Affinity-Convergence Theory

What is Affinity-Convergence Theory?

Affinity-Convergence Theory (ACT) is the central theory at the heart of The Rise of the Masses. The theory breaks down spontaneous mass mobilization into two interlinked components: Affinity and Convergence.

What is Affinity?

Affinity refers to people's predisposition to participate in a particular cause. Sometimes, this can arise from social factors that impact on someone's life, such as their resources, obligations, patterns of activity, or social status (termed 'social affinities' in the book). At other times, it is psychological factors that play a predisposing role, such as people's identities, attitudes, perceptions of injustice, interests, or socio-emotional needs (termed 'psychological affinities' in the book). These all work together to help bring people and causes together.

What is Convergence?

Convergence refers to the social conditions that catalyze participation in contentious politics by making it more advantageous, possible, or paramount. These conditions can arise at a structural level, constituting certain situations that help encourage participation, or at the level of popular belief, encompassing widespread frames that promote participation. They can also arise in certain spaces where physical conditions are especially conducive to participation.

How do Affinity and Convergence work together?

When a substantial number of people have affinity for a cause, they are already predisposed toward participation, but this predisposition is in constant competition with all sorts of other things to which ordinary people are also predisposed. Convergence serves as the 'trigger' for a large number of people to act on these predispositions all at once by substantially altering the status-quo in favour of participation.

For a full explanation of how Affinity-Convergence Theory (ACT) works, read Chapter 2 of The Rise of the Masses. This chapter explains the theory in great detail, with illustrative examples drawn from across the book's cases.