A Saul Alinsky primer for the 21st century: The roles of cultural competence and cultural brokerage in fostering mobilization in support of change

Simona Giorgi, Jean M. Bartunek, Brayden G. King

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

7 Citations (Scopus)


How can a proponent of change mobilize groups and organizations in support of a common project? Building on an extensive review of social movement theorizing and action, we argue that shared interests, network connections, the availability of resources, and the emergence of political, market and corporate opportunities (the standard topics discussed in extant literature) may be necessary, but are often insufficient for spurring mobilization. Conversely, cultural factors such as frames, identities, or practices are essential. Their presence can facilitate coordinated action even among unlikely allies, and their absence can prevent such action. Inspired by the work of Saul Alinsky (1909–1972), along with contemporary illustrations, we construct a two-step model of the role of culture in mobilizing for change. We bring attention to a change proponent's cultural competence – skill in appreciating the different cultural meanings and values of those involved in a particular project of change – and cultural brokerage – skill in bridging and negotiating among actors with different cultural repertoires, to reach a temporary truce or covenant. We focus on two types of activities that define cultural brokerage, integration and redefinition, and apply them to the cultural factors of frames, identities, and/or practices. Our paper contributes to contemporary research on social movements, institutional theory, and cultural sociology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-142
Number of pages18
JournalResearch in Organizational Behavior
Early online date14 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Change
  • Cultural brokerage
  • Cultural competence
  • Cultural repertoires
  • Mobilization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

Cite this