Journal Papers

Anti-leaders(hip) in Social Movement Organizations: The case of autonomous grassroots groups

Abstract: Through the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement, the idea of horizontal, leaderless organizationhas come to the attention of the mass media. In this article we explore radical, participative-democratic alternatives to leadership through an empirical study of four Social MovementOrganizations (SMOs). Whilst there has been some writing on leadership within SMOs, ithas mirrored the ‘mainstream’ assumption that leadership is the product of individual leaderspossessing certain traits, styles and/or behaviours. In contrast, critical leadership studies (CLS)recognize that leadership is a relational, socially constructed phenomenon rather than the resultof a stable set of leadership attributes that inhere in ‘the leaders’. We utilize this framing toanalyse how leadership is understood and performed in anarchist SMOs by examining how actorsmanage meaning and define reality without compromising the ideological commitments of theirorganizations. Furthermore, we also pay attention to the organizational practices and processesdeveloped to: (a) prohibit individuals from permanently assuming a leadership role; (b) distributeleadership skills and roles; and (c) encourage other actors to participate and take-up these roles inthe future. We conclude by suggesting that just because an organization is leaderless, it does notnecessarily mean that it is also leadershipless.