Stretching the Elastic: UK Peace Activists’ Understandings of Social Change


  • Emma O’Dwyer
  • Neus Beascoechea Seguí


While much research has been conducted on the antecedents and outcomes of activism, relatively lesser attention has been paid within social and political psychological research to the understandings of people themselves about their involvement in activism or the ways in which they conceptualise social change. Informed by social representations theory, we conducted interviews with UK peace activists, to examine how they made sense of social change dynamics in the context of their activism, and how the beliefs, opinions, and perceptions of other people (meta-representations) were implicated in these understandings. Three themes were developed using reflexive thematic analysis: (1) imagining and enacting an alternative; (2) impression management; and (3) refining the argument. Participants consistently oriented towards meta-representations of militarism in their activism, which was were consequential both for the ways in which activists communicated with and presented themselves to the public. This reflexive orientation was described as a barrier to social change but also a potential source of strength. Findings are discussed in relation to previous theoretical and empirical work.