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Enabling courageous collective action: Conversations from United Airlines Flight 93

Ryan W. Quinn, PhD M. C. Worline
Organization Science. August 1, 2008

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On September 11, 2001, the passengers and crew members aboard Flight 93 responded to the hijacking of their airplane by organizing a counterattack against the hijackers. The airplane crashed into an unpopulated field, causing no damage to human lives or national landmarks beyond the lives of those aboard the airplane. We draw on this story of courageous collective action to explore the question of what makes this kind of action possible. We propose that to take courageous collective action, people need three narratives—a personal narrative that helps them understand who they are beyond the immediate situation and manage the intense emotions that accompany duress, a narrative that explains the duress that has been imposed upon them sufficiently to make moral and practical judgments about how to act, and a narrative of collective action—and the resources that make the creation of these narratives feasible. We also consider how the creation of these narratives is relevant to courageous collective action in more common organizational circumstances, and identify how this analysis suggests new insights into our understanding of the core framing tasks of social movements, ways in which social movement actors draw on social infrastructure, the role of discourse and morality in social movements, the formation of collective identity, and resource mobilization.