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Social Movements

Social Movements



The articles under this heading survey and analyze the general features of social movements and describe various approaches to their study. Specific movements and types of movements are discussed in ANARCHISM; CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE; COMMUNISM, article on THE INTERNATIONAL MOVEMENT; CONSERVATION; FALANGISM; FASCISM; IMPERIALISM; LATIN AMERICAN POLITICAL MOVEMENTS; MILITARISM; MlLLENARISM; NATIONAL SOCIALISM; NATIONALISM; NATIVISM AND REVIVALISM; PACIFISM; PAN MOVEMENTS; SOCIALISM; SYNDICALISM; ZIONISM. Related modes of organization are discussed in INTEREST GROUPS; PARTIES, POLITICAL; SECTS AND CULTS; VOLUNTARY ASSOCIATIONS; and in many of the articles listed in the guide under RELIGION. For the relationship of social movements to ideology, see IDEOLOGY; INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, article onIDEOLOGICAL ASPECTS; RADICALISM; REVOLUTION; UTOPIANISM. The impact of social movements on the social structure is reviewed in COLLECTIVE BEHAVIOR; MASS PHENOMENA; MASS SOCIETY; ORGANIZATIONS, article onORGANIZATIONAL GOALS; POLITICAL SOCIOLOGY.


The term “social movement” or its equivalent in other Western languages is being used to denote a wide variety of collective attempts to bring about a change in certain social institutions or to create an entirely new order. Sometimes the term is used in distinction from religious or political movements and from movements among particular groups, for example, the women’s movement or the youth movement. As all of these movements occur in society and tend to affect, directly or indirectly, the social order, it would be permissible to apply the term social movement to all of them. However, when the term first came into use, early in the nineteenth century, it had a more specific meaning: the social movement meant the movement of the new industrial working class, with its socialistic, communistic, and anarchistic tendencies. A German scholar, Lorenz von Stein, was one of the first to recognize that the real political significance of socialism and communism lay not in their value as forms of social thought but in the fact that they gave expression and direction to the strivings of the industrial proletariat toward a new social order which would abolish economic exploitation and give the workers a chance to achieve full personality development.

On the continent of Europe, the identification of the social movement with the labor movement lasted until the second decade of this century. Today this narrow definition of the concept is no longer possible in view of peasants’ and farmers’ movements, of Fascism and National Socialism, and of the independence movements in colonial countries—to name only the most important instances.

It is advisable, however, to distinguish between movements which, because of their limited goals, never attract more than small groups of people and those which, aiming at comprehensive and fundamental changes in the social order, become true mass movements of historical significance. The latter will be referred to as social movements in the strict or “classical” sense. The former are sometimes referred to as “protest movements,” but this term may also be used to designate mass movements which seek to redress grievances of certain groups (for example, the Negro movement) as well as movements opposing social (or political) change (for example, the Ku Klux Klan or the White Citizens’ Councils in the southern United States).

Although it is sometimes convenient to distinguish between social and political movements, it should be noted that all movements have political implications even if their members do not strive at political power.

Social movements are a specific kind of concerted-action groups; they last longer and are more integrated than mobs, masses, and crowds and yet are not organized like political clubs and other associations. A social movement may, however, be comprised of organized groups without having one over-all formal organization (for example, the labor movement, which comprises trade unions, political parties, consumer cooperatives, and many other organizations). Group consciousness, that is, a sense of belonging and of solidarity among the members of a group, is essential for a social movement, although empirically it occurs in various degrees. This consciousness is generated through active participation and may assume various sociopsychological characteristics. By this criterion social movements are distinguished from “social trends,” which are often referred to as movements and are the result of similar but uncoordinated actions of many individuals (for example, the suburban movement, fads, and fashions).

The classical concept of social movement implies the creation of an entirely new socioeconomic and political order, especially as concerns the institutions of property and the distribution of power. To justify these aims, all major social movements develop a more or less elaborate, more or less consistent set of ideas which its members must accept more or less uncritically, as members of a religious group would accept a creed. From these “ideologies,” or “constitutive ideas,” are derived “action programs” of a more changing nature. Social movements tend to spread beyond the boundaries of states or national societies and to extend over the entire area of a civilization, or even beyond, as far as the social order that is their target reaches.

“Protest movements,” as the term is used in this discussion, are, as a rule, limited in spatial expansion, being mostly of local, regional, or national character, for example, many “radical” farmers’ and peasants’ movements. A formally organized protest movement represents one kind of “pressure group.” Transformation of a protest movement into a genuine social movement is possible; the early labor movement showed many traits of a protest movement, and labor unions often act as pressure groups. Neither protest movements nor pressure groups develop, as a rule, a comprehensive political action program or an elaborate ideology. While the relations between social movements and political parties will be discussed later, it should be pointed out that political parties are not necessarily differentiated by ideologies.

In spite of their different and often antagonistic aims and ideologies, certain social movements show similarities in structure, tactics, and other formal aspects, while other movements, although similar in their ideologies, are significantly different in other respects. While the earlier studies of social movements have concentrated on the ideas, more recent sociological research has given equal attention to the structural and psychological aspects.


Movements aiming consciously at a radically different social order, a “change from the roots,” are possible only when the social order is seen not as a divine creation but as a work of man, subject to man’s will. Movements of this kind are concomitant with the secularization of thought. This is why such movements have occurred in the West only since the eighteenth century and in the East quite recently as a consequence of cultural contact with the West. Earlier revolts and disturbances among the lower social strata typically aimed at improving their social position without attacking the social order in its foundations. Radical movements in the earlier periods tended to assume the character of millenarian religious or quasi-religious sects. Similar movements still occur in regions where the transition to modern society is lagging. These movements were, as a rule, defeated unless they adopted the organization, tactics, and ideology of modern movements.

In the attempt to justify their aims, modern social movements typically resort to abstract principles concerning the nature of man, his destination, and his natural rights in combination with a critique of the existing economic, political, and cultural institutions. The ideas of liberty and equality are common to all major social movements, sometimes in combination with the idea of national unity and independence.

The most typical forms which the philosophy of a movement assumes are either a detailed, rational plan for a new societya—Utopia—or, as in the case of Marxism, a theory of history which predicts the inevitable coming of the new society without revealing its form in detail. Characteristic of these thought systems is their inherent logical consistency, their reliance on monocausal explanations of major social problems, and their tendency to believe that changes in social institutions will bring final solutions to all human problems.

The defenders of the existing order will create counter arguments, which become the constitutive ideas (or ideology in the narrow sense) of a countermovement. Typically, these countermovements incorporate some of the ideas of their adversaries but otherwise use any argument that may serve in defense of their position, regardless of resulting logical contradictions. Some have made effective use of symbols (the Third Reich) in order to achieve solidarity among adherents. Either type of belief system may be regarded as an expression of the collective will of the social groups in which they are developed and accepted.

While the methods of analyzing belief systems of social movements have been refined by the “sociology of knowledge,” it is important to recognize the element of volition in the ideologies, since this is what makes them socially effective. The belief in a set of constitutive ideas binds the members of a movement together and gives them the elan needed for the persistent pursuit of the movement’s aim. It some cases this belief can assume quasi-religious forms. If this happens, not only the ideas of antagonists but also any deviation from the orthodox ideology are branded as a heresy. [See IDEOLOGY. ]

Social-psychological characteristics

The motivations of individuals in joining a social movement may range from rational belief in the movement’s aim (value-rational orientation) to pure opportunism. Quite often the decision to join is more emotional than rational—for example, when a person is “converted” by some experience which arouses his sense of justice—and in certain types of movements the mass of supporters are attracted by the personal charm of a leader rather than oriented toward an elaborate belief system or a definite action program (emotional-affectual orientation). When a movement has existed for a long time, it may, in certain families or occupational groups or local communities, become traditional to belong, as in the case of traditional socialistic orientation in many European working-class families. The example set by kinsmen, neighbors, or friends may give the incentive to join. [See PERSONALITY, POLITICAL.]

One can distinguish the following sociopsychological types of movements according to the pervailing motivation of their members:

(1) The value-rational “spiritual community” or “fellowship” of believers in the truth of the constitutive ideas and in the practical aims of amovement.

(2) The emotional-affectual “following” of acharismatic leader.

(3) The purposive-rational or utilitarian association for the pursuit of individual interests.

Combinations of these types are frequent, and transitions from one type to another may occur during the life cycle of a movement. What started as a community of believers in a “cause” may develop into a “band wagon,” attracting socially or politically ambitious opportunists. In some revolutionary movements the devotion to the cause becomes paramount to the degree that personal friendship and love among members and all personal, intimate relations with outsiders are discouraged—a paradox in movements which aim at the establishment of a more human, more fraternal order of society. Of course, reasons of security against police spies and traitors may contribute to these practices. On the other hand, there are cases where kinship and personal friendship contributed to the solidarity of members of a revolutionary movement.

