Activists seeking to create social change must decide whether to expend more resources trying to change the behavior of individuals or institutions. For example, a climate activist could spend their days urging people to stop flying in airplanes, or they could spend their days urging the government to outlaw excessive flying. Some social change theorists argue that the second tactic is more effective than the first. Are they correct? I use the environmental movement and the animal liberation movement as case studies to examine this question from an empirical perspective. I conclude that while attempts to change individual behavior should not be entirely abandoned, they should be used with caution because of their tendency to distract the public from the need for institutional reform and their tendency to alienate potential allies. Seeing that, for decades, the animal movement’s main strategy has been to urge individuals to change their dietary behavior, this movement would greatly benefit from this knowledge.
- Should Activists Seek to Change Individual Behavior?