Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research

Making sense of the social world

The Transformation of Environmental Activism (TEA)


The changing character of environmentalism

Although there have been a number of studies of the emergence of the modern environmental movement and the early stages of its institutionalisation, little systematic research, and none that is broadly comparative at the EU level, has so far been done on the emergence of new forms of environmental activism, the nature of the later stages of the institutionalisation of environmental movement organisations and their consequences for those organisations themselves, their relations with the wider environmental movement as well as with governments and business interests, and their implications for public consultation, policy-making and policy implementation. Nor, despite the increasing importance of the European level for environmental policy and its implementation, has much research been done on the ways in which environmental movement organisations have responded to the opportunities and constraints of Europeanisation or the implications of these for policy-makers.

The TEA project

This project is a unique collaboration of some of the leading European researchers of environmental politics. Funded by the European Commission (DG XII: Science, Research and Development) as part of its research programme on the Human Dimensions of Environmental Change, the project commenced in March 1998 and funding ended on 30 September 2001.

Aims and objectives

It is the aim of this project to examine the various forms of environmental activism, to map changes in their relative incidence over time and from one EU member state to another, to examine changes in environmental movement organisations and their relationships with other actors within and outside the wider environmental movement, and to advance explanations for the patterns of variation which are found.

The principal objective of the project is to make a systematically comparative study of the incidence and forms of environmental activism and its relationship with environmental movement organisations in Germany, Great Britain, Italy, France, Spain, Greece, and Sweden, and at the level of the EU itself.

The central questions

What is the present pattern of environmental activism in each of the countries? How has it changed over the past decade or so?

How have environmental movement organisations changed? How are these changes viewed by their leading activists, by their rank-and-file members and active supporters, by their financial supporters, and by those people in government and industry who have contact with environmental movement organisations?

Have new environmental movement organisations emerged or developed during this period? How do they differ from their predecessors? What are their relations with others in the environmental movement and with people in government and industry?

To what extent has there been an increase in environmental activism which is not organised by established environmental movement organisations? What forms has it taken? To what extent is it inspired by cosmopolitan political values rather than local grievances? How does such 'unorganised' activism relate to established environmental movement organisations and other environmental actors? How does the institutionalised activism of established national environmental movement organisations relate to local and grassroots activism? How has this relationship changed during the past decade?

What are the consequences of such changes for:

  • the perception of environmental problems by the public;
  • the impacts of the environmental movement;
  • the policy-making system;
  • the nature and future of environmental movements and their activities?

What evidence is there of the development of a specifically European dimension to environmental activism? How does it relate to EU policies, initiatives and institutions? What is the impact upon environmental movement organisations in terms of policies, organisation and practice of developments at the EU level?


The investigation embraces three complementary strategies:

  1. quantitative and qualitative studies of the forms of environmental activism by means of analyses of reports published in mass media and environmental movement publications;
  2. examination of the development of environmental movement organisations and their relations with other relevant actors at local, national and European levels by means of analyses of published materials, a questionnaire survey and semi-structured interviews;
  3. observation and interviews at local level of current cases of environmental contention, and exploration, principally by means of analyses of local media reports and informant interviews, of the incidence and forms of environmental action in selected localities.

To whom will this research be of interest?

  • environmental movement organisations and other environmental activists
  • policy makers concerned better to understand the environmental movement
  • corporate policy and decision makers
  • the scientific community
  • teachers of environmental studies in higher education



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SSPSSR, Faculty of Social Sciences, Cornwallis North East, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NF

Last Updated: 26/07/2016