The nature of a movement may also change as a new generation grows into it. By political generation we mean those persons of approximately equal chronological age who experienced the same crucial social and political events during the formative period of their lives, that is, roughly in their late teens and early twenties. The implication is that these experiences, among other factors, contributed to the formation of their social and political outlook on life (Weltanschauung). Although this concept presents serious difficulties to “operational definition,” it is a most useful tool in understanding the origin and development and internal tensions and changes of social movements. [SeeGenerations. ]

Many attempts have been made to explain the origin and growth of social movements by relying only on psychic factors. These attempts have in many instances led to an overemphasis on non-rational motivations, even on pathological traits of founders and leaders as well as of followers, and have neglected the situational conditions out of which movements arise. While many early leaders of radical movements have been maladjusted personalities and while frustrated individuals are often attracted by such movements, mass adherence is gained by rational reaction to economic or other social conditions which are felt to be intolerable. Likewise, the popular notion that movements are generated by outside agitators has to be discarded; outsiders certainly accelerate the spread of a movement, but unless the local people are “ready,” the agitator is likely to preach to deaf ears—or even be forced to leave.

Organization and structure

Although social movements are by definition not corporate bodies, as action groups they need some kind of organization that enables certain persons to act as authorized spokesmen and representa-tives. This can take the form of committees, clubs, labor unions, or political parties.

The relationship to political parties is of special importance. It may be of various patterns: (a) the party may serve as The political spearhead of the movement; b the movement may be represented in or exert influence through several parties; (c) a party may contain several movements—or parts of them; or (d) the movement rejects connection with any political party. Examples of (a) are the British Labour party in its earlier days and the National Socialist German Workers party (NSDAP) in relation to the broader Nazi movement; of (b) the labor movement in West Germany represented in the Social Democratic party (SPD) and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU); of (c) the major American parties; of (d) the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the United States and anarchosyndicalism in general.

Political party by definition presupposes the existence of at least one other party within the body politic. However, the ideological parties which developed out of the communist and fascist movements (and some independence movements) aim at a monopoly of power and do not recognize other parties as legitimate adversaries or competitors. Since they are selective in membership and demand absolute obedience from all members, they are properly referred to as “political orders” rather than parties. These totalitarian parties aim at controlling all phases of social life through numerous affiliated organizations. [SeeParties, Political.]

Affiliated organizations were, however, first devised by the social-democratic parties of continental Europe and later used by nearly all other parties. The primary purpose of creating women’s, children’s, and youth organizations together with educational, athletic, and a variety of other special-interest associations was not total control, as in the totalitarian orders, but recruiting new members and winning elections. Yet before 1933 a German socialist’s life “from the cradle to the grave” could be spent in party-affiliated organizations. This indicates that for its adherents the party was more than a political institution; it was part of the broader movement in which the masses of industrial workers had found a “home” a community of mind and spirit. The establishment of paramilitary forces by the fascist and National Socialist movements induced their opponents to follow their example.

The relations between the various organized groups constituting a movement are not always free of tension. For example, in some European countries the affiliation of trade unions with a political party has at times aroused opposition among those workers who did not share The political (socialistic) orientation of their union.

The growth of affiliated organizations together with universal franchise created problems of administration which could no longer be solved solely by reliance on part-time volunteer workers. Thus, large staffs of paid full-time workers developed in parties as well as in labor unions and other organizations within the major movements. While increasing the efficiency of the interior workings, the unwanted consequence of professionalization of the staff is often a decline in militancy. Persons who are responsible for a large organization on which people depend, will, in a critical situation, be reluctant to risk not only the lives of members but also the very existence of the organization and, eventually, its achievements. (This explains in part why the German socialist trade union leadership failed to resist Hitler in the spring of 1933. )

The power structure of social movements varies from diffusion of power to concentration of authority at the top level. Supreme authority may be institutional, that is, derived from the office to which a person has been promoted by legal procedure, or it may be charismatic, that is, derived from the belief in the extraordinary, quasi-superhuman powers of a particular person who, in turn, is motivated by the belief in his singular gifts, his call to leadership, and his political “mission.” The founders and early leaders of social movements often come close to this type. However, genuine charisma is not to be confused with popularity of a leader.

In the fascist and Nazi movements, charismatic leadership was accepted as a principle and developed with all its characteristics and consequences, while Marxism–Leninism rejects the “cult of personality.” This difference, obscured by labeling communist and fascist regimes as “dictatorships,” is important for an adequate understanding of the structure of the two kinds of movements and of the resulting regimes. In particular, the problem of succession, which is critical in the case of charismatic leadership, is much less serious in the communist parties and regimes. [SeeCharisma; Leadership; Totalitarianism.]

Strategy and tactics

In politics, the distinction between strategy and tactics cannot be so sharply drawn as in the theory of war, but it is nevertheless important. In societies where freedom of opinion is granted, it is usually over tactics rather than strategy that a social movement will get into conflict with the government, especially if members of the social movement engage in “direct action” (for example, sabotage, general strike, boycott, “sit-in,” terror and violence) or in serious preparations for a coup d’etat. Schisms in a social movement occur more frequently about tactics (for example, over the question of reform or revolution) than about strategy, although the more serious splits are usually those over long-range strategy (for example, the Stalinist-Trotskyite controversy). For the outsider, it is often difficult to decide whether a change in the policy of a movement is due to a change in final objectives or merely a tactical maneuver (this has been a major problem in dealing with communism).

Direct action, essentially undemocratic because it denies the opponent the chance to discuss the issue, is often resorted to when legitimate political action fails. In extreme situations the movement will culminate in a violent revolution.

The tactics and strategy of a social movement are interdependent with its ideology and its form of organization; for example, a movement aiming at revolution needs a more authoritarian organization than a movement believing in gradual reform. The choice of tactics as well as of forms of organization is in part dependent on The political system within which the movement operates and in part on the size of the movement and its influence within The political system. Therefore, the tactics of a social movement may change as it grows—they may become less revolutionary as the movement gains in influence, or they may become more aggressive as the chances of success increase.

Most social movements operate in public because publicity gives influence and increases adherence. However, secrecy is resorted to in situations where the rights of association, of assembly, and of freedom of opinion are denied or where members of a particular movement are subject to special prohibitive legislation and to persecution. The labor movement in its early phases was largely forced to secrecy. The consequence was—as it has been in similar cases—the splitting up of the larger movement into many more or less conspiratorial sect-like groups.

In political as in military action and in business, success comes to the innovator. The rise to power and the foreign-policy achievements of the Fascists and Nazis were, in part, due to the fact that they did not play according to the rules, while their antagonists at home and abroad expected them to. The same may be said, with modifications, of the communist movement: frequent tactical changes tend to confuse the adversaries. Mao Tse-tung succeeded because he deviated from orthodox Leninist strategy and tactics.

Radical revolutionary and counterrevolutionary movements are capable of violating the “rules of the game” because their members do not regard their opponents as part of The political community; they conceive of all politics in terms of friend-foe relations, where no holds are barred. This explains the use of terror before and after the seizure of power and the paradox that men who intend to create a better world for man are capable of sacrificing millions of human beings in the process.

Class and ethnic movements

Two kinds of social movements have been of historical importance in recent times: class movements and movements of ethnic groups.

Examples of class movements are those of the middle class versus the nobility, peasants versus landlords, workers against employers, farmers against middlemen, petty bourgeoisie against big business, and, more vaguely speaking, the poor against the rich. The supporting classes are typically those which, while gaining in economic significance and general socioeconomic achievements, feel economically exploited and politically suppressed. Some movements, particularly countermovements and protest movements, originate among members of classes which are declining in socioeconomic significance. Thus, the European labor movement started among craftsmen who resented the loss of economic independence and among skilled industrial workers who represented the economic and intellectual elite of the proletariat.

A distinction should be made between peasant movements and farmers’ movements. The former occur in societies where land is the property of ruling classes, who are not necessarily engaged in agriculture but who draw rent or other income in cash, or in kind, or in services from the peasants. The typical peasant movement aims at abolition of these obligations and the return of the land to its alleged or real original owners. Where peasants and landlords belong to different ethnic groups, for example, in some Latin American and in many colonial countries, the conflict is particularly sharp.

By way of contrast, modern farmers’ movements occur typically among commercial farmers, especially in one-crop areas, where a high degree of economic insecurity exists. Unless there is a broad class of tenant farmers, the land question does not arise; the issues are mainly prices, interest rates, and taxes, and the main “targets” are the merchants, creditors, and the government.

Farmers’ movements as a rule do not develop elaborate ideologies but raise concrete demands; in this respect they come close to being mere protest movements. However, if their grievances are not alleviated, even modern farmers become susceptible to radical ideological movements (for example, German farmers during the rise of Nazism, French farmers and Poujadism). Peasant movements are likely to resort to violence. Their ideology, if one exists, may at the same time be traditional-istic and restorative. However, it is precisely in traditional areas of peasant unrest that contemporary communism has gained widespread support, especially in southern Europe and Latin America.

To say that a movement is supported by a given class does not mean that every member of the movement belongs to that particular class or that every member of the class belongs to the movement. These correlations are never perfect. Some movements are recruited mainly from uprooted or alienated members of certain classes (for example, most of the early Nazis, including Hitler, were declasse lower-middle-class people). The founders, the leaders, and the framers of the belief system in class movements are often alienated members of another class.

