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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Burnout in Social Justice and Human Rights Activists

Although people involved in every kind of professional or volunteer work can besusceptible to vocational burnout, research suggests that social justice and human rights (SJHR) activists, whose activist work is fraught with unique challenges, can beespecially susceptible to it. Building on a small but growing body of scholarship on SJHR activist burnout, this study is an attempt to gain insight into SJHR activists’ own experiences. In order to deepen the relatively slim present understandings of SJHR activist burnout, we adopted a grounded theory approach to analyse interview data from 22 SJHR activists involved in a wide variety of SJHR movements and organizations in the United States. This analysis revealed patterns in the activists’ perceptionsof the symptoms, causes, and implications of their burnout and pointed to several dimensions of the internal cultures of United States SJHR movements and organizations, including, in the words of one our participants, a ‘culture of martyrdom’, that hasten activist burnout and, as a result, render SJHR activism less effective and efficient. We discussed these findings and how they might inform efforts to strengthen SJHR movements by tending to the well-being of SJHR activists.

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