Although a biographical approach has been an important part of social science research since William Thomas and Florian Znaniecki’s famous book on the peasant life of Polish immigrants was published in 1918, it still provokes some mistrust among mainstream social scientists (Merrill and West 2009). The biographical approach—developed as a reaction to the criticism of grand theoretical concepts as having no reality outside of people’s experience—has been used in many areas of social sciences since its origins with the Chicago School of Sociology. Roughly, biographical research in in social science can be divided into two parts: one in which biography is used as an object of inquiry or explanandum, and the other in which biography is used as a tool or explanans. This distinction is mainly analytical, and nevertheless, it may help us to see some specific features of biographical approach as well as the main arguments of its skeptics.

The first type presupposes the researchers’ focus on the gradual and detailed development of people’s life courses in order to illustrate how structural and cultural factors intervene with people’s lives (e.g., Oevermann et al. 1987; Rosenthal 1993; Schütze 1983). A biography is what is explained here. For example, social movement scholars study the biographical consequences of participation in protest events: changes in people’s self-conceptions (Chazli 2012; Mora 2016; Vestergren et al. 2016, 2018) and people’s life courses including new social relationships, professional career turns toward activism, postponed marriages, etc. (Maffi 2016; Ramzy 2016; Vestergren et al. 2016). According to skeptics, by focusing on details, these researchers can obscure the bigger picture. Moreover, critics of this type of highly detail-oriented research claim that it is of little interest to those who do not study the particular group of people in question (Merrill and West 2009).

Within the second type of biographical research, scholars focus on how people’s mentalities, actions, meaning-making, and other phenomena can be explained via people’s biographies (e.g., Bertaux and Bertaux-Wiame 1994; Bourdieu 1988; Fillieule 2010; Klandermans and Mayer 2006; McAdam 1990). For example, social movement scholars explain people’s involvement into movements via their biographical dispositions to activism (e.g., Andrews 1991; Linden and Klandermans 2006; de Witte 2006) or a split from previous biographical experience (e.g., Andrews 1991; Blee 2002; della Porta 1995; Hart 2010; Linden and Klandermans 2006; de Witte 2006). In response, the skeptics usually say that although biography is a valuable part of a social phenomena’s explanation, a biographical approach can never explain them fully—for example, it explains individual involvement in movements, but not the very phenomena of movements (della Porta 1995; McAdam 1990).

In this article, I make a step beyond using biography as an object of inquiry in itself or as a tool to explain individual meaning-making or action. I show how biography may be a necessary tool in the explanation of important changes in activist political culture that result from protest events. In other words, my innovation is to show how biography can be used as explanans for social (cultural) outcomes, and not only individual ones.

To make my point, I employ the case of a new type of politicized local activism that emerged as an outcome of the nationwide post-election 2011–12 protests in Russia. Before this protest, local activism was a common expression of citizens’ discontent in which people tried to solve personally important “close-to-home” problems collectively in their neighborhoods and would present their activity in opposition to “politics.” Local activism post-protest combined this concrete problem-solving with the struggle to change the political regime, that is a new “repertoire of contention”— a set of new tools and actions used by the activists (Tilly 1986; Tilly and Tarrow 2015)— emerged. Social movement scholars have not used biographical approaches to account for changes in cultural (not individual) outcomes of protest events—and this is what my paper does.

I conceptualize the shift created by the post 2011–12 protest local activism in Russia as a new activist (political) culture because it represents not only new strategies, tactics, and demands, but also new ways of meaning-making (see below). My argument is that the emergence of this new activist culture can be fully understood only if we analyze the biographies of local activists. People with very different biographical trajectories met each other during the nationwide protest event and then created local groups together. Their different biographical trajectories were the source of opposite meanings, know-hows, and approaches to local activism that later merged, creating a new cultural hybrid, or a new style of local collective action. Thanks to this merge, the opposition between personal problem-solving and political action reconciled: “politics” and concrete problem solving were no longer opposed to each other. In such a way, I show how biographical sociology can be applied to analyze and explain eventful changes in culture.Footnote 1

The article is structured in the following way. First, I introduce the literature on the sociology of event, political culture, and a biographical approach within social movement studies—and define my main concepts. I also show how these three bodies of literature may be tied together in a productive way, and how my main argument may contribute to each of them—and to social movement studies in general. Second, I present the case of new local activism in Russia. Third, I describe the methods and data of the empirical research: a study of four local activist groups which emerged out of the nationwide protest event in Russia in 2012. Fourth, I demonstrate how the analysis of activists’ biographies contributes to the explanation of cultural changes in Russian local activism. Finally, I discuss the transferability of the case studied by showing how the proposed theoretical approach may work in other empirical contexts.

Sociology of Event

In the early 1990s, several historical sociologists accused social scientists of not taking seriously the temporal and “eventful” dimensions of social processes (e.g., Abbot 1992; Aminadze 1992). A few years later, William Sewell (1996) published his seminal article that laid the ground for a whole new area of research—the sociology of event. The premise of Sewell’s research program was to consider social and political events not only as explanandum but also as explanans. On this view, large social and political events have consequences that can change preexisting social structures and culture, and these consequences should also be explained by social science (Sewell 1996).

Indeed, it is not only long, routine processes that influence the world around us, but also something as quick and intensive as “events.” Using the event of the storming of the Bastille in the French Revolution as a case, Sewell defined the event through its transformative capacity. An event, according to Sewell, is that which “results in a durable transformation of structures” (Sewell 1996: 844). Later Robin Wagner-Pacifici (2010) insisted that events are “restless:” they do not lead to inevitable social and cultural changes; rather, their effect is a consequence of the discursive struggle over the interpretation of events between different publics. In turn, Adam Moore (2011) argued that events can not only transform but also reproduce social structures. Nonetheless, the sociology of event shares the assumption that events have consequences for social structure and political culture, and these consequences are an important object for social researchers.

The paradigmatic example of social and political events is revolutions and protest movements. Not surprisingly, social movement scholars investigate the consequences of movements (see, for example, della Porta and Piazza 2008 on protest mobilization as a transformative event). Researchers have shown that big political mobilizations affect the life courses of their participants by changing their professional careers, family lives, and even everyday behavior (e.g., consumer practices) (Chazli 2012; Maffi 2016; Ramzy 2016; Vestergren et al. 2016). Moreover, social movements affect political culture, that is, the webs of meanings that guide collective action. They may create new identities, frames, repertoires of collective action, and shared visions of the future (della Porta 1988; della Porta 2013; Fine 2018; Snow and Benford 1988). In this article, a similar phenomenon is considered: a change in activist political culture as a result of a big protest event.