Of particular importance in this respect is the role of the intelligentsia in furnishing leaders of revolutionary movements. Having no firm roots in their society, these men and women are susceptible to ideological beliefs which promise them a society in which their kind would find a satisfactory status.

The term “ethnic-group movement” is used to designate a variety of phenomena. The most important are (1) the movements for political independence of national minorities within the old empire states in Europe; (2) the independence movements of natives in colonial countries of Asia and Africa; (3) the movements for national unityfor example, in Germany and Italy in the nineteenth century and the Pan-Arabic movement in the twentieth century; (4) the movements of nationalities for civic and cultural equality within ethnically heterogeneous states (the Flemings in Belgium) and for superiority (the Finns in Finland).

As a rule these movements are led and supported primarily by the cultural, economic, and, in some cases, military elites who have vital interests in the attainment of the objectives.

The leaders of present-day independence movements in colonial countries are, with few exceptions, intellectuals and professional people, “marginal men” who have been subjected to Western culture and education. Their followers come by no means only or even in the first place from the lower social strata but, on the contrary and to a large extent, from the recently developed classes of white-collar workers, civil servants, and military officers, as well as from the small and medium-sized businessmen, who find themselves handicapped by Western colonial rule and economic dominance. Additional support comes in many areas from miners, peasants, plantation laborers, and other categories of workers who have been in contact with Western systems of economy and government and who have been uprooted from the community of village or tribe. Even among primitive islanders in the south Pacific, movements have developed which are partly directed toward freedom from white dominance and are partly nourished by chiliastic expectations of enrichment through civilization, for example, the “cargo” cults [seeNativism and Revivalism].

The Negro movement in the United States does not correspond to the typical pattern of ethnic-group movements because most Negroes do not aspire to. political independence or cultural autonomy but to integration into American society and culture. Since the American Negroes are neither a national minority nor a social class, their movement does not aim at fundamental changes in the social order but rather at the realization of constitutional rights. However, achievement of the Negroes’ aims would change not only local and regional customs but also certain parts of the existing legal order. The movement, therefore, is regarded by friend and foe as a “revolution.” In its aims and tactics the Negro movement resembles the women’s (suffragettes’) movement. Like the early labor movement, it has received significant aid and leadership from outsiders.

In many instances one can observe that certain areas or regions of a country are the breeding places and strongholds of a variety of successive movements of a more or less radical character. This is true especially of rural areas where one-crop commercial farming in combination with other factors (for example, irregular rainfall) results in a high degree of economic insecurity among farmers or where a high degree of underemployment exists among agricultural workers. The depletion of forests and other secondary sources of farmers’ income or their appropriation by outsiders also tends to create areas of social unrest (for example, northern Sweden and the cut-over areas in the Great Lakes states and the Deep South of the United States). In some of these areas social movements tend to find support among all social strata because all are affected; in other instances the property owners will lean toward one, the propertyless classes toward another, “extreme” movement. Persistent centers of unrest and rebellion also occur in certain sections of metropolitan cities. The study of these phenomena constitutes the “ecology” of social movements.

The functions of social movements

The great changes in the social order of the world which have occurred during the past two centuries are very largely the direct or indirect result of social movements. For even if a movement did not achieve all its goals, parts of its program were accepted and incorporated into the everchanging social order. This has been the main, or “manifest,” function of these movements.

As a movement grows, certain secondary, or “latent,” functions may be observed: (1) the movement contributes to the formation of public opinion by providing for the discussion of social and political problems and through the eventual incorporation of some of the movement’s ideas into dominant public opinion; and (2) it provides training of leaders who become part of The political elite and may eventually rise to the positions of leading statesmen. The socialist labor movements and the national independence movements have produced a large proportion of the present-day heads of government throughout the world. Labor leaders and leaders of other movements, even if they do not hold public office, also belong to The political elite in many countries, a fact which in some instances is recognized by heads of government, who may extend appropriate honors to such leaders or consult with them on political issues.

When these two functions have reached the point where the movement, after having changed or modified the social order, becomes part of it, the life cycle of the movement comes to an end—it has become an institution. This is true in the first place when a revolutionary movement is victorious, as in the Soviet Union and mainland China, where communism can no longer be called a movement but has been transformed into a regime. It is true also of the socialist labor movement and some farmers’ movements in the economically advanced countries of northern and western Europe and in the United States and the British Dominions, while the countries where urgent social and economic reforms have been delayed or prevented are the present-day seedbeds of revolutionary socialistic and communistic movements.

Rudolf Heberle


The BIBLIOGRAPHY for this article is combined with the BIBLIOGRAPHY of the article that follows.


The analysis of social movements has constituted an amorphous and diffuse field of sociological research and theory that is sometimes conceived as part of the general field of collective behavior and sometimes as part of the study of voluntary associations. In this article, however, social movements are defined as socially shared demands for change in some aspect of the social order. This definition emphasizes the part played by social movements in the development of social change an aspect that no student of them has been able to ignore.

At various times and under various conditions the legitimacy of a society’s customary institutions or values may come under attack from different parts of the society. New arrangements are advocated; but the demand for change meets with resistance, and old habits and arrangements are maintained. Thus it comes about that groups face each other in some form of conflict.

A social movement, therefore, is not the unnoticed accretion of many unrecognized changes. Rather, it has the character of an explicit and conscious indictment of whole or part of the social order, together with a conscious demand for change. It also has an ideological component—that is, a set of ideas which specify discontents, prescribe solutions, and justify change.

Directed and undirected movements

There is a mixture of formal association and informal, diffuse behavior encompassed in the concept of a movement. A significant distinction can be made between “directed” and “undirected” movements or segments of a movement. This distinction is similar to that made by Herbert Blumer (1946) between “general” and “specific” movements. The directed segment of a movement is characterized by organized and structured groups with specific programs, a formal leadership structure, definitive ideology, and stated objectives. Its followers are members of an organization as well as partisans to a belief. The undirected phase of a movement is characterized by the reshaping of perspectives, norms, and values which occurs in the interaction of persons apart from a specific associational context. The followers are partisans but need not be members of any association which advocates the change being studied.

For example, the directed segment of the feminist movement consisted of associations that sought to achieve goals of equal rights for women in various areas of American life; in its undirected phase, the movement consisted of a subtle and unreported redefinition of the rights of women (in which both men and women played a part). In Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Nora was a partisan participant in such a movement, without any affiliation to a feminist organization.

These two sides to the phenomenon of social movements often lead to diverse emphases among sociological studies. Those which focus on diffuse and undirected action are likely to emphasize those characteristics of movements which are akin to other phenomena of collective behavior and which are often such a striking feature of the early formation of movements and associations. Crowd and mob action, generalized unrest, and the structure of personal commitment loom large in many studies of the genesis of social movements (for example, see Cantril 1941). This type of study attempts to analyze the ways in which discontent is made specific in new definitions of rights and privileges, indictments of the existing order, and, finally, in programs for new institutional structures. For example, in George Rude’s (1959) analysis of public opinion among working-class Parisians on the eve of the French Revolution, the origin of their discontent is traced to anger at rising bread prices; only through a series of riots, statements, and counteraction did the protests of the workers become defined in an ideology of revolution.

Most studies of social movements have been researches into the career of an association, from stages of collective excitement to the activities of formally organized groups. In such studies the movement is identified with the goals and actions of organizations (see, for instance, Holtzman 1964; Lipset 1950; Webb & Webb 1894).

Public policy and private persuasion

Directed and undirected segments of social movements affect each other. As movements arise, grow, and become recognized, they tend to generate public controversy. Uncommitted portions of the society may be polarized into partisan support on the one hand and resistant opposition on the other. The Negro civil rights movement in the United States during the 1960s transformed a relatively quiescent white population into resisters and supporters of civil rights. Even where organizational membership is lacking, people take positions and adjust their behavior in response to new expectations. Issues emerge where consensus had existed (Hyman & Sheatsley 1964).

Social movements may be distinguished according to whether they seek to achieve their goals through public policy or private persuasion. A movement may work toward the goal of effective change in the rules of government or other institutions. For example, the Townsend movement sought to gain legislation affecting the welfare of the aged (Holtzman 1964), and the early Methodist sects hoped to reform the Anglican church (Niebuhr 1929). Other movements have concentrated on persuading individuals to a line of action and have ignored the use of public institutions as agents of control. Religious movements are more likely to seek converts than new legislation. Even in the American temperance movement the early stages were marked by efforts to persuade individuals to abstain (Gusfield 1963, chapter 2).

Belief and politicization

Although movements may, and often do, utilize both public policy and personal persuasion, it is important to recognize that they may shift their emphasis from one to the other. The ways in which movements become politicized is thus one of the important problems in the field. The religious expression of discontent may substitute for political expression (Lipset 1960, pp. 97-100). The contrary trend is also found; for instance, studies of millennial movements in Melanesia show that religious movements are capable of turning into nationalistic political rebellions (Worsley 1957).

