From Correlation to Causation: The Cruciality of a Collectivity in the Context of Collective Action


  • Jacquelien van Stekelenburg
  • Natasha C. Anikina
  • Wim T. J. L. Pouw
  • Igor Petrovic
  • Naomi Nederlof


This paper discusses a longitudinal field study on collective action which aims to move beyond student samples and enhance mundane realism. First we provide a historical overview of the literature on the what (i.e., antecedents of collective action) and the how (i.e., the methods employed) of the social psychology of protest. This historical overview is substantiated with meta-analytical evidence on how these antecedents and methods changed over time. After the historical overview, we provide an empirical illustration of a longitudinal field study in a natural setting―a newly-built Dutch neighbourhood. We assessed changes in informal embeddedness, efficacy, identification, emotions, and grievances over time. Between t0 and t1 the residents protested against the plan to allow a mosque to carrying out their services in a community building in the neighbourhood. We examined the antecedents of protest before [t0] and after [t1] the protests, and whether residents participated or not. We show how a larger social network functions as a catalyst in steering protest participation. Our longitudinal field study replicates basic findings from experimental and survey research. However, it also shows that one antecedent in particular, which is hard to manipulate in the lab (i.e., the size of someone’s social network), proved to be of great importance. We suggest that in overcoming our most pertinent challenge―causality―we should not only remain in our laboratories but also go out and examine real-life situations with people situated in real-life social networks.