Imagined Audiences and Activist Orientations of Migrant Advocacy Organizations

Sara DeTurk


This study, part of a larger investigation of a network of migrant advocacy organizations in South Texas, explores advocates’ rhetorical strategies and how such strategies are informed by activists’ (imagined) audiences. Data gathering consisted of semi-structured interviews of 17 advocates representing 8 organizations, supplemented by approximately 40 hours of participant observation over a 2-year period. Findings suggest four categories of aims: educating and persuading the general public, engaging non-supporters through dialogue, supporting and organizing migrants as activists, and building cooperative relationships with the authorities. Each of these audiences is engaged differentially, with attention to cultural values, strategic interests, and power dynamics. Activists’ strategies and imagined audiences are informed by rhetors’ social identities as well as their organizations’ goals. Conclusions suggest implications for coalition work and recommend the concepts of differential activism and agonistic dialogue, given the diversity of organizations and their constituencies.


migrant advocacy, social movement, audiences, coalition, agonistic dialogue, differential activism

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