The concept of a “social movement” is thus suggestive of people who, on the one hand, are in process of rejecting existing social values and arrangements, while, on the other, they are both striving to make converts to their way of seeing things and dealing with the resistance that their activities inevitably call forth. But while the movement is often carried by associations, it is not wholly an associational phenomenon. It is in the system of generalized beliefs, and in partisan commitment to such beliefs, that we find the characterizing features of a social movement. The unity and coherence of a movement, in its various stages and forms, depend on the similarity of the adherents’ beliefs about the legitimacy of a new way of behaving, of their rejection of what has been, and of their demand for adoption of the new. This is what distinguishes a social movement from other types of special interest associations and from those hostile outbreaks and expressive protests which do not develop into explicit demands for a changed society.

Social change and the social base

A major hypothesis in the field is that social movements are the products of social change. Circumstances arise in which long established relationships are no longer appropriate; the result of this strain between old and new is discontent. One of the sociologist’s tasks in analyzing a movement is to identify the particular social changes that have generated discontent and to specify their relation to the movement. For example, a movement toward establishing the language of Norwegian rural areas as the official Norwegian language was shown to be a product of the cultural chauvinism with which peasants responded to the influx of urban institutions and personnel in the provinces (Munch 1954).

Social bases of movements

Just as change is seldom uniform throughout a society, so too a social movement usually appeals to some segments of a society but not to all. In other words, it has a location in the social structure. For example, the Indian independence movement had a special attraction for Indian professionals who were, as a class, blocked from full professional attainments, although they had been given a British education (Misra 1961); the Poujadist movement in France attracted small businessmen and farmers (Lipset 1960, pp. 154-165); Methodism in its early stages had a singular appeal to the British working class (Niebuhr 1929, chapter 2).

A specific movement, of course, may appeal to more than one social or cultural segment. Analyses of movements often involve consideration of the problems posed by efforts to unite diverse social groups in one association. Thus, it has been shown that the American socialist movement was constantly troubled by the diversities arising from a rural, native American radicalism and the radicalism of urban, often immigrant, workers. Native American radicalism was both Populist and anti-industrial, whereas urban, working-class radicalism has sought to extend industrialization, provided that it is regulated (Bell 1952).

Relative deprivation and social change

There is no simple unilinear relation between the hardships experienced by a group and the development of movements toward change. The principle of relative deprivation, however, goes some way toward explaining the relation between perceived deprivation (or threat of deprivation) and the expression and organization of discontent. Research has shown that the absolute situation of a group is not as instrumental in generating and focusing discontent as is the perception of what is just, expected, and possible. Revolutions may, and often have, occurred just after revolutionary segments of the population have improved their economic position. Because of a group’s rising expectations, the new situation may be experienced as even more distressing than the previous one. In some cases, fear of the loss of new gains may instill and in crease unrest. Furthermore, the loss of past status may be influential in generating movements which aim at restoration. This was one factor in the development of British trade unionism; early industrialization threatened to erase the line between craft and unskilled labor and thus threatened the position of the skilled worker (Webb & Webb 1894, chapter 1).

Structural aspects

Potential supporters of social movements must also be assessed from the standpoint of their skills and opportunities for the development of collective action. Social change may generate movements through structural changes, such as an increase in the capacities of groups for the tasks of communication, leadership, and organization. For example, colonial education acts as a training ground as well as a seedbed of discontent for anticolonial nationalist movements (McCully 1940).

Ideological content

The beliefs of any social movement reflect the unique situation of the social segments that make up its base. Taken together, these beliefs amount to a paradigm of experience by which the ideology and program of the movement appear right, just, and proper only to a particular segment of society, because it alone has undergone the experiences which could make the ideology seem both relevant and valid. This is true even though the ideology may be set forth in quite general terms. For instance, the movement for an amendment to the United States constitution prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex has been stated in the rhetoric of equal rights for all women. This amendment has been sponsored, however, by upper-class women who would benefit from equality with husbands in property rights and has been opposed by working-class women who achieve special protection and welfare benefits under laws which limit their hours of work (Green & Melnick 1950). In this case, the rhetoric of “equal rights” has a different meaning for working women than for upper-class women.

Career of social movements

In analyzing the relation of social movements to social changes, the sociologist, as we have seen, characteristically attempts to identify the social segments uniquely supportive and “open” to the movement, the social changes that produce both the discontent of these segments and their means for expressing it, and the relation between the ideological content of the movement and the specific social situations of the adherents and the partisans.

Collective behavior to collective action

However, discontent alone is far from being a sufficient cause of either protest activity or of more explicitdemands for change. “A movement has to be constructed and has to carve out a career in what is practically always an opposed, resistant, or at least indifferent world” (Blumer 1957, p. 147). The generalized unrest must become focused on specific parts of the social order. New beliefs must be created and adherents gained. People must be activated to champion a cause through the mobilization of their energies in a concerted manner. As this occurs, the movement often takes on new characteristics.

Whether or not an initial discontent will become organized into a movement is itself problematic. Hobsbawm (1959) has studied a number of what he calls “archaic” movements, in which diffuse protest did not coalesce into organized demands for change. Thus, Sicilian social banditry of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries both expressed and was nourished by the diffuse protest of the Sicilian peasantry against the rich and the “outsider.” However, such protest never achieved an ideological content or an organization through which to focus on a program of demands, tactics, and strategy.

The appearance of agitation in the midst of unrest aids in the development of new perspectives toward the social order and gives meaning to the social changes producing discontent. The development of leadership, organized actions, and ideology mobilizes discontent into an organized movement and frequently generates new characteristics owing to an initial outburst of energy. Thus, initial outbreaks of violence may well go beyond the attack on a specific and defined part of the status quo. In the Hungarian revolt of 1956, the urban riots were not revolutionary in origin, but they took on a revolutionary character as the movement favoring a new regime took on a more organized and permanent structure (Gross 1958, pp. 319-321). Without the appearance of a more permanent structure, such outbreaks are likely to be isolated events, as were the Harlem riots of 1943.


Events which are unanticipated and beyond the control or influence of the movement often change the constellation of resisting and supporting forces and thus strongly affect its career. For example, the inflation of the 1920s and early 1930s contributed heavily to the development of the Nazi party by increasing the economic discontent of lower-middle-class groups whose emotional ties to nationalism had already made them likely adherents of National Socialism (Fromm 1941; Lipset 1960, pp. 138-152).

Structural conduciveness

The structure of society affects the origin and form of movements in a variety of ways. This phenomenon has been referred to by Smelser (1962) as “structural condu-civeness.” Dissent may be condoned in one society but so prohibited in another that the movement must take the form of a secret society. For instance, according to the theory of Selig Perlman (1928), the unique features of the American labor movement were a product of the openness of the American class structure. In Europe, Perlman argued, workers could not find solutions to their economic discontent by moving out of the working class; by contrast, in the United States the workers’ prospects for upward mobility were fairly good. It followed from this that American workers were less class-oriented and political in their union aims than European workers and more oriented to immediate issues of wages and conditions of work.

The study of social movements

The literature of sociological theory contains a plethora of typologies of movements. Such typologies are often developed in terms of concern for the development of a theory of movements. However, few research studies of specific social movements have been concerned with the development of a theoretical framework; most studies have been motivated by the researcher’s interest in particular social issues and philosophies. The field of social movements can be profitably described in terms of the historical, political, and ideological concerns which have been the focus of research since the mid-1920s.

The problem of commitment

The rise of communist parties in most Western nations as well as the development of German fascism has deeply affected students of political and social movements. Even the study of medieval and other millenarian religious movements has been actuated, in recent years, by a parallel interest in the mass political movements of the twentieth century (seeMillenarism; see also Cohn 1957).

Sociological and social psychological studies of extremist movements have attempted to identify the sources of the organizational and ideological loyalty of adherents and partisans. ’ “Fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance” often mark the advocate of revolutionary change (Hoffer 1951, p. xi). The fierceness with which the communists, fascists, and other “extremists” of left or right adhere to their positions of power is contrasted with the conditions of democratic politics. Rudolf Heberle (1951, chapter 15) has even drawn an analogy between totalitarian parties and religious disciplines by referring to the former as “political orders.”

Interpersonal relationships

A major hypothesis in the study of the commitment process is that loyalty to a movement is fostered through the network of interpersonal relationships built up in the process of participation. The initiate to a movement develops personal ties which support and enforce doctrinal commitments. The socially alienated person finds in a movement a solution to his problems of “belonging.” Studies of defection among British, French, and American communists reveal that their behavior was influenced by dual and conflicting interpersonal loyalties, such as that of family or work team on the one hand and the party on the other (Almond 1954; Crossman 1949). In some movements, totalistic commitment is fostered by a round of life so controlled by organizational activities as to preclude interpersonal relations outside of the movement; where this happens, defection is tantamount to a complete reorientation of one’s life. In more pluralistic movements, adherence to the movement does not cut the member loose from other competing and even conflicting roles.