Political Culture

Protest events can change identities, frames, and repertoires of collective action. Thus, they change political culture. According to Alexander (2003), political culture consists of a set of binary codes that attach positively charged collective emotions to one pole of oppositions, while imparting negatively charged emotions to the other pole. For example, American political culture is based on the opposition between “democratic” and “counterdemocratic” codes. When President Nixon was criticized during the Watergate scandal, he was criticized from the “democratic” position. He “was described as deceitful, calculating, suspicious, and secretive—unacceptable characteristics in a democracy” (Alexander 2003: 142). However, Nixon’s supporters defended him from a “democratic” position as well. They claimed that he had advanced the causes of democracy by using whatever means necessary. When taking different sides in political conflicts, people do not necessarily share different “values.” On the contrary, Alexander (2003: 153) argues, “conflicting parties within the civil society have drawn on the same symbolic code to formulate their particular understandings and to advance their competing claims.”

The political culture approach is used in social movement studies to analyze differences in meaning-making by movements and grassroots activists between nations (e.g., Alapuro 2005; Luhtakallio 2012; Lamont and Thévenot 2000). Similarly, it is employed to attend for variability of ways of doing activism within individual nations. For example, Nina Eliasoph and Paul Lichterman (2003) argue that in different communicational settings, people understand, articulate, and give meaning to the dominant cultural oppositions in different ways. Eliasoph and Lichterman (2003: 737) call these ways “group styles,” stating that these styles “filter the collective representations” and “arise from a group’s shared assumptions about what constitutes good or adequate participation in the group setting.” Similar definition of style is used by Ann Mische who emphasizes that styles are not just relational but also patterned, recognizable, mobile, and transposable (Mische 2008). “Group style” is, thus, a convenient instrument for the empirical analysis of political culture within local contexts.

Political culture is usually shaped through long-term historical processes (Alapuro 2005; Alexander 2003). However, as shown in the previous section, large-scale social and political events can influence and change the political culture in a short period of time. Ann Swidler, a cultural sociologist, also points out that social movements may produce new “ideologies” that may be transformed into traditions (traditions as “articulated cultural beliefs and practices, but ones taken for granted so that they seem inevitable parts of life,” Swidler 1986: 279). This kind of change is in the focus of my research.

Biography, Political Culture, and Protest Event

Both cultural and biographical sociologists have tried to make some connection between culture and biography. Jeffrey Alexander (2003: 152–153) claims that cultural codes inform action through biography by being “internalized, hence providing the foundations for a strong moral imperative.” Eliasoph and Lichterman (2003: 776) write that biographically determined “schemes of action” may influence “group styles.” Mische (2008) calls for acknowledging the roles of individuals as carriers of different styles that they learned going through various institutions and collectives in the past. Ines Jindra (2014), from the biographical sociological perspective, claimed that a biographical approach allows us to study how people make use of Swidler’s (1986) “cultural tools.” In this article, I go in the same direction and argue that biographical sociology allows us to study not only the routine usage of cultural tools but also important changes in culture resulting from political events, such as protests.

To conceptualize biography, I turn to the interactionist approach (notion of “career” by Chicago School of Sociology, e.g., in Hughes 1937) and consider dispositional biographical effects at the same time (e.g., notion of habitus in Bourdieu 1990). Biography is understood in this paper as the successive changes in an individual’s statuses that leads to a respective change in how “the person sees his life as a whole and interprets the meaning of his various attributes” (Hughes 1937: 410) within which, nevertheless, previously formed dispositions affect future dispositions, action, and meaning-making (Bourdieu 1990; Fillieule 2010).

My analysis is grounded in substantial work that has been already done by scholars applying the biographical approach to movements and grassroots politics. There is no doubt among scholars that participation in protest events requires some kind of “biographical availability,” that is, biographical circumstances that facilitate an activist involvement (McAdam 1990). Recent research has also shown that when studying individual involvement in movements, we should analyze how the interaction of biographies, institutional experiences, networks, and situational contexts create variable paths rather than looking for a “typical” path of involvement in an activist group in question (e.g., Bosi and della Porta 2012; Viterna 2006; Mische 2008). Participation in movements and grassroots politics, in turn, changes people’s self-conceptions and life courses (Chazli 2012; Maffi 2016; Mora 2016; Ramzy 2016; Vestergren et al. 2016, 2018). Sustainability of activist involvement depends on whether the activists experience positive emotions and a sense of fulfillment while fighting for a cause (Jasko et al. 2019) and whether they are able to symbolically link their main life spheres with the movement’s agenda (Passy and Giugni 2000). Not only my research builds upon and develops all these insights, but it also adds to them. Based on my research, I argue that activist biographies can be studied not only as something that is influenced by protest events or that influences individual participation in protest events, but which can be used as an analytical tool to explain how protest events change a political culture. This approach to biography is still (to my knowledge) largely missing in research on protests and political culture.

In short, I show that by focusing on biography as understood in the interactionist tradition with dispositional effects taken into account, researchers can discover a very important feature of the event—its ability to make possible the meeting of people with biographical trajectories that would otherwise take them in different directions. In other words, people meet during events who would never have met without them. Consequently, protest events create opportunities for bringing opposite meanings, skills, and schemes of action together, thereby allowing a new cultural hybrid to emerge.

Tied together in such a way, the sociology of event, political culture theories, and biographical sociology inform each other—and social movements studies. My argument sheds light on one of the crucial qualities of a protest event that allows it to bring changes to the world. This quality is an event’s ability to break the structurally “programmed” logic of social trajectories, thus, creating a meeting point for trajectories that have little chance to intersect otherwise. I do not imply that only a protest event can have this effect on people’s biographies—this is obviously not the case—rather, I show how an event may do it. This argument also demonstrates the mechanics of political culture’s development and change in a short-term perspective. Finally, it enriches a biographical approach by giving more power to biography as an explanatory tool. Biography can be conceptualized not only as an object of inquiry in its own right, or as a structure that informs individual action, but also as an instrument that is powerful enough to explain cultural changes. I demonstrate biography’s explanatory power using the case of the new culture of local activism that emerged after the nationwide mass mobilization in Russia in 2011–12.

