Movement professionalization has mainly been conceptualized as a mesolevel process, with past research stressing differences between groups. Few studies have accounted for why activists in the same organization might have drastically dissimilar experiences. Using interviews with thirty left-wing former and current movement professionals, the article integrates recent scholarship on activist pathways to explain intragroup variations. Findings show that activists who saw professionalization as a dilemma were influenced by the ideological imprinting, i.e., exposure to ideals of “grassroots” mobilization they encountered during the formative years of their activist careers, rather than their current organizational characteristics. Also, while the professionalization literature focuses on tactical moderation, activists emphasized a different problem. They saw external patronage as “tainted” money and an impediment to one-on-one relationship building with constituents. This study highlights the importance of incorporating activist trajectories into the professionalization literature and understanding aspects of movement careers that hinder participation along with those facilitating it.

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