Movement Intellectuals Engaging the Grassroots: A Strategy Perspective on the Black Consciousness Movement

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Drawing upon activist interviews and framing theory this article proposes that the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) is better understood not by focusing on the objective status of its leadership as middle-class intellectuals, but by instead looking at what these ‘movement intellectuals’ subjectively did to link their philosophy of liberation to the lifeworlds of those they sought to engage. It argues that this shift reveals three important features of social movements and movement intellectuals more generally. Firstly, it uncovers the meaningful, value-driven, emotional and collective-identity bases for action, alongside the more familiar instrumental motivations. Secondly, given the inevitable clash between movement intent and the contingent constraints under which movements invariably operate, it argues that movement success is better judged not by external criteria that are assumed to hold universally, but instead by reference to the unique strategic intentions articulated by movements themselves. Finally, it shows how, given heterogeneous audiences, the deployment of a diversity of grounded intellectual strategies can help augment the resonance of a movement’s core political message.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalThe Sociological Review
Early online date10 Jan 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Jan 2020


  • Black Consciousness Movement
  • framing
  • movement intellectuals
  • performativity
  • social movements


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