The Copenhagen Experiment: testing the effectiveness of creative vs. conventional forms of activism

Silas Harrebye*, Stephen Duncombe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


In recent decades the importance of emotion for social mobilization has been recognized. Likewise, there has been a recent upsurge of descriptive and theoretical work done on creative forms of activism that mobilize affect. What is missing is an evidence-based, empirical study of the variable impact of creative vs. conventional forms of activism on a public audience. To address this knowledge gap, the authors designed and staged a public experiment on the comparative effect and affect of creative vs. more conventional forms of activism over three days on a busy bridge in Copenhagen, Denmark. Our experiment design allowed us to analyse differences and similarities on several levels: attention, thought, feeling, memory, and action. We found that a creative approach was more effective at delivering upon traditional advocacy objectives like awareness, engagement, and receptiveness than conventional means. In addition, the affective responses of most people we interviewed and observed were decidedly more positive towards the creative interventions than for more conventional ones. Follow-up surveys also revealed that creative activism proved to be more memorable and result in more ensuing action on the issues. A ‘double edge’ to creative activism, however, was also observed. The novelty, humor, and surprise of creative forms of activism that generated interest and mobilized affect, could also result in ‘non-productive confusion,’ scepticism regarding the issue, and undermining the seriousness of the activists and their cause. Qualifications aside, the data gathered from the “Copenhagen Experiment” strongly suggest that creative activism is more effective, in part because it is more affective, than conventional forms of activism.
Translated title of the contributionKøbenhavner eksperimentet: En test af effektiviteten af kreative- versus konventioenelle former for aktivisme
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Movement Studies
VolumeLatest Articles
Number of pages27
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sep 2021


  • Activism
  • creative activism
  • experiment design
  • impact assessment
  • social movements

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