The Case

When describing the political culture of Russian society after the collapse of the Soviet Union and until the early 2010s, many researchers agree that it was characterized by alienation and escape from any political and public experience. Disappointed with the results of the popular mobilizations of the late 1980s and early 1990s, people focused on their private lives (Howard 2003; Magun 2013). Despite the formal presence of democratic institutions, such as, for example, competitive elections or media, people did not believe in their power to change things politically. Along with Putin’s “verticalization of power” in early 2000s and establishment of “electoral authoritarianism” (Golosov 2011), both state and protest politics continued to be stigmatized and the values of collectivity continued to be rejected in favor of values of individuality and the private sphere (e.g., Kharkhordin 1994; Howard 2003; Alyukov et al. 2015). Although some mass protests did happen in Russia before the 2011–12 nationwide mobilization (e.g., the strikes of miners in the 1990s, the movement against the monetization of benefits in 2005, the mass protest against the city authorities in Kaliningrad—see Clement 2015), they would usually occasioned by concrete daily issues personally important to the individuals involved and sought to avoid “too abstract” and “political” anti-regime demands. The parliamentary opposition—which was able to compete with the regime in the early 1990s—gradually became more and more subjected to the governing party. Furthermore, non-parliamentary oppositional parties had no chance to participate in parliamentary politics and could not mobilize people to the streets. This resulted in them being relegated to the back of the political life of the country.

The cycle of large political rallies against electoral fraud—the so-called “For Fair Election” (FFE) movement—took place in Russia in 2011–12. It was unexpected for both political analysts and the protesters themselves. It was the largest nationwide mass mobilization in the country since the 1990s and it formulated clear anti-regime claims. Protesters opposed electoral fraud during the parliamentary election of December 2011 and what they perceived as the authoritarian, corrupt nature of the regime in power. The main slogans of the protesters included calls for fair elections and the denunciation of corruption. Putin personally became a target of discursive attack: in particular, after his violent offenses comparing protesters’ insignia, white ribbon, to condoms, and accusations of getting “cookies” from the West.

The day after the evidence of electoral fraud (e.g., photos and videos from polling stations) was spread by people on social media during the day of election, several thousand people gathered spontaneously at the central squares in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The first mass nationwide rally took place on December 10, 2011, in 99 Russian cities. The next nationwide rally on December 24, 2011, took place in many Russian cities as well, with Moscow boasting the most protestors in the streets (120,000). Eleven more nationwide rallies happened in Russia in 2012. Conventionally, all large rallies held in big Russian cities from December 2011 until the end of 2012 (or even 2013) are categorized as a part of the FFE movement.

The statistics show that the protesters were quite heterogeneous, but, on average, they represented the more well off and educated strata of the population (Volkov 2012). While some scholars described them as “middle class” (e.g., Robertson 2012), others criticized this description because the protesters rarely saw themselves as “middle class” and never formulated any class-related demands (Bikbov 2012). Similarly, while some scholars represented protesters as “intelligentsia”—the traditional motor of social change throughout Russian history (e.g., Alekseevsky 2012)—others critized this approach pointing out differences between educated professionals during the 2011–12 protests and the Soviet or even pre-revolutionary Russian intelligentsia (e.g., Radio Svoboda 2012)Footnote 2. Nevertheless, there was no doubt that young, well-educated people were overrepresented at the 2011–12 rallies. The protesters reported that they experienced strong feelings of unity and solidarity (Zhuravlev et al. 2015). However, the number of protesters declined rapidly during 2012–13 due to, among other reasons, state repression, the failure of the opposition to create functional coordination structures, and the movement’s inability to articulate clear political goals and a program.

Two phenomena that emerged from the FFE movement are of crucial importance for understanding the change in political activist culture produced by it. First, the so-called “real deeds” rhetoric became extremely popular among oppositional leaders and rank-and-file rally participants. The “real deeds” rhetoric was built upon a culture of “small deeds” popular among non-contentious activists and volunteers in Russia up until 2011. “Small deeds” implied that people can be involved in public action by performing small but socially useful actions individually (Volpina 2012). The “real deeds” rhetoric is an attempt to combine the “small deeds” outlook with collective action, the inherent worth of which was made apparent during the protest rallies. The “real deeds” rhetoric urged people not just to protest, but to accomplish concrete actions which would benefit society. On this view, an action was perceived as “real” when it led to a concrete result in the short-term (e.g., fixing a bench in a courtyard). The “real deeds” approach differed from the pre-FFE genre of local activism (“small deeds”) insofar as it valued the collective solving of any kind of concrete problems, not necessary personally important for the individuals involved.

Second, the FFE movement politicized election observation. Even though the term “observer” appeared in Russian electoral legislation in 1993, until 2011, election observation was never considered important by laymen (Skokova 2015). The FFE movement leaders were able to show that election observation was a civic duty of every concerned citizen wanting elections to be more democratic. Thus, the FFE protesters sought opportunities to get real things done and at the same time felt impotent to influence anything during rallies. Yet when the “empty institution” of election observation was filled with a new civic content and meaning, protesters found that monitoring elections could be a concrete and “real” activity. As a result, many of them became electoral observers for the presidential election on March 4, 2012.

On the day of the election, FFE protesters from Moscow and St. PetersburgFootnote 3 met at the polling stations in their neighborhoods. Neighborhoods—i.e., the geographical space near people’s homes that people recognize as their own part of a city—sometimes coincide with official “municipal districts,” and sometimes one neighborhood may include several “municipal districts.” “Municipal districts” are the main unit of the electoral system in Russia and the most local level of political power. Furthermore, at the municipal district level, active citizens can have some control. At that time, Moscow was divided into 125 municipal districts and St. Petersburg included 111 municipal districts.

The goal of the former FFE protesters who became observers in their neighborhoods was to both prevent and document electoral fraud. In many neighborhoods of Moscow and St. Petersburg, some observers met each other through social media before the election and organized coordination committees in advance. Other observers joined the self-organized committees on the election day. Mass election monitoring did not prevent Vladimir Putin from winning the election, but it did allow nationwide movement participants in Moscow and St. Petersburg to meet each other at the local level of their neighborhoods. This gave the “real deeds” ethics a new impetus: newly met FFE participants decided to continue their protest activity at the local level by organizing small activist groups, which were subsequently joined by other rank-and-file protesters and sympathizers.

In August and September 2013, one of the Russian opposition leaders, Alexey Navalny launched a campaign in the Moscow mayoral election. Many former participants in the FFE movement mobilized to work for his campaign in their municipal districts and organized themselves around particular concrete goals. They campaigned near their homes and met other Navalny supporters in their neighborhoods. Navalny’s election campaign in Moscow had a similar effect as the presidential election had on post-FFE local activism: many of those who worked as part of Navalny’s campaign decided to join existing local activist groups in their neighborhoods after the elections or to organize new groups.

