4. Passion with an umbrella: Grassroots activists in the workplace


Social Structure and Organizations Revisited

ISBN: 978-0-76230-872-9, eISBN: 978-1-84950-149-1

ISSN: 0733-558X

Publication date: 3 July 2002


This paper takes a “social movements” approach to employee activism regarding diversity and inequality in the workplace. The social context is often neglected in studies of organizational change, while the workplace as a locus of activism receives less attention from social movement theorists than other organizational settings. We do not seek to differentiate employee activists from quiescent employees but to understand the concerns, language, and tactics of small groups of employee activists when they mobilize. Our study is based on interviews with thirty-nine activists from nine grassroots employee groups in a 900-person division of a high technology firm. We learn how employee activists pursue changes that question power relations, draw links to broader societal issues, sustain their “passion” and collective efforts over cycles of involvement, manage risks to their careers and their mission, handle the protection and constraints offered by the “umbrella” of management, and make sense of their accomplishments. We close by highlighting the significance of local, fragmented change efforts. Without being too sanguine about employee activism nor too cynical about its cooptive function, theorists should allow a place for piecemeal change.


Scully, M. and Segal, A. (2002), "4. Passion with an umbrella: Grassroots activists in the workplace", Lounsbury, M. and Ventresca, M. (Ed.) Social Structure and Organizations Revisited (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 19), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 125-168. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0733-558X(02)19004-5

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Copyright © 2002, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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