her or his disagreement. If a participant disagrees so strongly that that she or he is unwilling to allow the group to act, she or he blocks consensus, and discussion continues.
In their organizational processes, PMO's often attempt to integrate "public" and "private" life. This helps build wholistic social relations among participants. Whereas in bureaucracies participants deal with each other primarily on an instrumental basis, PMO's additionally foster expressive relations between participants. This is accomplished in part by setting aside time during organizational "business" meetings, usually at the beginning, for participants to interact on a personal level. In constrast to conventional norms that private life should not interfere in public life, the practice of "personal sharing" or "checkin" allows for individuals to brief others about themselves, important events happening in their lives, and their present emotional state. One purpose of this is simply to introduce new participants to one another. Another is to provide an opportunity for those present to share events or feelings that might influence their participation in some way, to alert fellow participants to each other's "hidden agendas."
How, then, does collectivist organizational facilitate success as defined by PMO's? As explained above, PMO's have both instrumental and ideological goals. Effecting institutional change (specifically, achieving disarmament) is a central goal of PMO's. Yet they also have ideological goals. These latter goals--the self-empowerment of participants, and building nonviolent social structures within the organization--are sometimes termed "expressive," in contrast to instrumental goals.
Most social movement theorists argue that centralized structures are more effective than decentralized ones for instrumental purposes (See end note 2). Yet the reason that peace movement organizations adopt decentralized organizational forms is not because participants see instrumental goals as unimportant or even as secondary. On the contrary, participants argue that collectivist organization serves not only the ideological goals mentioned above, but instrumental goals as well. In fact, for some, such goals are not seen as separable: personal change and institutional change are two sides of the same coin. For analytic purposes, however, we will treat separately the instrumental and the ideological rationales for collectivist organization in in PMO's.
Collectivist organization serves at least two different instrumental purposes in PMO's. First, it is argued to be more effective than bureaucratic organization at mobilizing participants. Second, it is results in more viable group decisions regarding policy and action. These will be discussed in turn.
The mobilization of social movement participants involves two distinct tasks: recruiting participants to become involved in a movement, and maintaining their involvement once they have joined. Furthermore, once involved individuals must choose at what level to participate (Knoke 1986:3). While social movement organizations play roles in all stages of mobilization, the focus of this paper is on the latter two. Organizational styleprobably does not play an importanct mobilizing role untilindividuals are already involved. As Knoke asks in his study of voluntary associations, "Do association members decide to join on the basis of their concern for organizational democracy?...Formal associational goals may be more salient in the initial decision to join, but the social control process [within the organization] may be more important in decisions to remain or exit" (1981:156).
For one thing, the internal workings of an organization are not highly visible to non-participants. Even if they were, it is probably not until after joining a social movement that mostindividuals even become aware that social organization has political implications. In the larger society, bureaucracy is taken for granted, and peace movement participations must be socialized into awareness of the benefits and costs of different organizational forms.
The role of the organizational style in mobilizing participants is probably especially salient in movements such as the peace movement, which have few resources to provide in exchange for participation. It is helpful to introduce here the notion of incentives in social movement mobilization. Resource mobilization theory posits social movement participation as rational: an individual participates in a social movement because incentives to do so exist. Incentives can be solidary (the opportunity to belong to a group), material (such as career benefits, or pay), or purposive (based on a belief in the goals and methods of a group) (Gamson and Fireman 1979; Wilson 1973).
Peace movement organizations typically have few incentives to offer. They are constrained from offering material incentives, for two reasons. First, grass-roots PMO's are not well-funded. Second, even if they were, providing material incentives to participation is inconsistent with, even antithetical to, the ideology of many in the movement that participants should be motivated by a desire for peace and justice, not by material gain.
Purposive incentives for participation in the peace movement are readily available; PMO's offer individuals the opportunity to work for a cause they believe is just, using just means. Yet the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament is a relatively distant one, and even partial successes are infrequent. Peace movement organizations cannot offer participants the satisfaction of achieving nuclear disarmament. What they can offer is solidary incentives, created by organizationing collectively. By doing so, PMO's offer potential participants the opportunity to experience self-empowerment and participation in a community.
In essense, for PMO participants, community--commitment to fellow participants--may become blurred with, or overlap with, commitment to the more abstract ideal of nuclear disarmament. It is hypothesized that for most participants, while purposive incentives are a factor affecting intial involvement in the peace movement, continued participation is dependent more on solidarity with other participants. A study by Hirsch (1986) supports the idea that solidary incentives are salient in determining whether an individual continues participating. In his study of a Chicago community organization, Hirsch found material self-interest to be the major factor in the initial mobilization of social movement participants, but found continuing involvement to be based additionally on solidary incentives, which arise from interaction within the group.
The major instrumental reason that PMO's utilize collectivist organization is that it strengthens individual commitment to the organization. In a review article, Knoke (1986) summarizes the findings of studies on how organizational structures and processes promote or inhibit commitment to collective action organizations. In an earlier study of voluntary associations, Knoke (1981) found commitment to organizations to be positively related to the extent to which the organizational polity facilitates social control by members. In his 1986 review, Knoke cites several studies of teachers in which identification with the organization was found to be greater when the teachers were involved in making decisions. The other side of the coin is that various studies have found oligarchic organizations to have detrimental effects on membership commitment and involvement and on internal solidarity.