The members of such groups acted to solve urban and social problems in their municipal districts, communicate with municipal authorities, and participate in local elections (with some even becoming municipal deputies). They published the results of their activity on the group’s pages in social media and tried to involve other residents in a discussion about local problems both offline and online. From 2012, such local activist groups started to appear in Moscow and St. Petersburg, following the logic of development described above, sometimes without any visible connection to each other. Within a few years, almost one in three municipal districts in both of Russia’s main cities had this kind of local group. At the time of writing, in fall 2022, despite the harshening of repression during war time, some of them are still active.

As has been shown elsewhere (Žuravlev 2017; Zhuravlev et al. 2020a), this new form of post-FFE local activism was politicized during its evolution, compared to the local activism that existed in Russia before the FFE movement. Local activism in Russia before and even on the eve of the FFE movement was mainly “apolitical” and focused on concrete and small-scale problems personally important for the individuals involved (Clement et al. 2010; Gladarev 2011). The FFE movement participants started to create local groups that also dealt with concrete small-scale problems but combined this with a struggle with the current political regime. For example, when running in municipal elections as candidates and designing their electoral campaigns, they did not just focus on local problem solving. Putin’s governing party (and the regime in general) was seen by them as the source of local problems—underdeveloped urban infrastructure, high utility prices, cutting down green spaces, etc. They solved these local problems to show citizens the real and effective alternative to the corrupt pro-regime party, and they even challenged the ruling party in local municipalities to attempt to seize real power at the local level. In the evolution of post-FFE local activism, thus, a new sustainable and reproducible style of local collective action was, thus, created, implying that solving local problems and doing politics are two sides of the same activity (Zhuravlev et al. 2020a, b). The comparison of pre-FFE and post-FFE genres of local activism, and the fact that post-FFE local activism was created directly by the FFE movement participants, indicate the FFE movement as a cause in this change in style of local collective action.

It can be assumed that this change can at least partly be explained by the authoritarian character of the Russian society. Indeed, the emergence of “spin-off” movements—and the post-protest local activism can be seen as a “spin-off” FFE movement—is usually understood to be due to the protesters’ efforts to avoid repressions (della Porta 2013; Fisher 2006; McAdam 1995), which is especially relevant for the authoritarian regimes. According to this logic, the activists simply chosen “to change the scale” of their actions because local activism was less risky. However, this explanation does not work for the post-protest local activism in Russia, simply because the local groups were created before the Russian state started to implement their first wave of repressions against protesters.

Although the new politicized style of collective action was born in the neighborhoods of Moscow and St. Petersburg, it soon started to spread among Russian grassroots activists, influencing even those involved in local campaigns in other cities and those who did not take part in the FFE protest (Demakova et al. 2014; Dollbaum et al. 2018; Gorokhovskaia 2018; Klimov 2014; Turovets 2015; Zhelnina and Tykanova 2019). For example, research of local protests in Ekaterinburg and Shies in 2018 showed activists’ reliance on similar styles of collective action, despite the changing political situation (Zhuravlev et al. 2020b). Or, similarly, the local activists running as municipal candidates in Moscow in 2022, made an emphasis during their campaigns both on local problem solving and on an anti-war, anti-regime agenda (Ptitsyna 2022). Thus, the political culture of local activism in Russia changed because of the nationwide protest event of 2011-12. In this sense, the FFE movement was indeed a “historical event” in Sewell’s terms, as it represented “a ramified sequence of occurrences” that was “recognized as notable by contemporaries” and resulted “in a durable transformation of structures” (Sewell 1996: 844)—creation of a new politicized style of local collective action that was spread over time across the Russian civil society. While the scholars cited above note this change, they do not explain how exactly this change happened. This article fills that hole.

Below, I show that analysis of activists’ biographies can help us understand the mechanics of how the post-FFE local activism culture was politicized. Thus, I use the case of the politicization of post-FFE local activism in Russia to demonstrate how a biographical approach may be used to explain changes in political culture resulting from a protest event.

Methods and Data

This article relies on a dataset built from a data collection made by myself and my colleagues from the Public Sociology Laboratory in 2012–2015. The full dataset consists of in-depth biographical interviews with 149 activists from thirty-seven post-protest local groups in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as several focus groups and observations of focus groups’ activity. The full dataset is described by myself and my colleagues (Zhuravlev et al. 2020a). In most of the groups, only one to two members were interviewed. Thus, for the analysis conducted in this article, only local groups in which at least half of the members were interviewed were chosen, which amounted to four. The first group, “Civic Association” (eleven interviews), was organized in a small city very close to St. Petersburg (which is officially in the administrative district of St. Petersburg). The second, third, and fourth groups emerged in different Moscow municipal districts: “Headquarters” (thirteen interviews), “People’s Council” (seven interviews), and “Public Assembly” (four interviews). The names of the groups as well as the personal names of interviewees were anonymized. In addition to initial interviewing in 2012–2013, follow-up interviews with available members of two groups were conducted in 2014–15 (nine and seven interviews, consequently), focus groups with the available members of three groups were organized in 2014, and several sessions of observations within three groups were conducted in 2014–15. These data allowed us to see the evolution of their post-protest local activism. The data collection followed the main ethical principles of social empirical research: informed consent, anonymity, and confidentiality. The data used in this article are summarized in Fig. 1.

My colleagues and I first got in touch with the four groups described above in Spring or Fall of 2012, right after the groups’ creations. We introduced ourselves as sociologists, but as all of us took an active stance in the FFE movement as activists as well, the local activists saw us as half-sociologists and half-co-protesters. We were not involved in everyday groups’ work on a regular basis but stayed in touch with activists in social media and asked to join some events. My colleagues and I also took part twice in the observation of municipal elections organized by one of the groups in St. Petersburg. Some of us are still in touch with the core activists from several groups.

The argument presented here is mainly based on the analysis of in-depth biographical interviews with the activists from each group. The interview analysis was conducted in three steps. First, the specific biographical trajectories and motives of each informant was summarized. This resulted in one-page statements detailing the actual sequences of experienced events, along with the way they were perceived and interpreted by each particular person. At the second stage, “individual cases” were compared and people who described similar experiences of events before the FFE movement were clustered as representatives of the same type of “activist career” (Fillieule 2010). The exact number of such types was not defined in advance. As a result of the analysis, four different types of activist careers emerged; three individual trajectories were not included in any category. Each career was also divided into stages. At the third stage, how people interpreted events, experiences, and activities that were defined as common for the representatives of each type of career was studied in detail. Thus, the analysis is made both at the level of collective and individual biography: in order to identify socially determined collective pathways to post-protest local activism, each individual activist biography should be explored in detail. After the particular approaches to local activism were identified through the analysis of the interviews conducted in 2012, they were compared to the ways of doing local activism present in follow-up interviews and focus groups conducted several years later. This is how the evolution of activist culture within this new local activism was analyzed. Additionally, focus group materials helped analyze group dynamics and the ways different activists’ individual visions and meanings came together into a shared agenda. Observational field notes were used in order to make sure the different visions of the goals of local activism exist not only in interviewees’ self-presentations but also in real communicational settings.

