Rationality and Society
Using social exchange theory, this article presents a new theory for understanding the strategic choices made by social movement leaders—the “movement exchanges” theory. It looks at how leaders engage in exchanges of valued rewards with constituencies, institutional political players, bystander publics, and voluntary organizations. Leaders receive from these players important rewards (like committed activists, political leverage, and resources) for achieving movement goals. In turn, leaders make strategic choices (expressed in frames, tactics, targets, and claims) that other players find rewarding, favoring persistent exchanges across time. By considering movements’ simultaneous exchanges with several players, the theory makes sense of choices that remain puzzling for major movement theories. It also blends strategic behavior with culture (in the form of utopias, ideology, and emotions) but does not require the maximizing assumption of the homo economicus. I use the case of the contemporary Chilean student movement to illustrate the theory.