It is increasingly common for social movement scholars to bemoan the lack of theory and research on leadership in social movements. There’s a good reason for this: there’s not enough out there. We know a bit about who becomes a movement leader. We know a bit about how they become leaders. We know a bit about what the leadership experience does to leaders over time. And we know a bit about what leaders (sometimes) (probably) do. There’s clearly a lot of ground left to cover.
One way to advance our understanding is to shift from thinking about leadership as something individuals do to thinking about leadership as the outputs from leadership teams (recent works by Marshall Ganz, Francesca Polletta, and others have started pushing us in such directions). Making this conceptual shift refocuses our attention away from the particulars of what certain leaders have done and toward the organizational and interactional contexts within which they operated. The most brilliant tactical innovation or issue frame is highly context dependent. But the settings from which brilliant ideas spring forth may not be. In effect, to understand movement leadership, we might be better off asking why some leadership teams work better than others. Continue reading