Energizing through visuals: how social entrepreneurs use emotion-symbolic work for social change

David Barberá-Tomás, Itziar Castello, Frank G.A. de Bakker, Charlene Zietsma
Academy of Management Journal

We know little about how social entrepreneurs try to induce enactment of their cause, especially when this cause is difficult to embrace. Through a longitudinal study, we analyze how anti-plastic pollution social entrepreneurs use multimodal (visual and verbal) interactions to influence their targets and promote their cause. Our findings reveal that these social entrepreneurs used what we call emotion-symbolic work, which involved using visuals and words to elicit negative emotions through moral shock, and then transforming those emotions into emotional energy for enactment. The emotional transformation process entailed connecting target actors to a cause, a collective identity and the social entrepreneurs themselves. The exploration of emotion-symbolic work offers new ways of seeing by emphasizing the use of multimodal interactions to affect emotions in efforts to influence target actors to enact a cause.