Activism as a Career, Calling, and Way of Life
In this article, I use life histories of progressive activists to examine the class-inflected nature of activist identities. These life histories reveal three different conceptions of activist identity based primarily on the class origins of the narrators. Middle-class activists define their activism as a career, and their narratives depict a sequential and linear path to a new somewhat professionalized identity. Working-class activists conceive of their activism as a calling, and their narratives move backwards and forwards to an activism that links to and reinvents their working-class roots. Low-income activists make little distinction between their nonactivist and activist lives. They regard their activism as a way of life, and their related narratives combine episodes of collective action with stories of economic deprivation. Overall, this study demonstrates the utility of a more discursive understanding of identity talk, particularly for rethinking processes of recruitment to and participation in social movements.