Psychological studies

The discussion of the roots of “extremist” adherence to communism and fascism has also been approached from the standpoint of psychology. The research of T. W. Adorno and his associates (1950) into “authoritarian personality” has led to a widely held view that a constellation of masochistic and sadistic personality traits predispose some persons toward antidemocratic, intolerant, and authority-centered political positions and movements. In criticizing this thesis, Edward Shils (1954) has shown that right-wing, xenophobic, and nativist organizations in the United States have demonstrated a great inability to subordinate to united leadership and that diverse personality types are needed within the same organizational structure if a movement is to be effective. Similar psychological syndromes of intolerance for ambiguity among the partisans of both the extreme right and the extreme left in England and the United States have been discussed by Milton Rokeach (1960). Toch (1965) has developed a useful framework for analyzing the psychological motivations and consequences involved in membership commitment for a wide range of diverse movements.

Bureaucratization of social movements

The development of at least a semipermanent organizational structure is often essential to the realization of the goals of a movement. However, such organization often sets in motion influences which defeat the ideals that gave birth to it. This is the paradox: that which is a needed means to an end is often the means which frustrates attainment of the end.

Disillusionment with the possibility of achieving ideals through organized movements has provided the motivation for many studies of social movements in the twentieth century. A major source of concern for this “blurring of mission” has stemmed from religious ideology: How can the ideals enunciated in religious thought and prophetic criticism be translated into effective institutional structures? Ernst Troeltsch (1912) was the first to pose this problem with some degree of theoretical precision when he made a distinction between sect and church. He maintained that as a sect develops into a more regularized and coordinated church organization (with a definitive membership, a trained clergy, and specified dogma and ritual), the initial mission and emotional drive of sectarianism is diffused in the accommodative perspective and rational character of the church. There is some confirmation of this hypothesis in various studies of American and British religious movements; new sects develop among the “disinherited” poor who find that the established churches no longer meet their needs. Such “churches of the disinherited” in turn display tendencies to become more conservative or “churchlike” (Niebuhr 1929; Pope 1942; Harrison 1959).

Routinization and commitment

Contemporary sociologists have often pointed out how the idealism and missionary zeal of spontaneous emotional commitment to a cause tends to be “corrupted” by the tendency of all organizations to become “ends-in-themselves.” Max Weber’s doctrine (1922) of the routtnization of charisma is the leading theoretical statement of this view.

A number of studies of political and other movements have been inspired by similar concerns. Robert Michels’ study (1911) of the German Social Democratic party in the early twentieth century has been the most influential work in this vein; his doctrine of the iron law of oligarchy emphasized the inevitability of a conservatizing leadership in organized movements. Several recent studies have also shown the tendency of movements to remain in existence beyond the realization of their original aims (Messinger 1955; Sills 1957). Implicit in this type of study is a “natural history” theory of organizations: they simply grow old like any natural organism. But more recent research suggests that the problem of institutionalization is far more complex. There would appear to be no inherent tendency either in organizations or in the sources of organizational commitment to move toward accommodation and compromise and thus to weaken the ardor of membership and the definiteness of the program. Not all unions lose their factional characteristics (Lipset et al. 1956); not all sects become churchlike as they become regularized and stable (Wilson 1961); not all organized movements become accommodative (Gusfield 1955). The fate of a movement is dependent upon many factors, among which are the contingencies which affect resistance, as well as those which change the character of the initial adherents.

Mass movements and mass society

The fact that highly industrialized societies seem to be especially likely to produce mass movements of various kinds has led scholars to inquire if there is not something in the very nature of mass society that encourages this tendency. Indeed, the conception of modern society as “mass society” has been one of the leading themes in the study of contemporary social movements. Exponents of this point of view hold that in contemporary industrial society traditional groups and institutions have lost control over the loyalties and behavior of the individual. The weakening of primary group attachments and the impersonal character of large-scale organization alienate men from the sources through which a democratic political process is mediated to citizens and achieves its legitimacy. Such alienated people are easily mobilized around charismatic leaders and symbolic goals. Thus, Hannah Arendt’s study (1951) of European totalitarian movements traces their development to the destruction of a class structure in which group affiliation had governed behavior and attitude.

From the standpoint of this type of theory, we would expect leaders and adherents of contemporary antidemocratic movements to be drawn from segments of the population that are not well integrated into social units. William Kornhauser (1959, chapters 9-12) has shown this to be the case for a wide range of European and American totalitarian movements: not only are marginal members of society less “open” to control by elites, organizations, and primary groups, but they are also most apt to be attracted by the camaraderie of association and by the antiestablishment ideology so often found in radical movements of the right or left.

Other writers have introduced views and findings critical of mass-society theory. They maintain that organized and integrated groups are essential to effective movements and that new perspectives toward the social order are developed in the supportive context of primary and secondary group organization. According to this view, contemporary society has not shattered group structure, nor are the conditions of modern industrial society as “alienative” as the theorists of mass society have maintained. Socially alienated people, it is argued, lack the essential social organization within which shared meanings could emerge in the first place; contemporary social movements can be expected to arise, as have other movements, among discrete social bases. For instance, S. M. Lipset has shown that the preponderance of support for German fascism, French Poujadism, and American Mc-Carthyism has come from the lower middle classes in response to the threats of industrial development; similarly, the preponderance of communist support in Europe has come from the working classes and not from marginal, socially alienated persons (Lipset 1960, chapter 5).

The wake of colonialism

Since the rise of various new nations in areas that were formerly European colonies, sociologists have recognized a need for the study of anticolonial nationalism and of the impact of social change on political and social movements in nonindustrialized societies. The study of nativism and revivalism under colonial domination has shown a tendency for such movements to be the precursors of movements for national independence. In general, analysis of nationalist movements has shown their relation to changes in traditional society which are caused by colonial policy (Van der Kroef 1955).

The revolt of Negroes against white domination constitutes a special chapter in the history of social movements since World War ll. While racial tensions have been part of nationalist movements in many African and Asian countries, such movements have been most striking in South Africa and the United States, where their goal has been greater equality rather than national separation. However, the general movement of developing nations toward independence has had an impact even in the United States, as indicated by the appearance of a Negro nationalist movement (Essien-Udom 1962).

Joseph R. Gusfield

[Directly related are the entriesCollective Behavior; Mlllenarism; NATIVISM AND REVIVALISM; ORGANIZATIONS, article on ORGANIZATIONAL GOALS; SECTS AND CULTS. Other relevant material may be found inMass society; Totalitarianism; Voluntary Associations; nd in the biographies ofMichels; PERLMAN; THOELTSCH. ]


Systematic treatments of social movements can be found in Blumer 1957; Heberle 1951; Smelser 1962. The interested reader should also consult the BIBLIOGRAPHY to COLLECTIVE BEHAVIOR for various attempts at the comprehensive treatment of social movements. Much additional material on individual movements will be found in the bibliographies of the articles cited in the text, especiallyMlLLENARISM; NATIVISM AND REVIVALISM. For religious movements, see Religious Organization; Sects and Cults.

Adorno, T. W. et al. 1950 The Authoritarian Personality.

American Jewish Committee, Social Studies Series, No. 3. New York: Harper.

Allardt, Eric 1964 Social Sources of Finnish Communism: Traditional and Emerging Radicalism. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 5:49–72.

Almond, Gabriel A. 1954 The Appeals of Communism. Princeton Univ. Press.

Arendt, Hannah (1951) 1958 The Origins of Totalitarianism. 2d enl. ed. New York: Meridian.

Bell, Daniel 1952 The Background and Development of Marxian Socialism in the United States. Volume 1, pages 213-405 in Donald D. Egbert and Stow Persons (editors), Socialism and American Life. Princeton Univ. Press.

Bendix, Reinhahd; and Lipset, Seymour M. 1957 Political Sociology: An Essay and BIBLIOGRAPHY. Current Sociology 6:79-169.

Blumer, Herbert (1946) 1951 Collective Behavior. Pages 167-222 in Alfred M. Lee (editor), New Outline of the Principles of Sociology. 2d ed. , rev. New York: Barnes & Noble.

Blumer, Herbert 1957 Collective Behavior. Pages 127-158 in Joseph B. Gittler (editor), Review of Sociology: Analysis of a Decade. New York: Wiley.

Borkenau, Franz (1938) 1962 World Communism: A History of the Communist International. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press. First published as The Communist International.

Botcher, Hans 1922 Zur revolutiondren Gewerkschafts-bewegung in Amerika, Deutschland und England. Jena (Germany): Fischer.

Brinton, Crane (1938) 1952 The Anatomy of Revolution. Rev. ed. Englewood Cliffs, N. J. : Prentice-Hall. A paperback edition was published in 1957 by Vintage.

Cantril, Hadley 1941 The Psychology of Social Movements. New York: Wiley.

Cantril, Hadley 1958 The Politics of Despair. New York: Basic Books.

Cohn, Norman (1957) 1961 The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Messianism in Medieval and Reformation Europe and Its Bearing on Modern Totalitarian Movements. 2d ed. New York: Harper.

