Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Working toward Social Change: Lessons Learned from Liberal Lifelong Social Activists
by Fletcher, Samantha S., Ph.D., State University of New York at Albany, 2018, 464; 10789015
Abstract (Summary)

Similar to the goals of lifelong social activists, social workers are charged with pursuing social change for persons who live in poverty, face discrimination, and other forms of social injustice (National Association of Social Workers [NASW], 2008). In order to accomplish this mandate it is important to identify and emulate strategies that have historically been used by social activists to combat oppression and create social change. This dissertation research seeks to fill gaps regarding the lived experiences of lifelong social activists and to answer the following research questions: (1) How do individuals navigate a lifelong activism journey? (2) How have older lifelong social activists worked toward social change?

A multiple case study methodology was used to allow for a thorough examination and description of each participant’s experiences as well as a cross case comparison to produce common themes (Creswell, 2013; Stake, 2006; Yin, 2014). The sample consisted of four women and five men between the ages of 71 and 96 (M= 83). One of the participants identified as African American and eight of the participants identified as Caucasian. Data analysis followed multiple case study principles including with-in and cross-case analyses. Atlas ti, qualitative data analysis software, was used to organize the database and assist with analysis.

In response to the first research question, participants described three key components for navigating a lifelong activism journey: (1) conceptualizing social justice, (2) identifying and staying connected to motivating factors, and (3) cultivating and sustaining a lifelong activism journey. Each activist described their process for conceptualizing social justice which began with a sense of social justice that influenced their beliefs about how the world should be ordered; in turn, this drove how participants identified social problems and how they critiqued oppressive systems and social structures. Next, participants identified multiple motivating factors that moved them from conceptualizing social justice to working toward social change. Finally, the activists described several key elements that helped them cultivate and sustain their activism journeys including exposure to different membership groups and ideologies, establishing personal goals, relationships, identifying barriers, and self-reflection.

The second research question addressed strategies for working toward social change. For the activists in this study, a variety of resources, and movement through a series of stages was required in order to engage in social change work. A preparatory stage, organization stage, action stage, and a follow-up stage appeared to be interconnected and cyclical. Participants also identified the primary resources used throughout the activism stages, which included people, organizations, fundraising, and activism materials.

Each stage of the activism process revealed important information about how to work toward social change. The preparatory stage included a series of steps that prepared activists to organize for an action including recognizing the need for change, personal and group contemplation, investigating the social problem, and dividing the tasks necessary to move forward. The second stage, an organizational stage, moved activists from intellectualizing an issue to engaging in a social action. This stage of the activism process involved joining or forming social change groups, recruiting allies, training allies and peers, and detailed planning of the event. The third stage of the activism process included six social activism strategies: (1) advocating, (2) creative methods, (3) demonstrating, (4) educating the public, (5) providing resources, and (6) writing letters. The participants also identified a purpose and an intended outcome for each action. The fourth and final stage of the activism process was the follow-up stage. During this stage the participants assessed the action to improve future actions.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Fortune, Anne Ricky E.
Commitee: Hardiman, Eric R., Wissman, Kelly K.
School: State University of New York at Albany
Department: Social Welfare
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 79/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Social work, Sociology, Social structure
Keywords: Anti-racism, Diversity/ inclusion, Older adults, Social activism, Social justice, Social movements
Publication Number: 10789015
ISBN: 978-0-355-86936-1
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