Activist Careers and the Invention of the New Style of Local Collective Action

The analysis of biographical interviews showed that the members of the post-FFE local initiatives had similar social backgrounds. The majority of informants came from highly educated families. Most of these families belonged to the so-called Soviet intelligentsia, with one or both parents working as scientists, schoolteachers, university professors, engineers, doctors, or librarians. Almost half of the interviewees studied in specialized high-level schools. Almost all attended higher education institutions themselves and, thus, were second- or even third-generation recipients of higher education. Most interviewees were representatives of the same generation as far as they participated “in the characteristic social and intellectual currents of their society and period,” and had “an active or passive experience of the interactions of forces which made up the new situation” (Mannheim 1952: 304). Indeed, they were born in the late Soviet period (from the late 1970s to the late 1980s), most spent their early childhood in the Soviet Union, experienced the Soviet Union collapse, and came of age and built their professional careers in the new Russia. At the time of the FFE movement, they were 22–35 years old. Only three interviewees were older than the main cohort, born in the late 1960s, and only two were younger, born in the mid-1990s. Nevertheless, despite the similar social background, the analysis of the interviews allows for the identification of four types of “career” path that leads to this new local activism behind this surface-level homogeneity. I use the analytical names “doers,” “volunteers,” “oppositional thinkers,” and “oppositional fighters” to describe the representatives of these careers.


The career of doers unfolded in five stages: personal activity at school or college, devotion to a hobby and active efforts to professionalize it, participation in the FFE protest, switch to local activism, and active professional involvement in local activism. The distinctive feature of this career is their active stance in life—enthusiastic involvement in the surrounding environment, e.g., school activism, hobbies, professions, and later, local activism. The following quotation from an interview illustrates well this career: “The main thing for me was always to do something with a productive element, something active, something with creativity and I’ve accomplished it” (female, b.1982, “Civic Association”).

In the first stage of their career, the doers began to participate in public activities at and outside of school or college; they became members of school parliaments, activists in cultural events (samodeyatelnost), and participants in out-of-school children’s organizations. Those of the doers who spent most of their childhood in the Soviet Union were active as a part of official communist school organizations (the pioneer movement and komsomol). That is how one of them discusses her school experience:

“I was a pioneer squad leader [laughing]. Well, I always had some active element. Sure, I participated in squad council; I was a class leader and all that stuff. … I was organizing something all the time. Life around me was in full swing” (female, b.1975, “Headquarters”).

In the second stage, most doers acquired some hobby, which was the work they really wanted to do and for which they were willing to sacrifice time they could otherwise spend with families, friends, or employment. For some, this hobby coincided with their occupations. In general, the doers had unstable occupational careers with low wages because they sacrificed their jobs to save time for their hobbies, or they refused well-paying jobs to be free to do what they considered to be really important. In other words, they behaved as activists within their professional sphere.

In the third stage, the doers became involved in, or strongly supported, the nationwide FFE movement. As well as representatives of other careers, soon the doers felt like doing something more concrete (“real deeds”) than just protest together. Thus, in the fourth stage, they participated in observing the presidential elections in spring 2012 or at Navalny’s mayoral election campaign in the summer and autumn of 2013 in their municipal districts. During these campaigns, the doers met many likeminded people and decided to continue their activity together at the local level. “All my life,” one of them explains, “I could not remain out of the battle when something bad was happening, but the rise of protest activity influenced me a lot. I became more active after that because [I’ve realized that] I’m not the only one person who doesn’t like the things happening in our country” (male, b.1974, “People’s Council”). They, thus, continued to take an active stance in life—this time, in local activism. In the fifth stage, some of them became more involved in local activism, whereas others started to spend less time on group activities. The former turned out to be those who were successful in connecting their hobbies, their occupations, and their group activities—they were journalists, lawyers, and urbanists. The latter were all the other people.

Journalists, lawyers, and urbanists not only merged their hobbies with their occupations but also started to use their professional skills in group activities. Journalists would make group newspapers, issuing group press releases, or cover group work in the media. Lawyers would advise group members about legal matters and work with all the legal documents during particular group campaigns. Urbanists would be involved in all the activities concerning neighborhood redevelopment. Using their professional skills in civic activity, the doers started to perceive their professions as having an “essentially” activist element. As one of them stated, “urban science is inseparable from civic activity” (male, b.1966, “Headquarters”). Or, as another said, “We [lawyers] are the official opposition to authorities in power. It’s because a lawyer is anybody protecting people from the state, from tyranny, from the difficult situations that can happen with a person because of the state tyranny” (female, b.1983, “Civic Association”). At the same time, activism became a source of new professional skills for them. These two simultaneous tendencies—the politicization of professions and the professionalization of hobbies and activism—resulted in a situation where local politics became a kind of vocation in the Weberian (1958) sense for these people. Doers’ devotion to their hobbies formed at the early stage of the career helped with experiencing devotion to local activism. There was no more gap between their main jobs and activism at leisure time for them; to be a professional now meant to participate in local politics in the name of ultimate ends and vice versa.

However, others among the doers could not manage to connect their hobbies to their professions and their activities in local groups. Once the enthusiasm aroused by the FFE movement mobilizations faded, they preferred to spend more time on their hobbies and gradually became less involved in the groups’ work. Thus, only those doers who harmonized their personal lives with politics and perceived their activist involvement as a vocation, or Beruf, remained in post-protest local activism for a long time. It confirms the research showing that sense of fulfillment and reward and ability to link their life sphere to protest issues help activists to maintain engagement over the long term (e.g., Jasko et al. 2019; Passy and Giugni 2000).


The volunteers’ career path was somewhat similar to the doers’, except in that where the doers took an active role in traditional socialization institutions (e.g., school, college, their profession), the volunteers found non-traditional spheres for their activity and became non-contentious civic activists before the FFE movement. This attitude toward non-contentious civic activity is a distinctive feature of the volunteers’ career path. The following quotation from an interview illustrates well the logic of this career: “I work in a charity foundation, and unfortunately, the functions of such organizations in Russia are now the substitution of the state. … Speaking about me personally, I am not prone to fight, but to help” (female, b.1983, “People’s Council”). The career of volunteers unfolded in five stages: personal activity at school or college, non-contentious public or civic activity, participation in the FFE movement, switch to local activism, and quitting local activism.

