Persistent Pacifism: How Activist Commitment is Developed and Sustained

Journal article

Wehr, Paul & James Downton (1998) Persistent Pacifism: How Activist Commitment is Developed and Sustained, Journal of Peace Research 35 (5): 531–550.

How and why do activists persist in their commitment to a social movement beyond its initial mobilization phase? How do they manage their commitments? What role does creativity play in helping them keep their peace commitment intact over the long term? These are questions explored in this study. Based on extensive interviews with thirty persistent peace activists, a theory of sustained commitment is developed. It encompasses how people become available for peace activism and how political and social contexts affect their willingness to join and stay. It also identifies important social and personal factors that help to sustain commitment. These include creating an activist identity, integrating peace work into everyday life, holding beliefs that sustain activism, feeling bonded to a peace group, cultivating opportunities for action, sharing a peace vision with other activists, and managing responsibilities, criticism, and burnout. Persistent peace activists are rational in selecting courses of action, but also creative in the way they fashion their lives, manage their commitments, avoid burnout, and design and carry out projects. This creativity is an important factor contributing to pacifist persistence, yet it is a topic that has been largely neglected in collective action research. The authors argue for a stronger emphasis on 'creative action' in future research about activists and how they sustain their commitment in the face of many odds.

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