Activism / Advocacy / Protest

Activism /ˈæktəˌvɪzəm/ noun

· 1 taking action to affect social change. It is generally known as a policy or action of vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. · 2 The theory or belief that truth is arrived at through action or active striving. This can be led by individuals but is often done collectively through social movements. Denotes three different levels of resistance; (a)demanding solution to contemporary problems through the taking of oppositional stances to mainstream policies [view protest] (b) Manifested through the creation of alternatives to the dominant system through the construction of new ways of social behavior. (c) Concerned with fundamental change of society and its major institutions.

Advocacyˈædvəkəsi/ noun

· 1 method of resistance seeking to influence a particular cause or policy and resource allocation decisions within institutions and political systems. Generally known as any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others. Particularly involved in power relations. Method of resistance sponsored by the typical removal of the subject from a self-affecting cause and mostly concerned with people’s participation and a vision for a just society.  An advocacy group is a pressure group with a set of organizational and political goals trying to influence the government but does not holding power in the government. Some bodies have arisen through globalization, securing nature of influence gaining status as non governmental organizations (NGOs). Within democratic systems typically greater financial resources groups will generally be better able to influence decision making process of government.

Protest /ˈproʊˌtɛst/ noun

· 1 method of resistance through public demonstration, type of campaigning activism; it is an expression or declaration of objection, disapproval, or dissent, often in opposition to disempowering a system. Typically short-term demand-driven demonstration for a change in policy, practice or operations.




Michel Foucault, “What is Critique?” in The Politics of Truth, ed. Sylvere Lotringer (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2007)

Notes from Nowhere, “Direct Action Tactics,” from We are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anti-Capitalism (Orange County: Orange County Revolutionary Anarchist Collective, 2003)

Bobo, K., Kendall, J., Max, S.(1991) Organizing for Social Change: a manual for activists in the 1990s. Minneapolis, MN. Midwest Academy.

Obar, Jonathan, et al (2012). “Advocacy 2.0: An Analysis of How Advocacy Groups in the United States Perceive and Use Social Media as Tools for Facilitating Civic Engagement and Collective Action.” Journal of Information Policy.

Carla Landa


  1. To which extent and determination does an individual or group move forward to demand its opinion? We begin to understand the motivation and drive for a specific need, change or support for a specific cause. Are these groups only driven or resourced with money the only ones with the potential to achieve? Understanding that those who seek for others to advocate are struck by the responsibilities and commitment that it entails.

    • Hey partner 🙂 As to the extent of individual or group moving forward with their opinion. I think it depends on the governmental format that the individual or group is operating within in. For example in the reading for this week, Squatting Europe Kollective, “Preface”, the other describe the Occupy Movement as a democratic group operating within a democratic opposition, and your question of groups with enough money have greater potential to achieve. To me this means that areas of government have been marginalized to capitalism. Yet, squatting in high profile public spaces allows for the marginalized groups to protest.

  2. I would be interested to see what types of groups practice these three forms of having opinions heard and which are the most influential and successful. I feel that many times these three are often used in conjunction with one another and, in my opinion, the most successful groups are those that practice activism, advocacy and protest together. However, I think that in some cases, advocacy can be seen as the most legitimate of the three since this is most common action taken by organized groups.

  3. I think something that is missing from each of these definitions is the use of examples and quotes to supplement how you are defining these terms and their relationship to each other. All protest is activism, but not all activism is protest. Both activism and protest can act through advocacy. Understanding this makes defining these terms in isolation even more difficult. In the preface of Art of Not Being Governed, Scott writes about the self –governing people of Zomia as a group whose “livelihoods, social organizations, ideologies, and (more controversially) even their largely oral cultures, can be read as strategic positionings designed to keep the state’s arm at length.” (x). I also think defining a common relationship between these terms would be helpful. As Foucault elaborates on in the Politics of Truth acting against powers arises from a shared intolerance how the governing party is acting or choosing not to act. Establishing this as the starting point and then defining these terms as reactions to that would propose a specific praxis outside the institution.

  4. There is a required level of activation necessary for a particular action to fall into any of these terms. Each of these three terms seems to be rooted in the desire for truth to rise to the surface. Though the resistance may take several forms the desire action is taken in hopes that some level of change would occur. Where these terms differ is in the organizational strategy of said group.

  5. I’m interested in the assertion that protest is a necessarily short-term venture. There seems to be a split between the act of protest, and the formation of a (social/environmental/political) movement which is more sustained, and seems to critique larger-scale structural issues. Where protest may be an instrument to critique the politics of a single action or set of figures (whether a president or parliament), a movement seems end up being a critique of the politics of politics.

    • Paul, the assertion of protest as a short term venture is indeed an interesting one, I don’t know if there is such a split between maybe an active protest, and the formation of a more sustained movement/critique. I think in many instances they can be one in the same, both in the long protest movement, such as Cindy Sheehan’s camp Casey in Crawford texas which went on for a number of years, and in the sustained protest movement which involves into marches and rallies from time to time or when pertinent.

  6. I really struggle, personally, with the term “activism”, as it immediately turns me off, regardless of my sympathies toward a particular cause. I have a difficulty disassociating “activism”, as it is defined above in a more general/optimistic sense of actively striving for change, from what might be considered “historical activism”which I would define as the recognizable set of tactics, often ineffective and not sufficiently considered, that is associated with particularly visible forms of social/political engagement in the public sphere. Perhaps my allergy to the term stems from its particular embodiment in the “activists” I was friends with in college that seem to represent a larger demographic of privileged, white, rich, liberal, New Englanders, who inherited most of their ideas about politics and about action from their parents. These activists, though “active”, had no larger influences than the smug, self congratulation of an isolated, sympathetic, and self-similar public after a pep-rally. I think there is a worthy distinction to be be made, at least in my mind, between activism and agency, at term that sheds activism’s self-righteousness and historically defined limits and enables more innovation and experimentation of perspectives and potentials.

  7. I am not sure if this following is a valid claim. I think activism is becoming more and more popular as technology and social networking advance. Within the most recent ten years, active groups and demonstrators have been using the Internet to manage and spread the organizations’ goals. Not only does the internet helps increasing the speed of idea spreading, it allows information to reach further and more effectively. Tools like facebook and tweeter did help a lot of the current protest in the middle east demonstration, and it is very obvious that how technology helps activists to advance in a scale that it has never been able to reach before.

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