The first stage of the volunteers’ career path is similar to that of the doers: involvement in various types of activities during school or college. Among the interviewees were student helpers, school newspaper journalists, “fighters with injustice,” and simply “leaders” (in their own words). In the second stage, the volunteers became involved in some kind of public or civic activity outside the traditional institutes of socialization (helping orphans, helping sick children, etc.). Most volunteers first participated in such activities in their leisure time and then professionalized them. For example, as a child in USSR, one of them was a member of an out-of-school pioneer organization and participated in charity events with it. While studying in college, she continued to personally help orphan homes. Finally, she found a job with a nongovernment organization (NGO) helping people with HIV and AIDS and was able to combine this with her main occupation as a journalist.

In the third stage, the volunteers participated in the FFE movement or supported it without actual participation. As they had been previously involved in civic politics, they followed some oppositional news in Russia and considered themselves to be opponents of the current political regime even before the FFE movement. As one of them said, “the very work in a charity foundation makes a person a bit oppositional” (female, b.1983, “People’s Council”). They were enthusiastic about meeting many likeminded people at the rallies of 2011-12, but soon they felt that rallies for the sake of rallies were pointless. “I’m a kind of person that, you know, finds that if you work in a collective, if your work in PR, there is a rule—if you criticize, you need to propose something. It is the same is here. If I want to criticize, I need to propose something,”—one of them explained (male, b.1983, “People’s Council”).

Consequently, they switched to the next stage of their career: “real deed” activities such as the election observation or volunteering at Navalny’s campaign and then local activism.. At first, the volunteers actively participated in local groups’ work: their biographical attitude toward “helping people” made them emotionally involved in providing help for the neighborhoods. However, soon the same attitude started to pull them back—local activism seemed to be more politicized than a “mere help” would require. Thus, in the fifth stage of their career, the volunteers (with only one exception) returned to being more involved in other civic activities (e.g., charity activism) and devoted less time to local group agendas in their neighborhoods. The only exception was the trajectory of one person who won municipal elections, became a deputy, and thus, continued to be an active member of a local group.

Oppositional Thinkers

This career path unfolded in four stages: development of interest in politics, participation in the FFE protests, switch to local activism, and leading participation in local groups. The distinctive feature of oppositional thinkers’ career path is the early development of an interest in politics (or at least before the FFE movement) without actual political participation. The following quotation from an interview illustrates well the logic of this career: “I’ve only discussed some problems before. My discontent was rising, but there has not been such a push before. … This was my first experience of actual participation—the FFE movement and after” (male, b.1987, “Headquarters”).

In the first stage, the interviewees’ very interest in politics and oppositional attitudes started to develop. Most representatives of this career path became politically aware during their youth (e.g., developing nationalistic sympathies in adolescence, leading political information classes in college, etc.); a few of them, however, began to follow political news and criticize the authorities only a few years before the FFE movement. As a whole, the oppositional thinkers had critical attitudes toward the authorities in power at the time the FFE movement started, but unlike the representatives of other career types, they had not been involved in any kind of systemic action (whether contentious or not). In the second stage of the oppositional thinkers’ career, they took part in FFE rallies and discovered the existence of other likeminded people. They not only participated in rallies but also tried to influence the protest movement by giving powerful speeches from the stage, distributing leaflets among the protesters, and so forth. The oppositional thinkers felt like they had waited for a long time, and it was finally the time for action.

Like all other local activists, the oppositional thinkers participated in election observation or Navalny’s campaign in their neighborhoods and met other activists there. That was how they switched to local activism in the third stage of their career. As far as they were already oppositional minded thanks to their early careers’ development, they immediately tried to make the local activism “political.” The peculiarity of this career path was that the oppositional thinkers were among the initiators of new local activist groups. They proposed organizing groups to preserve people’s enthusiasm and prolong their protest involvement. For example, one of them met several independent candidates running for municipal deputy in his neighborhood and organized an online group in social networks to provide support for them. On the basis of this same group, the “Headquarters” emerged. In the fourth career stage, the oppositional thinkers preserved and developed the “it is finally time for action” attitude and became even more involved in local activism. They participated in most of their groups’ activities and, moreover, often initiated such activities. Some also took part in broader social and political campaigns.

Oppositional Fighters

This career unfolded in five stages: development of interest in politics, anti-regime struggles, participation in the FFE protest, switching to local activism, and exit from local activism (with one exception). This career path was somewhat similar to the previous one, but with two crucial differences. The oppositional fighters had experience with long-term political struggle before the FFE movement (which is the distinctive feature of this career), and most left local activism after some time participating in it.

In the first stage of their career, the oppositional fighters developed an interest in politics, as did the oppositional thinkers. All of the oppositional fighters came from politicized families or had politicized relatives who participated in their education. Unlike the doers, the oppositional fighters not only refused to participate in a public activity at school but did so on principle. They considered so-called school activists as mere subjects to the school administration. As one of them said, “I [din’t like] all these official things (oficioz). We had such things at our Department Student Union, all this stuff – I’ve never participated in it because all this is window-dressing, there was no real student autonomy” (male, b.1986, “Headquarters”). At the second career stage, the oppositional fighters became involved in political struggles against the authorities in power, such as anti-regime protests and long-term campaigns on concrete issues (e.g., a protest campaign to prevent the demolition of cooperatively owned parking garages by a construction and development firm). Over time, they started to participate more and more in political action. Two even became initiators and leaders of political organizations.

Thus, the oppositional fighters were already political activists when the FFE mobilization emerged. Nevertheless, it was an important event for them because it showed a rise in the popularity of protests. That was why in the third stage of the oppositional fighters’ career, they joined the nationwide mobilization with great enthusiasm. During the FFE protests, they tried to prevent mobilized people from withdrawing. The oppositional fighters were both more active in and more critical of the FFE movement than the representatives of other careers, pointing out the weaknesses of the movement’s political agenda, organization, and recruitment work. “You see, people just came, were united – and this is all!”, said one of them, “The thing is in organizations. If there are no organizations, they did not exist” (male, b. 1968, “Civic Association”).