How does collectivist organization promote individual commitment to PMO's? According to Knoke (1986), membership commitment is affected by the degree to which the "organizational polity"--the decision-making structure and process--facilites social control by members. The access to and involvement in making important decisions offered to participants by PMO's contributes to feelings of personal effectiveness. Even when the organization, or the movement as a whole, is not successful in its external goals, individual participants may nevertheless feel personally effective if they participate in making decisions within the organization. Also, consensus decision making is a "win-win" process, in contrast to the "win-lose" model of decision by majority vote. Because of this, it is claimed, consensus decision making results in greater group solidarity because there are fewer lingering antagonisms after a decision has been made.
As mentioned above, decentralized decision-making structures and processes are only one aspect of collectivist organizations. Wholistic social relations and non-differentiated work roles are also likely to contribute to individual commitment to a PMO by promoting solidarity among participants. As mentioned above, it is hypothesized that in PMO's commitment to fellow participants (and the organization) substitutes for or at least comes to overlap with commitment to the cause of nuclear disarmament. Wholistic social relations and non-differentiated work roles, which facilitate dealing with individuals in personal rather than instrumental ways, contribute to commitment participants' commitment to each other and hence to the movement.
In addition to its effects on the participants themselves and their relationships, proponents of consensus decision making claim that the process increases the quality of decisions made. Peace activists generally believe that collective decision making results in more viable decisions than could be arrived at by any individual alone. The more that input from diverse individuals is incorporated into making a decision, the more creative and realistic that decision will be. Furthermore, individuals are assumed to be more willing to commit their resources and skills (including time and enthusiasm) to carrying out a particular decision when they have participated in making that decision.
Besides instrumental reasons, there are also ideological reasons that PMO's utilize collectivist organization. As stated above, these include the self-empowerment of participants, and the creation of nonoppressive social relations that prefigure the desired society.
Self-empowerment is facilitated by the collectivist organization in the same way that individual commitment is facilitated. In contemporary society there is a tendency for individuals to feel powerless to effect decisions that impinge on their lives. Exercising authority and power within the collectivist PMO builds feelings of personal efficacy that extend beyond the confines of the organization. While an individual's commitment is specific to an organization or movement, empowerment can be exercised more generally, outside of the place and time of the organization. Hence empowerment has long-term implications for social change.
In contrast to power, traditionally defined as the ability to make someone do what they would not otherwise do, empowerment refers to "enabling people to do what they could not otherwise do" (italics mine) (Ferguson 1987:9). In the desired future society, where decisions are made collectively as they are in PMO's, individuals will be empowered rather than being powerless or exercising power over others.
The other ideological rationale for collectivist organization in PMO's regards prefigurative politics. All but the more conservative peace activists believe that nuclear weapons are, in some part, a product of oppressive social structures. Such structures lead to violence, including nuclear weapons, by concentrating power in the hands of an elite. A nuclear weapons-free world entails, among other things, replacing those structures with nonviolent ones, in which power is more equally distributed.
Practicing nonviolent social relations within PMO's serves several purposes in this respect. First, it is strategically wise to begin now to build non-oppressive structures so that there is something to replace the oppressive ones when and if they fall. Furthermore, simply reacting against nuclear weapons can be disempowering. Individuals are more likely to participate in any social change movement when it offers alternatives to the problem it diagnoses. PMO's are demonstrating viable alternatives when they create and maintain nonviolent social structures within their organizations. The peace movement also fosters discussion of such alternatives to nuclear weapons as civilian defense and altenative international security institutions similar to the United Nations. However, such solutions are less comprehensive and more short-term than is building nonviolent social structures. Furthermore, their viability has not been demonstrated; PMO's can, however, demonstrate the viability of non-violent social structures, at least on a small scale.
It has been argued that the collective form of organization contributes to the commitment of participants to PMO's, makes for more viable decisions on organizational policy and action, and serves the ideological purposes of the self-empowerment of participants and the the creation of nonviolent social structures within the organization. In the end, instrumental and ideological goals may not be separable. A movement's or organization's ideology will, at least in the longer run, affect its capacity to mobilize participants. As Snow and Benford (1988) note in their discussion of the "framing" of meanings in social movement mobilization, constraints operate on the mobilizing potential of any particular frame. One possible constraint is the logical coherence of the frame: the consistency between the ends and means it describes. Collectivist organization offers a nonviolent means consistent with nonviolent ends. Another constraint is the "experiential commensurability" of a frame. In collectivist organization PMO's offer experiential evidence that alternative social structures are possible.
From the role of organization in mobilizing peace movement participants can be drawn conclusions regarding social movement mobilization generally. Klandermans and Tarrow (1988) have recently drawn attention to the gap between new social movements theory, which focuses on the structural preconditions for social movement formation, and resource mobilization theory, which in its more classic formulations, emphasizes the instrumental strategies of movement organizations. They call for a betterunderstanding of how structure is transformed into action. This paper, by arguing that the style of organization of PMO's bears on their capacities to mobilize participation in the movement, is a step in that direction. And, the structure-into-action question is a manifestation of the more general macro-micro puzzle in sociological theory. Analyzing social action at the intermediate level of the social organization may help elucidate the processes through which actors effect and are effected by macrostructures.
Finally, investigating how structure is transformed into action is of importance for the peace movement itself. It is not only a matter of studying the mobilization of present participants in the peace movement. Studying the role of organizations in mobilizing peace movement participation also involves asking why so many individuals sympathetic to nuclear disarmament do not participate in the movement. (A corollary to this question is why participants drop out of the movement.) This is perhaps the more important question for the peace movement. There are always more individuals who support the goal of nuclear disarmament than actually participate in the peace movement. The number of sympathetic individuals who are mobilized is evidence that PMO's are doing something right; the number that are not is evidence that PMO's need to more critically assess their role in facilitating or inhibiting involvement in the movement.
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