Does institutionalisation entail deradicalisation

For radicals institutionalisation is in itself a form of de-radicalisation (van der Heijden 1997; Jamison, Eyerman and Cramer 1990: 110-17). The argument that EMOs have de-radicalised can be divided into three. First, for Jamison et al. the major difference between the environmental movement of the 1970s and now is that the movement is no longer capable of creating a new cosmology. Institutionalisation has changed the 'cognitive praxis' of the movement so that it concentrates on technical and scientific issues and no longer offers an alternative set of values or a challenge to the existing order. This challenge was reflected in the non-hierarchical forms of organisation and the critical attitude to knowledge developed by environmentalists in the 1970s. Now environmental groups provide information rather than new knowledge.

Second, as we have seen, EMOs cannot be seen as the sources of a new participatory society. At best they provide a mechanism for what Kriesi et al. (1995) have called 'vicarious activism' in which new middle-class professionals with little free time but some spare money buy a service from campaign groups. Given the limited form of passive membership in WWF and Greenpeace, van der Heijden argues that:

This leads to the paradoxical conclusion that the environmental movement of the 1970s and early 1980s with its much smaller (but also more active and more concerned) constituency, in a sense could be conceived of as stronger than the movement of the past decade. Many environmental organisations have lost their unique movement character and therefore an important part of their strength. It is doubtful whether their stronger position at some negotiating table will compensate for this.

Third, the priority given to the development of the organisation and the monetary resources necessary to sustain it has become an end in itself that is an obstacle to achieving more radical change. Groups reliant on subscriptions from mass support in order to maintain their organisation are likely to avoid risky protests that might lead to sequestration of assets and also may be too influenced by marketing surveys of how their strategies play with key groups of subscribers.

Mark Dowie's trenchant critique of the major American EMOs suggests that they have betrayed the heritage of earlier environmentalists by accepting too many compromises and by giving priority to the maintenance of their own organisations. He shows that the major American EMOs were ill prepared to respond to worsening political circumstances in the 1980s. They had become too reliant on the 'good faith and authority of Federal Government' (Dowie 1995: xi) and failed to broaden their focus from wilderness and animals in response to the growth of environmental justice activism. Worse, the actions of the EMOs actually weakened the movement. This occurred when groups accepted executives from major corporations onto their boards, thus bolstering the credibility of the claim that business supported the environmental movement.

Against this pessimistic view optimists argue that institutionalisation has not changed the values of EMOs. In Australia, argue Hutton and Connors, there has never been any major disagreement over philosophy within the movement (1999: 14) and the movement remains committed to a radical project. The shift in strategy towards more ties with government and business can be defended as necessary when the political climate is less promising, as in the recession of the 1990s. Rawcliffe (1998) also argues that EMOs may retain radical values while taking advantage of the greater influence that institutionalisation provides. Professionalisation has improved the campaigning ability of EMOs and increased their impact on public opinion. It is unlikely that this would have occurred without institutionalisation. The main question at stake in this debate then is whether the EMOs still count as radical, and whether therefore we can regard them as part of the green movement.

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