Protesting to challenge or defend the system? A system justification perspective on collective action

Danny Osborne, John T. Jost, Julia C. Becker, Vivienne Badaan, Chris G. Sibley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social identity, shared grievances, and group efficacy beliefs are well-known antecedents to collective action, but existing research overlooks the fact that collective action often involves a confrontation between those who are motivated to defend the status quo and those who seek to challenge it. Using nationally representative data from New Zealand (Study 1; N = 16,147) and a large online sample from the United States (Study 2; N = 1,513), we address this oversight and demonstrate that system justification is negatively associated with system-challenging collective action, but positively associated with system-supporting collective action, for members of both low-status and high-status groups. Group identification, group-based injustice, group-based anger, and system-based dissatisfaction/anger mediated these relationships. These findings constitute the first empirical integration of system justification theory into a model of collective action that explains when people will act collectively to challenge—and, just as importantly, defend—the status quo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)244-269
Number of pages26
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • collective action
  • multi-group SEM
  • social change
  • social identity
  • system justification theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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