Like many other members of local groups, in the fourth career stage, the oppositional fighters became involved in local activism through participation in municipal elections in their districts (as observers, coordinators, and even candidates). They saw local activism as a continuation or a tool of their political struggle which they started earlier at their career. As one of the oppositional fighters explained his decision to form a local group, “you should have some biography, some political capital. And I decided that I need to go through all the stages, to start with the municipal level. It gives me some competences, some skills, the understanding of how the system of city government works” (male, b.1986, “Headquarters”). They were among the initiators of local activist groups, similar to the oppositional thinkers. During their involvement in local activism, the oppositional fighters continued to work on anti-regime projects and actions. They attended anti-regime rallies not directly connected to local activism and participated in the work of political parties. After some time, in the fifth career stage, similar to volunteers, their biographical devotion to oppositional politics started to pull them back from local activism, which seemed to them too focused on “real deeds” instead of protest. The oppositional fighters started to disengage from local activism and refocused on anti-regime political initiatives with more abstract, general agendas. The case of the leader of the “Headquarters” group was an exception; participation in local activism became his major life project. He became a municipal deputy and was the only oppositional fighter who was able to combine his commitment to anti-regime politics and local civic activism.

The analysis of the interviews conducted during the first two years of the groups’ emergence shows that the “real deeds” rhetoric was brought from the FFE movement to local activism by representatives of all career types. However, it was interpreted in different ways by representatives of different careers according to their biographical dispositions.

Not surprisingly, most of the doers and the volunteers came to local activism to do “real deeds” for their own sake, without touching political issues. As one of them put it, “We’ve just decided that we need to coalesce as citizens and to do something good for the city” (male, b.1996, “Civic Association”). Even sometimes being “personally against the current authority in power,” they believed that small but very concrete activities—urban municipal improvement, the defense of squares or parks from infill construction—are valuable in themselves and are an end to be pursued. “We have such a mess and disorganization in our country because we all are interested in geopolitical problems and we don’t want to do something with, say, entrances to our home buildings which are, I’m sorry, full of shit,”—explained one of the informants (female, b.1974, “Headquarters”). The more real deeds are done, the better the world will be, so systemic changes are not necessary. This approach reflected the activities they were engaged in at the previous stages of their careers: public activities at school or college, devotion to some kind of profession, apolitical volunteering. The following quotation from one of the interviews demonstrates this approach:

“I’m personally definitely against the current authority in power. But just to support any person who is against authority is the wrong position. My point of view is that any severe upheavals, revolutions, and so forth do not lead to anything good. I think the best changes are those occurring in our minds and these changes occur when you just live and do something concrete, when you try to improve your neighborhood, your city, and your country. I think these are the best changes” (female, b.1983, “People’s Council”).

Consequently, doers and volunteers preferred to choose concrete tasks within groups’ campaigns, such as doing paperwork for the defense of public parks, taking pictures of urban development problems in neighborhoods, and writing articles about local problems for the groups’ newspapers.

At the same time, the oppositional fighters and the oppositional thinkers considered the “real deeds” rhetoric as a tool to mobilize ordinary citizens in political struggle. It is clearly seen in the following quotation from one of the interviews:

“The main goal is to have ten people from the “Headquarters” at the next elections who will run against the candidates from the party of power, and all these ten people would say—we’re from the “Headquarters” and for the last four years we did this and that” (male, b.1987, “Headquarters”).

The oppositional fighters and oppositional thinkers suggested that the “real deeds” rhetoric should function as a tactic that legitimizes collective action which inevitably has a political dimension and allows activists to achieve systemic political changes in society. In a way, they continued to pursue political struggle they believed in before the FFE movement, however, in a new form. The following quotation illustrates well this logic:

“We earn a reputation now, so let people trust us, and at certain point, we will start to use this trust for our political goals. For example, we will tell at the municipal elections that we are the people who helped you in the previous year” (male, b.1964, Public Assembly).

Unsurprisingly, the oppositional fighters and the oppositional thinkers preferred to choose broader, more politicized tasks within local groups, such as organizing rallies, agitating in the neighborhood, conducting public relations, and writing political leaflets.

Thus, the “real deeds” rhetoric was brought to local groups by representatives of all career types but was interpreted and translated into different ways depending on their socialization pathways. Consequently, in the beginning two conflicting approaches coexisted in post-FFE local activism. Because of the conflict between the approaches, no shared style of action was formed yet. However, during its evolution, as follow-up interviews and focus groups conducted in 2014–15 showed, the activists overcame this conflictFootnote 4.

Some of the supporters of the “real deeds for their own sake” approach (some of the doers and a few volunteers) came to the understanding that concrete problem-solving does not improve neighborhoods because, without systemic changes, new problems constantly appear. As one put it, “it’s a kind of an endless circle—you can continue to repair the benches, [but] this will not change the system” (male, b.1974, “People’s Council”). Another activist, who was concerned with close-to-home problems in 2013, criticized this approach in a follow-up interview two years after:

“[“Real deeds” and “politics”] are interrelated, the one depends on the other. And people unfortunately do not understand it. They come to the “Headquarters,” and they want to deal only with bike paths … they are concerned by nothing but bike paths or playgrounds. And they are afraid of politics, they think politics has nothing to do with them” (female, b.1981, “Headquarters”).

These doers and volunteers found a way to unite their hobbies, professions, and local activism. They started to participate in politics more. They experienced what researchers usually call the “rise in generality,” borrowing Boltanski and Thévenot’s (2006) term: that is, gradual acquisition of awareness of broader political problems through “close-to-home” grassroots activity (Tocqueville 2006; della Porta and Piazza 2008; Clement 2013). Those who continued believing in “real deeds” as an ultimate value (part of doers and majority of volunteers) gradually left local groups and devoted their time to hobbies or apolitical volunteering.

Similarly, some of the proponents of “real deeds” strategies to pursue political goals developed personal attachment to neighborhoods, with their concrete problems (most of the oppositional thinkers and one oppositional fighter). As one of them said,

“I’d never paid attention to my city’s problems. … I was aware of the problems connected to state politics but not the small ones. Now I see them. And our main goal now is to make people united, to make people do something, to make people solve their problems” (male, b.1989, Civic Association).

In a way, these people experienced a process that can be called a “drop in generality.” They began in politics, fighting for the abstract “regime change for the better,” but after sometime this abstract agenda became filled with concrete content.

When the “rise in generality” and the “drop in generality” intersected, experienced by people with different socialization pathways, the creation of a new hybrid style of collective action became possible. This style united concrete problem-solving and abstract “politics” in one single frame. Within it, the activists considered themselves to be concerned citizens of their neighborhoods and fighting with the corrupt Russian authorities at the same time. Thus, the post-FFE local activism reconciled the opposition between personal problem-solving and political action that had guided local activism before the FFE movement. These “codes,” as Alexander would say, were still there, but they were no longer opposed to each other. The political culture of local activism changed. The new politicized culture of activism spread through Russian civil society, influencing various local mobilizations.

