Advocating for Controversial Issues: The Effect of Activism on Compliance-Gaining Strategy Likelihood of Use

By Cameron, Kenzie A.; Campo, Shelly et al. | Communication Studies, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Advocating for Controversial Issues: The Effect of Activism on Compliance-Gaining Strategy Likelihood of Use


Cameron, Kenzie A., Campo, Shelly, Brossard, Dominique, Communication Studies


Activism is a crucial component of modern American social and political life. Activists are often defined as people who fight for change, or fight to maintain the status quo, and who participate in organized efforts (in the form of a political or social organization) to obtain a desired response from the people in power (Kerpelman, 1969, 1972). It is important to note that activism is not solely based on organizational membership (Brashers, Haas, Klingle, & Nedig, 2000). Activism therefore encompasses numerous communication processes, especially in terms of social influence, which makes it a particularly interesting area of investigation for communication researchers. Although studies of activism from a persuasion perspective have been performed in the rhetorical field in the context of social movements, (e.g., Gronbeck, 1973; Simons, Meching, & Schreier, 1984; Stewart, Smith, & Denton, 1994), empirical research has not explored how activists' compliance-gaining strategy selection may differ from other individuals' strategy selection. This study examines how activism is related to compliance gaining.

Compliance-Gaining Approaches

Compliance-gaining research, attempting to understand why we use the strategies that we do when we want to influence others, has fascinated researchers for decades (c.f. Boster, 1995; Hample & Dallinger, 1998; Hunter & Boster, 1987; Kellermann & Cole, 1994; Miller, Boster, Roloff, & Seibold, 1977, 1987; Wilson, 1998). Marwell and Schmitt (1967) presented 16 seemingly separate and distinct strategies that were developed through a deductive process, where participants were asked to rate how likely they would be to use each of the 16 strategies presented. Conversely, Wiseman and Schenck-Hamlin (1981) opted to use an inductive model to assess the realm of compliance-gaining strategies available and derived a list of 14 strategies. Later research reviewed these two methods of strategy development, determined that there was some overlap in the two strategy lists, and suggested that these two typologies be combined into a list of 24 distinct strategies (Miller et al., 1977). Kellermann and Cole (1994) identify a list of 64 potential compliance-gaining strategies, gleaned from 74 different compliance-gaining message classification systems, and argue that with such a large list, the typology of compliance-gaining strategies is not useful.

These emerging, and different, typologies are not necessarily the best path toward advancing compliance-gaining research. Yet the studies have certainly added to our understanding and thus, should not be dismissed summarily. Rather, repeated calls for moving forward with the literature and research have arisen from all sides; however, not all are in agreement as to the specific directions that should be taken (Boster, 1995; Burgoon, 1994; Kellermann & Cole, 1994; O'Keefe, 1994; Roloff, 1994).

One tactic to make sense of the compliance-gaining literature has been to attempt processes of data reduction. Numerous researchers have attempted such a process, but have found varied results. For example, Marwell and Schmitt's (1967) data were consistent with a five-factor analysis. Each factor was developed to represent the five types of interpersonal power as advanced by French and Raven (1960). However, when Miller, et al. (1977) used the 16 strategies presented by Marwell and Schmitt, their results indicated a factor analysis indicating eight dimensions, which they suggested to be related to situational bases. Kaminski, McDermott, and Boster (1977) found two dimensions, which they labeled positive and negative message strategies. Similarly, Roloff and Barnicott (1978, 1979) found two dimensions, which they chose to label as pro- and anti-social compliance-gaining strategies. Although these efforts, as well as others not mentioned here, have resulted in data reduction, a consensus as to how many factors, or dimensions, of compliance-gaining strategy exist still eludes our discipline. …

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