When Change Leads to Conflict: Collective Identity Threats and the Evolution of Movement-Driven Markets

Prior research has shown that social movements have successfully facilitated the emergence of such diverse industries as recycling, microbreweries, and grass-fed beef and dairy. Yet, despite insights into the mechanisms underlying movement-driven market emergence - including the disruption of entrenched institutions and the provision of mobilizing structures that can increase information about and awareness of new opportunities – little is known about how these markets evolve as they mature, or how this evolution may deviate from that of their more profit-driven counterparts. Anecdotal evidence suggests that as these markets gain legitimacy, they attract new participants whose interests are more economic than ideological in nature – leading to tensions between the original social movement and the new market entrants. This potential conflict leads to an interesting set of questions: Under what conditions are the social movement and new entrants likely to be at odds? How do the founding social movements strategically respond to this tension? And how does this conflict impact the new industry? To answer these questions, we use a theory building from cases research design. Drawing from newspaper articles, trade publications, press releases, and prior research, we examine the public dialogue between social movements and the industries which they have supported. Through investigation of such cases as the cannabis industry, organic food, wind energy, and microbreweries, we propose that the degree to which the movement is focused on a social justice issue may determine the level and nature of the conflict that occurs. Furthermore, we suggest that the manner in which the social movement responds to this tension has important implications for the emergent industry’s future.

With Tiffany Trzebiatowski (UMASS Amherst)