The biographical trajectories or activist careers of local group members allow us to understand how this change became possible. First, the event of the FFE protest facilitated the fusion of various experiences and know-hows in the same careers. A focus on personal realization and a successful professional career is usually contrasted with a focus on activism because the latter presumes that people sacrifice their career and free time. However, the lives of the individual members of the new local groups have shown that the idea of personal development and notions of professionalism, hobby, and activism can be combined in different quantities as post-protest local activism has progressed in the lives of some its proponents. Not “biographical availability” (McAdam 1990), per se, made them stay in the local groups, but rather their success in making themselves “biographically available.” Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann (1967: 190) point out that “all men, once socialized, are potential ‘traitors to themselves’.” The post-FFE local activists, in this sense, are real “traitors,” as they betrayed a part of their former selves in order to allow new ways of thinking and action to combine. However, this “treason” was possible because they nurtured the ability to sacrifice things for a greater cause at earlier stages of their careers.

Second, the lives of people who met at post-FFE local groups would hardly have intersected outside of the FFE movement. Usually, the four careers identified above shape different social institutions: apolitical professionalism, apolitical volunteering, professional big politics, and “armchair” opposition in social media. The representatives of these careers may even live in the same districts, but in a crucial way, they would live in different social worlds. Consequently, there was little chance these people would ever meet each other. Or to use the language of geometry, we might say these parallel worlds were mutually disjointed before the nationwide FFE movement. Thanks to this protest event, these parallel worlds intersected in many districts. People who had been active at school met up with people who had hated this activism and viewed it as a chore. People who believed in charity made the acquaintance of people who had criticized it as pointless and as something that propped up the current system instead of combating it. People who had always tried to do specific, tangible, and effective things, albeit on a small-scale, encountered people who preferred to reflect on the world’s global problems. Different kinds of experiences that are usually at odds met each other in small groups. Initially, it led to conflicts because these people filtered protest culture differently and could not agree about the meanings and goals of local activism. In time, however, the meanings brought to the post-protest local activism by representatives of different careers became parts of a single whole. In this way, a new hybrid, politicized style of doing activism emerged. It promoted not only the abstract ideas of a better, non-authoritarian Russia without Putin, but also very concrete ideas of better living conditions for ordinary citizens today. At the same time, this new style was not blind to the inherent political dimension of local problems. Apolitical activism of concrete action and “politics” merged. Roughly said, the activists started to fix benches against Putin.


This article tries to develop the biographical approach in research of protests and in social science more generally. It claims that besides being an object of an inquiry in and of itself, or a tool to explain individual action and thinking, a biography can serve as an instrument to study cultural change. It demonstrates how a biographical approach can be applied in order to explain changes in political culture that have resulted from a protest event, using the case of the nationwide Russian protest mobilizations and post-protest local activism as an example. In sum, an event may create the conditions for meeting people with different biographical experiences—people who would never have met without it. By mingling people in this way, an event creates opportunities for bringing multiple meanings and know-hows to subsequent smaller movements and even to the same individual trajectories, thereby allowing a new cultural hybrid to emerge. A biographical approach is necessary to see this mechanism behind the stage of big protest events.

At the same time, I do not claim that all big protest events which bring people with diverse biographies together automatically create such kinds of cultural hybrids. Under certain conditions though, this hybridization is more likely to happen. For example, when people are involved in an activity that requires the know-hows of people of different biographical paths, they tend to communicate with each other and rely on each other’s experiences more. In my case, the activity of taking part in local electoral campaigns required the “real deeds” sympathies of some to mix and co-create with the “political struggle” attitudes and skills of others. From a biographical point of view, people are more ready to change when their sympathies and attitudes have not yet been transformed into strict “political preferences.” Consequently, it was mainly doers and oppositional thinkers who became “traitors to themselves” (Berger and Luckmann 1967) and stayed in the post-protest local activism. Furthermore, it was mainly volunteers and oppositional fighters who stayed faithful to their former selves and returned to their pre-protest activities in some time.

In this article, the argument is made based on the careful examination of one particular case. Although other nationwide protests happened in Russia after the FFE mobilization (e.g., anti-corruption protests in 2017 or the protests in support of Alexey Navalny in 2021), they all emerged in a context still governed by the FFE and, thus, have not led to substantial cultural changes. However, I suggest that the explanatory model itself can be applied to other cases that deal with cultural changes resulting from protest events outside of Russia and even outside of authoritarian regimes. Indeed, even though it may seem that Russian authoritarianism made the protesters move to the local level to avoid the risks of political participation, this was not actually the case. The protesters met in their neighborhoods before the nationwide movement faced its first repressions. They met locally because they were disappointed in the abstract agenda of rallies and wanted to see some real and concrete things done. Other scholars have observed similar consequences of protests in Western democracies. For example, when studying the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement in America, Jeff Juris (2012) has shown that after the OWS protests came to an end, its former participants created smaller working groups. Because the OWS movement brought together individuals with different backgrounds, two different logics of collective action, the one that existed before the OWS (“logic of networking”) and the one that emerged at OWS (“logic of aggregation”), merged into a new third logic within these new groups. It demonstrates an event’s ability to bring different experiences and know-hows together, as well as the importance of emerging hybrids for social and cultural change. A biography, which is a carrier of these experiences and know-hows, becomes a powerful instrument for understanding such changes. The explanatory model can possibly be applied to explain the emergence of new civic and political practices after the “Arab spring” revolutions in the Middle East, as well as political changes after anti-austerity measures protests in Greece and Spain (e.g., a phenomenon of SYRIZA and Podemos parties)—although the transferability of the model requires further research.

It can be carefully assumed—although this assumption also requires more research—that the power of this explanatory model can extend to cases other than protests. For example, in her recent article “Go to More Parties? Social Occasions as Home to Unexpected Turning Points in Life Trajectories” Alice Goffman (2019) analyzes how “social occasions,” that is, “events” or occurrences in a colloquial sense, change the lives of those who experience them. While asking a conventional question within a biographical tradition, she nevertheless points out a specific characteristic of events like the one I described above. Social occurrences change people’s lives by, among other things, bringing together those who would have had little social chance to meet otherwise. Thus, her analysis reveals a very important feature of how events play a crucial role in the explanatory model proposed in this article. An event may facilitate the intersection of different social worlds, this intersection is fuel for novelty, and a biographical approach allows us to understand the mechanics of this process.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Empirical data on post-protest local activism in Russia