Crossman, Richard (editor) (1949) 1959 The God That Failed. New York: Harper. A paperback edition was published in 1963.

Egbert, Donald D. ; and PERSONS, STOW (editors) 1952 Socialism and American Life. 2 vols. Princeton Studies in American Civilization, No. 4. Princeton Univ. Press.

Emerson, Rupert 1960 From Empire to Nation: The Rise to Self-assertion of Asian and African Peoples. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard Univ. Press. A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Beacon.

Essien-udom, Essien Udosen 1962 Black Nationalism: A Search for an Identity in America. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Fromm, Erich (1941) 1960 Escape From Freedom. New York: Holt.

Galenson, Walter (editor) 1952 Comparative Labor Movements. Englewood Cliffs, N. J. : Prentice-Hall.

Green, Arnold; and Melnick, Eleanor 1950 What Has Happened to the Feminist Movement? Pages 277 302 in Alvin W. Gouldner (editor), Studies in Leadership. New York: Harper.

Griewank, Karl 1955 Der neuzeitliche Revolutionsbegriff: Entstehung und Entwicklung. Weimar (Germany): Bohlaus Nachfolger.

Gross, Feliks (editor) 1948 European Ideologies: A Survey of 20th Century Political Ideas. New York: Philosophical Library.

Gross, Feliks 1958 The Seizure of Political Power in a Century of Revolutions. New York: Philosophical Library.

Gulick, Charles A. ; Ockert, Roy A. ; and Wallace, R. J. 1955 History and Theories of Working-class Movements: A Select BIBLIOGRAPHY. Berkeley: Univ. of California, Bureau of Business and Economic Research and Institute of Industrial Relations.

Gusfield, Joseph R. 1955 Social Structure and Moral Reform: A Study of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. American Journal of Sociology 61:221-232.

Gusfield, Joseph R. 1962 Mass Society and Extremist Politics. American Sociological Review 27:19-30.

Gusfield, Joseph R. 1963 Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

Harrison, Paul M. 1959 Authority and Power in the Free Church Tradition: A Social Case Study of the American Baptist Convention. Princeton Univ. Press.

Heberle, Rudolf 1951 Social Movements: An Introduction to Political Sociology. New York: Appleton. Includes a comprehensive BIBLIOGRAPHY of earlier works.

Heberle, Rudolf 1963 Landbevolkerung und National-sozialismus: Eine soziologische Untersuchung der politischen Willensbildung in Schleswig-Holstein 1918 bis 1932. Schriftenreihe der Vierteljahrshefte fur Zeit-geschichte, No. 6. Stuttgart (Germany): Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt.

Hobsbawm, Eric (1959)1963 Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries. 2d ed. New York: Praeger.

Hoffer, Eric 1951 The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. New York: Harper. A paperback edition was published in 1958 by New American Library.

Hoffmann, Stanley 1956 Le mouvement poujade. Paris: Colin.

Holtzman, Abraham 1964 The Townsend Movement: A Political Study. New York: Bookman Associates.

Hyman, Herbert H. ; and Sheatsley, Paul B. 1964 Attitudes Toward Desegregation. Scientific American 211, July: 16-23.

KORNHAUSER, WILLIAM 1959 The Politics of Mass Society. Glencoe, 111. : Free Press.

Landauer, Carl 1959 European Socialism: A History of Ideas and Movements From the Industrial Revolution to Hitler’s Seizure of Power. 2 vols. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press. Volume 1: From the Industrial Revolution to the First World War and Its Aftermath. Volume 2: The Socialist Struggle Against Capitalism and Totalitarianism.

Lipset, Seymour M. 1950 Agrarian Socialism; the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in Saskatchewan: A Study in Political Sociology. Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press.

Lipset, Seymour M. 1960 Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics. Garden City, N. Y. : Doubleday.

Lipset, SEYMOUR M. ; TROW, MARTIN A. ; and COLEMAN, JAMES S. 1956 Union Democracy: The Internal Politics of the International Typographical Union. Glencoe, 111. : Free Press. - A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Doubleday.

Mccully, Bruce T. 1940 English Education and the Origins of Indian Nationalism. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Mannheim, Karl (1929-1931) 1954 Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Harcourt; London: Routledge. A paperback edition was published in 1955 by Harcourt. Part 1 was written for this volume. Parts 2-4 are a translation of Ideologic und Utopie (1929); Part 5 is a translation of the article “Wissenssoziologie” (1931).

Messinger, Sheldon L. 1955 Organizational Transformation: A Case Study of a Declining Social Movement. American Sociological Review 20:3-10.

Michels, Robert (1911) 1959 Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy. New York: Dover. → First published as Zur Soziologie des Parteiwesens in der mod-ernen Demokratie. A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Collier.

Misra, Bankey B. 1961 The Indian Middle Classes: Their Growth in Modern Times. London and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Muhlmann, Wilhelm E. (editor) (1961) 1964 Chili-asmus und Nativismus: Studien zur Psychologic, Soziologie und historischen Kasuistik der Umsturzbe-wegungen. 2d ed. Berlin: Reimer.

Munch, Peter A. 1954 The Peasant Movement in Norway: A Study in Class and Culture. British Journal of Sociology 5:63-77.

Neumann, Sigmund (1942) 1965 Permanent Revolution: Totalitarianism in the Age of International Civil War. 2d ed. New York: Praeger. -> First published as Permanent Revolution: The Total State in a World at War.

Niebuhr, H. Richard (1929) 1954 The Social Sources of Denominationalism. Hamden, Conn. : Shoe String Press. A paperback edition was published in 1957 by World.

Perlman, Selig (1928) 1949 A Theory of the Labor Movement. New York: Kelley.

Pope, Liston 1942 Millhands and Preachers: A Study of Gastonia. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press; New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Rokeach, Milton 1960 The Open and Closed Mind: Investigations Into the Nature of Belief Systems and Personality Systems. New York: Basic Books.

Rude, George (1959) 1960 The Crowd in the French Revolution. Rev. ed. Oxford: Clarendon.

Shannon, Fred A. 1957 American Farmers’ Movements. Princeton, N. J. : Van Nostrand.

Shils, Edward A. 1954 Authoritarianism: “Right” and “Left.” Pages 24-49 in Richard Christie and Marie Jahoda (editors), Studies in the Scope and Method of The Authoritarian Personality. Glencoe, 111. : Free Press.

Shils, Edward 1960 The Intellectuals in The political Development of the New States. World Politics 12: 329-368.

Sills, David L. 1957 The Volunteers: Means and Ends in a National Organization. Glencoe, 111. : Free Press.

Smelser, Neil J. (1962)1963 Theory of Collective Behavior. New York: Free Press.

Sombaht, Werner (1896)1919 Sozialismus und soziale Bewegung. 8th ed. Jena (Germany): Fischer. x2192;A translation of the 6th German edition was published in 1909 as Socialism and the Social Movement.

Stein, Lorenz Von (1850) 1964 The History of the Social Movement in France: 1789-1850. Introduced, edited, and translated by Kaethe Mengelberg. Totowa, N. J. : Bedminster Press. - First published in German.

Toch, Hans 1965 The Social Psychology of Social Movements. Indianapolis, Ind. : Bobbs-Merrill.

Troeltsch, Ernst (1912) 1931 The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan. →First published as Die Soziallehren der Christlichen Kirchen und Gruppen. A paperback edition was published in 1960 by Harper.

Turner, Ralph H. ; and Killian, Lewis M. 1957 Collective Behavior. Englewood Cliffs, N. J. : Prentice-Hall.

Van Der Khoef, Justus M. 1955 Social Movements and Economic Development in Indonesia. American Journal of Economics and Sociology 14:123-137.

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Wilson, Bryan R. 1961 Sects and Society: A Sociological Study of the Elim Tabernacle, Christian Science, and Christadelphians. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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Social Movements

Social Movements









A social movement can be defined as a collectivity with mutual awareness in sustained interaction with economic and political elites seeking to forward or halt social change. Social movements are usually comprised of groups outside of institutional power that use nonconventional strategies (e.g., street marches, sitins, dramatic media events) along with more conventional ones (e.g., petitions, letter-writing campaigns, etc.) to pursue their aims (Tarrow 1998; Snow et al. 2004). The outsider status and nonconventional tactics of social movements distinguish them from other political entities such as lobbying organizations and political parties (though these more formal organizations may originate from social movements). Most people participate in movements as volunteers and offer their time, skills, and other human resources to maintaining movement survival or achieving goals. Examples of social movements range from community-based environmental movements to transnationally organized economic-justice movements attempting to place pressure on national governments and international financial institutions. The modern social-movement form arose with the spread of parliamentary political systems and nationally integrated capitalist economies in the nineteenth century (Tilly 2004).


Social movements are most likely to arise when a particular collectivity comes under threat or receives signals from the political environment that advantages may be forthcoming if groups decide to mobilize. In other words, either bad news or good news may motivate episodes of collective action (Meyer 2002). Under bad-news conditions, a community or population perceives that its situation will become worse if it fails to act and that it may lose collective goods (e.g., loss of land, rights, employment, etc.). In the good-news political environment, groups sense that they will acquire new collective goods if they act in concert (e.g., new rights, higher wages, greater environmental quality, etc.). Often, bad-news and good-news protest campaigns are triggered by government policies that signal to would-be challengers that the state is becoming less or more receptive to the issues that are most meaningful to the population in question.

