Persuasive Functions and Identities

For Stewart, Smith, and Denton, social movements can be successful through the thoughtful use of six functions: transforming perceptions of social reality, altering self-perceptions, legitimizing the social movement, prescribing courses of actions, mobilizing for action, and sustaining the movement.  TheseThese functions answer the research question posed in Chapter 2, which is (and I’m paraphrasing), what people in what environment through what means do social movements succeed? These functions help a social movement  . . . Well, move, or evolve, through various stages, from genesis to termination. However, these stages are recursive and in some cases difficult to see happening.

It seems to me that the authors find collective identity a foundation for further action and the ultimate success of the movement. Part of establishing a collective identity is ensuring the social movement is separate from mainstream society and the primary source of oppression. Social movements separate themselves while also inviting other to take up their actions, not necessarily always inviting them to take on their identities, however. Language, then, makes a collective identity possible and language makes it possible for rhetorical and persuasive action. Pages 143-148 , in particular, helps me see the “identity” thread that runs across these three chapters. Thus, there are the strategies for ensuring social movements succeed, but the foundation for such work is an understanding of who the members are, and what language and goals they agree on that binds the social movement.


I understand that Stewart, Smith, and Denton discuss collective identity, but I was thinking about individual identity after I finished reading the chapter. I  think there’s a need to maintain a consistent identity  across social media platforms for individual participants in a social movement, especially if he or she is embedded in that movement (say, a leadership position). You want a consistent identity across platforms to maintain ethos, the sense that you belong to the social movement and you take up its ideologies. Some draw a line between the kinds of social media they have and their persona. Facebook is personal: here I am connected to friends and family, but my Twitter persona is more activist/social movement-conscious. Sometimes the work on Twitter spills over into Facebook (mainly to educate my friends).

A common problem when discussing collective identity is that the identities of the individual members are erased, if not while the social movements goes on then historically, long after the movement has “ended.” The Stonewall Riots is one such example. Last year, a film the chronicles Stonewall erased Marsha P. Johnson, an African American drag queen, and Silvia Rivera, a Puerto Rican transgendered woman. Instead of calling attention to their role in starting the Stonewall Riots, the film raises up a white gay man named Danny.

Another example can be culled from the Black Lives Matter Movement. Patrisse Marie Cullors-Brignac, co-creator of the movement, recently published an article on In this article, Patrisse calls attention to the role Black queer women played in establishing the movement. Very often, she writes, “Black liberation movements in this country have created room and space and leadership mostly for Black heterosexual, cisgender men, leaving women, who are often queer or transgender, either out of the movement or in the background to move the work forward with little or no recognition. As younger organizers we recognized a need to center the leadership of women.”

I’m all for collective identity, but when marginalized groups are erased and replaced by a heteronormative, cis, and white narrative . . . We have a problem.

Published by aabyrd

I'm the instructor for WCATY's Media Studies in a Digital Age course for Summer 2015.

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