Are there any studies that attempt to analyze the demographics and/or motivations of street protesters?

For example: Are protesters concerned citizens that agree on something after an individual critical thinking or a mass of people with reasons to protest and nothing better to do?

This depends on other elements, for instance: Are protests the best way to obtain some change or the last pacific refuge?

Basically I'm searching for references like this but better, making observations and trying to explain why, since the whole analysis itself is unlikely to fit well in this format.

Thank you.

  • 3
    This question seems a little abstract.
    – Golden Cuy
    Jul 14, 2013 at 22:41
  • Maybe you could rephrase the question as something like: "Are there any studies that attempt to analyze the demographics and/or motivations of street protesters?". I would vote to reopen that question. Jul 15, 2013 at 16:25
  • I like the edits. Essentially, you are seeking to determine if protests have their causes a priori or post. Put another way - does the protest normally spring from a grievance, or does the protest form, and the grievance become apprarent after the protest? Jul 16, 2013 at 18:37
  • I think Elizabeth Humphreys has done some work in this regard on the Global Justice movement (late 90s, early 00s; Anglophone West + Europe). There's a wide variety of 19th century mob studies. I doubt that you're going to find any satisfactory meta analyses. Jul 17, 2013 at 12:15
  • 1
    I'm going to reference the good old Freud on this. The main motivation of street protestors is to hook up.
    – user4012
    Mar 5, 2014 at 14:50

2 Answers 2


I recommend starting with work on Mass Movements. Mass Movements aren't street protests per se, but include street protests. Insofar as street protests can be about everything from the mundane to the radical, the scholarly work on Mass movements is much more likely to be helpful.

Several key studies include:

Zald, M. N. & Berger, M. A. "Social Movements in Organizations" American Journal of Sociology, 1978, 83, 823-861

Gould, R. V., 1991. "Multiple Networks and Mobilization in the Paris Commune, 1871" American Sociological Review. 56:716-29.

Kuran, T. 1991 "Now out of Never" World Politics. 44:7-48

McAdam, D. 1986. "Recruitment to High-Risk Activism". American Journal of Sociology. 92:64-90

You'll likely note that most of these are relatively old, and that is because the study of mass movements has moved away from this question as a whole. In the end, it was too difficult to control for access issues.

IMHO, the McAdam article is most likely going to be the best answer you can find.

  • 1
    It's great that you post so many good sources, but Stackexchange generally wants to provide answers on the site, not through links to 3rd party sources. So please try to summarize the conclusion of these sources in a few sentences.
    – Philipp
    Aug 3, 2016 at 22:28

I want to add a few personal points for you to consider. When we look at large protest movements now, they are often composed of people who are there for different political reasons, some people who may be apathetic towards politics altogether and include a lot of music, dancing, costumes, parades, etc. Protest movements are events. People are coming to it because its an event. It's a thing to do. I don't think that you're going to get the reason why this happened from interviews with protestors. This transformation occurred to some extent organically and also intentionally from leaders within the protest movement. Making the protest as large and visible as possible, thus the music and costumes and parades, places them in the media. Protest leaders will accept some percentage of the people having signs saying "Free Tibet" during the "Occupy Wall Street" protest if the size helps it helps it get in the newspaper. Smaller protests seem to attract fewer people who not interested in achieving its direct goals, and they are better at articulating their goal, because these do not create an event atmosphere. These are going to be most protests, but may not include a greater number of the total protesters depending on how one defines small protest. Small protests are very effective in the US- ousting local politicians, blocking construction projects- while large protests are not usually effective since their goals are much more controversial. While its ok to get rid of a local school board member who has embezzelled money, getting rid of Wall Street or the banks or something...?? to solve a serious problem is not a serious solution. I don't know about Europe.

Sooo, the answer your questions is yes to all of it. The protestors are all of those things.

  • 2
    This is not a good answer because it seems to be just your opinion. You should generally back up your statements with sources. The OP also explicitly asked for references. Mar 5, 2014 at 10:41
  • Agreed, and downvoted. Mar 5, 2014 at 15:00
  • @Trylks Yes, I realize its not referenced. I can't find the book I want to reference after much searching, but Rules for Radicals is a bit along the same vein. But you want a modern book on how to organize protests-a general one, a lot are issue specific and you don't want that either.
    – Razie Mah
    Mar 5, 2014 at 18:14

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .