Scholars of contentious politics expect that social movement organizations (SMOs) are valued according to their ability to craft resonant frames or to enact displays of worthiness. We offer an alternative, relational perspective highlighting the critical role of authenticity in shaping an SMO's perceived value. Unlike frames and intentional displays, calculated efforts to proclaim authenticity often backfire. We distill two orthogonal types: grassroots (in)authenticity, based on idealized notions of civil society, and institutional (in)authenticity, rooted in culturalcognitive schemas used to judge fit with established SMO categories. Grassroots authenticity benefits an SMO's fundamental legitimacy, while lacking it entirely (i.e., “astroturfing”) severely harms public support. Institutional authenticity increases resources and survival chances, intelligibility to elite observers, and clarity of collective identities; still, lacking this (via hybridity) may assist in recruitment and outreach. We build propositions that elaborate these expectations and argue that authenticity should become a more central concept in social movement research.

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