Besides these motivations for movement emergence, some type of organizational base needs to be in existence to mobilize large numbers of people (McAdam 1999). These organizational assets may be traditional, such as solidarities based on village, religious, regional, or ethnic identities, or they may be associational, rooted in secondary groups such as labor unions, social clubs, agricultural cooperatives, educational institutions, and more formal social-movement organizations (SMOs) (Oberschall 1973). Without preexisting solidarity ties and organizational links, either formal or informal, it is unlikely that threats or opportunities will convert into social-movement campaigns. Hence, social-movement scholars give special attention to variations in organizational resources across localities and over time in explaining social-movement emergence (Edwards and McCarthy 2004).


Perhaps the most important social-movement arena involves movement impacts. That is, what kinds of changes in the political environment can be attributed to the existence and actions of a social movement? What aspects of social change can be explicitly associated with the activities of a movement? Students of social movements examine various aspects of social-movement outcomes. The enduring changes associated with movements include the impacts on movement participants, changes in the political culture, influence on state policies, and spillover into other social movements (Meyer and Whittier 1994). In comparison to movement emergence, there is less scholarly consensus on social-movement outcomes (Jenkins and Form 2005). Often, it is difficult to decipher the particular contribution of a social movement to a specific outcome while attempting to control for non-movement influences. Despite these scientific shortcomings, major movements of oppressed social groups in the United States greatly improved their social standing. Participants of such movements obtained major policy changes because they engaged in social-movement-type struggles, especially the womens movement and the African American civil rights movement in the late twentieth century.

A classic study on movement outcomes by William Gamson (1990) found in a representative sample of fifty-three voluntary associations in the United States between 1800 and 1945 that groups that maintained single-issue demands, used more assertive strategies and tactics, and organized themselves along more bureaucratic lines were more successful in achieving their goals than movements that lacked these properties. In terms of state-oriented social movements, or movements with political aims that largely target the government, linking with sympathetic groups inside the state enhances probabilities of movement success (Banaszak 2005). For example, a 2004 study of national environmental politics in Japan by Linda Brewster Stearns and Paul Almeida found that antipollution movements were much more successful in winning new environmental policies when they formed loose alliances with actors inside the government, such as city councils, sympathetic federal agencies, oppositional political parties, and the courts.


Between the 1960s and the 1980s, a clear succession of social-movement theories took shapefrom collective behavior to resource mobilization to political-process perspectives. Since the mid-1990s, social-movement scholarship places much more emphasis on a synthetic approach that combines resource mobilization, political opportunity, and framing perspectives into a larger comprehensive framework of social-movement dynamics. Individual scholars, though, still tend to specialize in one of the three subareas of this larger synthesis.

Resource mobilization scholarship emphasizes the role of formal and informal organizations in collective action. Resource mobilization scholars also attempt to define the population of SMOs within movements and societies using such terms as social-movement sector, social-movement industry, and organizational field (McCarthy and Zald 1977; McAdam and Scott 2005; Minkoff and McCarthy 2005). More recent work in the resource mobilization subfield has expanded into sophisticated network analysis of the means by which different components of SMOs, participants, and sponsoring organizations are structurally connected to one another and how the variations in those structures affect collective-action dynamics (Diani and McAdam 2003).

The political-process tradition centers on the larger political environment and how differentially configured political contexts shape social-movement emergence, forms of mobilization, and movement outcomes. Important features of the political environment are referred to as political opportunities. Five key dimensions of political opportunity shaping collective action within political-process theory include:

  1. institution access (i.e., the opening of state agencies)
  2. elite conflict (between political or economic elites)
  3. electoral realignments (i.e., changing electoral coalitions)
  4. influential allies (i.e., experts, mass media, religious institutions, etc.)
  5. a relaxation in state repression.

The more these five elements of opportunity are present in a political environment, the greater the probability of the emergence of a large and efficacious social movement. Some versions of political-process theory contend, however, that high levels of political opportunity lead to more institutional forms of politics and less need for social-movement mobilization (Eisinger 1973; McAdam 1996; Meyer 2004; Tarrow 1998).

The framing perspective derives from the interpretive tradition in sociology with a special concern for how activists construct social grievances. It is now largely understood that injustice and organizational resources alone do not explain the timing and location of social-movement-type mobilization. Movement leaders and activists must construct norm violations, grievances, and experiences of oppression and injustice in socially meaningful and convincing ways that will motivate the targeted populations to participate in collective action (Snow et al. 1986; Snow and Benford 1988). In other words, social and political activists must frame the social world in such a manner that it resonates with rank-and-file movement supporters as well as sympathizers and fence-sitters.

Students of social movements often discuss the ability of political movements to develop collective-action frames that will generate large-scale support for the challengers objectives. The collective-action frame of civil rights in the African American freedom struggle in the 1950s and 1960s is considered a particularly potent frame consonant with the political culture and values of the United States, bringing in large numbers of white Americans in solidarity with the grievances of black Americans. In addition, the success of the civil rights frame led to several other movements adopting a variant version in subsequent decades. Such movements include the womens, gay/bisexual, Mexican American, Asian American, and disability movements, as well as more conservative movements, such as the pro-life, home schooling, or pro-creationism movements, which invoke civil rights in their claims-making activities.

One avenue for categorically deciphering collective-actions frames is to divide them into their diagnostic, prognostic, and motivational functions. A diagnostic frame defines particular social problems and injustices and assigns blame to the agent(s). Prognostic framing develops an action plan to resolve the social problem or grievance, while motivational framing includes the actual mobilization appeals to persuade people to join the movement or participate in a particular action. David Snow and Robert Benford (1988) view these three core framing tasks as a fundamental part of sustaining social-movement mobilization.


Social-movement recruitment and individual-level participation draw on microlevel models of collective action. Early explanations of social-movement recruitment and participation emphasized the irrationality aspects of mass movements. Political movements of the unruly were viewed as fulfilling psychological deficits for movement participantsa kind of therapy to overcome sentiments of alienation and social strain inherent in fast-paced industrialized urban societies (McAdam 1982). By the late 1970s and early 1980s, scholars began to look at more than just the beliefs and psychological profiles of movement participants. They also examined the microstructural context of mobilization, namely the social ties and networks of potential movement recruits (Snow et al. 1980; McAdam 1986). This newer empirical research found that movement participants were often highly socially integrated in their everyday lives and more likely to belong to civil society associations and clubs than those who did not participate in social movements. In addition, the connections individuals maintained with movement sympathetic organizations and individuals made them much more likely to join a protest campaign, whereas those connected to organizations and individuals opposed to such activities were much more likely not to participate (McAdam 1986). Finally, movement mobilization occurs at a faster rate when entire groups and organizations are recruited en masse as opposed to organizing single individuals one at a timea process termed bloc recruitment (Oberschall 1973).

Movement-recruitment research also distinguishes between low cost/low risk activism versus high cost/high risk activism (McAdam 1986). Cost refers to the time and resources put into a particular movement campaign. Risk involves the level of personal harm that may result from activism (e.g., reputation, imprisonment, physical safety). For high cost/high risk activism, such as occurs in extremely oppressive regions or societies (e.g., a racially segmented society, a military dictatorship, etc.), a deeper level of integration into a social-movement culture by the individual needs to take place, including previous participation in several rounds of low cost/low risk activism.


The majority of social-movement studies focus on movements in industrialized democracies in the global north (McAdam et al. 1996). However, a growing body of literature now exists for political contexts outside of the democratic West. The more stable forms of government in Western democracies allow for a greater upkeep of social-movement-type organizations and more space to launch largely nonviolent campaigns. In nondemocratic and quasi-democratic nations (e.g., monarchies, dictatorships, military juntas), where associational freedoms are proscribed and regular multiparty elections do not occur, scholars face challenges in explaining when social movements will arise and what forms they will take. One fruitful avenue investigates cracks in the system, small political openings, or larger moves toward political liberalization in nondemocracies. These conditions often provide a conducive environment for a few entrepreneurs in civil society to attempt to form civic associations and possibly even begin to seek small reforms. Other movements may be launched in institutions outside the purview of state control, such as religious institutions (mosques, religious schools, Catholic youth groups, etc.) or remote territories not completely controlled by the administrative state apparatus and army. Foreign governments and movements may also support a fledgling movement in a nondemocratic context.

In the twentieth century, nondemocratic countries were much more likely to experience a radical revolutionary challenge from below than democratic states (Goodwin 2001). Revolutionary movements can be seen as a special type of social movement that seeks the overthrow of the government as its central goal, rather than piecemeal policy change. Often, revolutionary movements begin as reformist movements during a period of regime liberalization and only radicalize once the regime closes down the reform process. The violent repression of reform-minded groups transforms popular conceptions of the entire political system and provides incentives for the formation of more radical and revolutionary political organizations. Such a scenario developed in El Salvador during the 1960s and 1970s, as well as in Guatemala in the 1950s and 1960s, and more recently in Algeria and Nepal.


