Waves of Contention: Relations Among Radical, Moderate, and Conservative Movement Organizations

Document Type


Publication Date



We develop theoretical and conceptual insights into a social movement’s strategic articulation, through an examination of the relationships among the conservative, moderate and radical organizations within a movement field before, during and after a wave of contention. Definitions for conservative, moderate and radical organizations that have been lacking in the literature are provided. Three U.S. cases are employed including the Civil Rights Movement, the Animal Rights Movement, and the AIDS Movement to illustrate/apply our concepts and test our theoretical assertions. We find a distinct conservative flank in movements which facilitates linkages to state officials. Moderates have a unique role as the bridge between the radical and conservative flanks. A lack of formal organization among radicals appears to incite state repression. The radical flank, or strong ties between the radial flank and moderates or conservatives, does not have a positive effect prior to or at the peak of a wave of contention when there is significant state repression. In the absence of state repression and after concessions or the peak of activism, moderates and conservatives benefit by distancing from the radical flank. Moderate organizations marginally institutionalize except when conservative movement organizations are absent; then full incorporation occurs.


Sociology and Corrections

Print ISSN


Publication Title

Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change