Theory and Society

, Volume 47, Issue 2, pp 151–174 | Cite as

Patterns of engagement: identities and social movement organizations in Finland and Malawi

  • Eeva LuhtakallioEmail author
  • Iddo Tavory


Based on interviews with climate-change activists and NGO workers in Finland and Malawi, this article reconsiders the ways in which the coordination of identity projects and action is approached in social movement scholarship. Rather than beginning with personal and collective identities, we take our cue from recent work by Laurent Thévenot and trace actors’ forms of engagement—the various ways actors produce commonality. As we show, doing so in vastly different social contexts allows us to see permutations in such forms afforded by participation in a transnational social movement and to identify patterns of collective action that we would otherwise be apt to miss. Finnish activists narrated their activities by way of engaging in the forms of the common good driving the climate movement, but coordinated various situations also through engagement in familiarity, comfort, and ease. Malawian activists and NGO employees also spoke of the common good the movements worked to achieve, but principally created common ground by engaging in shared individual choices and projects, which were jointly consecrated by fellow NGO participants. Ultimately, we argue that tracing forms of engagement enables more in-depth understanding of what is at stake when people act together in social movement organizations: moving away from collective and personal identity to patterns of engagement allows a vantage point into the processes through which commonality is created and generates new hypotheses regarding the coordination of action in social movement organizations.


Climate change Engagement Finland Identity Malawi Social movements 



The authors want to thank the reviewers of Theory and Society for insightful comments that pushed our thinking further. We are grateful for comments and discussions on different versions of the text to Rogers Brubaker, Nina Eliasoph, Veikko Eranti, Robert Jansen, Paul Lichterman, Laurent Thévenot, the participants of the HEPO Seminar, the participants at the IASR/Tampere lectures, and the participants of the comparative historical workshop at UCLA.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Social Sciences/SociologyUniversity of TampereTampereFinland
  2. 2.Department of SociologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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