In the United States, conservative social movements have been on the rise since the 1980s. The emergence of an evangelical protestant Christian Right in alliance with the Republican Party has provided a favorable political context for conservative movements that seek to halt certain social policies perceived as morally reprehensible (e.g., same-sex marriage, legalized abortion, secularism in public schools, etc.). The movements success resides in its capacity to form coalitions with different levels of government and to employ bloc recruitment strategies (e.g., mobilizing entire church congregations). Since the early 1990s, the Christian Right has won seats in hundreds of school boards, city councils, and state and national legislatures. The movement has also influenced the selection of Supreme Court justices (Micklethwait and Wooldridge 2004). In the 1990s and early 2000s, researchers found that extremist right-wing activity in the form of hate crimes and paramilitary militia groups in the United States was associated with job loss, economic restructuring, and lack of contact between educated and less-educated populations in the regions where these movements arise (Van Dyke and Soule 2002; McVeigh 2004).


A major area of research involves the expansion of transnational social movements that link members and organizations across more than one country. Two noteworthy transnational movements in the early twenty-first century include international Islamic solidarity and the global justice movement. Internationally connected Islamic movements benefit from the concept of umma the larger community of believers that links the Muslim world beyond national borders (Lubeck 2000). With global migration flows and new communications technology, Islamic-based social movements easily mobilize internationally. Early signs of this emerging process occurred in the 1980s during the Afghan-Soviet war. Thousands of Muslims and Arabs traveled from dozens of countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond to Afghanistan to fight in a jihad (holy war) as the mujahideen (guerrilla fighters) against the secular Soviet Union, which invaded the country in 1979. The foreign Islamic fighters felt an international sense of solidarity with their fellow Muslim Afghans suffering under Soviet occupation. This struggle served as the base of the Al-Qaeda movement, which built a large multinational network out of the social contacts made in Afghanistan. This network of transnational Islamic insurgents has since been used to send foreign contingents to wars in Bosnia, Chechnya, Iraq, Somalia, and other places.

The global justice movement (sometimes referred to by critics as the antiglobalization movement) is another major transnational movement that emerged in the late twentieth century. Supporters of this movement use global communications technologies to mobilize constituents. The global justice movement arose almost simultaneously with the expansion of the global Internet infrastructure between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s. Several organizations in Europe and Canada, including the Council of Canadians, Jubilee 2000, Peoples Global Action, and ATTAC, began to work with nongovernmental organizations in the developing world to place pressure on newly emerging and older transnational governing bodies and economic institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Group of Eight (G8), and the European Union.

The demands of the global justice movement vary but tend to focus on third world economic justice, environmental protection, and the need for more transparency in decision making among the elite transnational economic and political institutions mentioned above. Though the movement held several major protests in the late 1990s outside of WTO and G8 meetings in Europe, a massive demonstration at the 1999 WTO meetings in Seattle, Washington, served as a breakthrough for the global justice movement. It was the largest sustained protest in an American city in several decades (Almeida and Lichbach 2003). Global justice activists coordinated the arrival of participants around the country and world via the Internet and organized the protests in the streets of Seattle with cell phones. Dozens of countries across the globe also experienced protests in solidarity with the actions in Seattle. The success of the Seattle mobilizations provided a template for organizing dozens of similar global days of action during major international financial conferences or free trade meetings in the first years of the twenty-first century.

SEE ALSO European Union; G-8 Countries; Globalization, Social and Economic Aspects of; Justice, Social; Mobilization; Revolution; United Nations; World Bank; World Trade Organization


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social movements

social movements An organized effort by a significant number of people to change (or resist change in) some major aspect or aspects of society. The term was first used by Saint-Simon in France at the turn of the eighteenth century, to characterize the movements of social protest that emerged there and later elsewhere, and was applied to new political forces opposed to the status quo. Nowadays, it is used most commonly with reference to groups and organizations outside the mainstream of the political system. These movements, often now abbreviated to NSMs (New Social Movements), have in the latter decades of the twentieth century become an increasingly important source of political change. Sociologists have usually been concerned to study the origins of such movements, their sources of recruitment, organizational dynamics, and their impact upon society.

Social movements must be distinguished from collective behaviour. Social movements are purposeful and organized; collective behaviour is random and chaotic. Examples of social movements would include those supporting civil rights, gay rights, trade unionism, environmentalism, and feminism. Examples of collective behaviour would include riots, fads and crazes, panics, cultic religions, rumours, and mass delusions. Social movements are one of the basic elements of a living democracy, and may be catalysts of democracy and change in authoritarian societies.

Social movements have specific goals, formal organization, and a degree of continuity. They operate outside the regular political channels of society, but may penetrate quite deeply into political power circles as interest groups. Their goals may be as narrow as legalizing marijuana, or as broad as destroying the hegemony of the capitalist world system; they may be revolutionary or reformist; but they have in common the active organization of a group of citizens to change the status quo in some way. Under the broad banner of a social movement (such as for example ‘the peace movement’) many individual social movement organizations (SMOs) may operate in a relatively independent way, sometimes causing confusion and conflict within the movement itself.

An early typology of social movements, developed by David F. Aberle (The Peyote Religion among the Navaho, 1966)
, classifies social movements along two dimensions: the locus of change sought (society or individuals), and the amount of change sought (partial or total). The four categories derived from this classification are transformative, reformative, redemptive, and alternative. These are (respectively) movements which aim at the complete restructuring of society (for example millenarian movements); those which attempt to reform some limited aspects of the existing order (such as nuclear disarmament groups); movements which seek to lead members away from a corrupt way of life (as in the case of many religious sectarian groups); and, finally, those which aim to change only particular traits of the individual member (for example Alcoholics Anonymous). The first two of these are therefore aimed at changing (all or part of) society; the latter pair at changing the behaviour only of individual members.

The dramatic visibility of social movements, and their challenge to the mainstream of society, has made them an object of great sociological interest. One school of thought treats social movements as a special case of collective behaviour, emphasizing their expressive and irrational qualities. Many studies have focused on the question: who participates and why? Once again, the pathological elements of social movements tend to be highlighted by this approach, as for example in Eric Hoffer 's The True Believer (1951)
and Theodor Adorno et al.'s The Authoritarian Personality (1950)

The wave of non-violent, largely middle-class social movements in the 1960s and 1970s produced more positive lines of research and analysis. Great attention was paid to the objective and subjective conditions of social movement activity: many theorists like Seymour Martin Lipset blamed the alienating conditions of mass society. Marxists and neo-Marxists proposed new forms of class division and class conflict as underlying causes. Others explored the effects of relative deprivation and rising expectations on the mobilization of citizens. Still other studies followed the stages of social movement development, from the initial recognition of a grievance to the fully developed movement organization: Neil Smelser's ‘value added theory’ remains a classic of this type (see Theory of Collective Behaviour, 1963
). In his account, six sequential determinants of development are identified, each one progressively narrowing the range of possible outcomes. These determinants are structural conduciveness (the broadest social conditions necessary for the movement to occur); structural strain (a sense of injustice or malaise); the growth and spread of a generalized belief (such as an ideology which offers answers to people's problems); precipitating factors (events that trigger action); mobilization of participants for action (for example via conversion); and, finally, the operation of social control. In the 1970s still more detailed evidence of social movement dynamics came through multivariate analysis ( T. Gurr , Why Men Rebel, 1970

More recently, a critical distinction has been drawn by Jean Cohen (in Social Research, 1985), between two competing approaches to the explanation of social movements. ‘Resource mobilization’ theories are particularly influential in North America; ‘identity-oriented’ theories are more common in Western Europe. The former is exemplified in the work of Mayer N. Zald and John D. McCarthy (The Dynamics of Social Movements, 1979), who discuss movements as organizations, and focus especially on the needs of such organizations to mobilize resources. These theories investigate the range of resources that have to be mobilized by groups, examine the ways in which such resources are deployed, and consider the actions by which authorities may attempt to limit such resources. Within this perspective, the term ‘resources’ takes on a wide array of meanings, including economic resources, ideologies, rhetoric, and symbols. Factors like leadership, communications networks, available time, money, and business or political connections are seen as crucial in explaining the growth and success or failure of social movements. Identity-oriented theories, by contrast, see social movements as a special type of social conflict which is at the heart of modern society and social change. Thus, according to the French sociologist Alan Touraine, ‘the concept of social movement [should be] at the centre of sociology’ (The Return of the Actor, 1988). This perspective sees social movements as the central groups in the new social politics and realignments (for example the Women's Movement, and the Ecological Movement) and as sources of new political identities. Indeed, Touraine's method of intervention not only treats social movements as one of the most fundamental forms of citizen action, but also requires that sociologists join the action not just to study but to encourage it. Few British or American sociologists have followed Touraine into this delicate territory, and most sociology of social movements involves the objective analysis of organizations and political processes.

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