Social movements

Topic: Demographic Shifts And Social Change

Social movements are broad alliances of people connected through a shared interest in either stopping or instigating social change.

Social movements can advocate for a particular social change, but they can also organize to oppose a social change that is being advocated by another entity. These movements do not have to be formally organized to be considered social movements. Social movements often arise among people who experience deprivation or alienation. Relative deprivation refers to the feeling of disadvantage that arises when individuals compare themselves to others of similar status and feel that they possess relatively fewer resources and privileges. This feeling of inequality can spur the creation of social movements designed to promote a more equal society.

Modern social movements became possible through the wide dissemination of literature and the increased mobility of labor, both of which have been caused by the industrialization of societies. The four main areas that social movement may operate in are democratic movements that work for political rights, labor movements that work for the control of the workplace, ecological movements that are concerned with the environment, and peace movements that work toward peace.

There are four types of social movements that are based upon two fundamental questions: (1) who is the movement attempting to change? (2) how much change is being advocated? Social movements can be aimed at change on an individual level. Social movements can also advocate for minor changes such as tougher restrictions. The diagram below illustrates how a social movement may either be alternative, redemptive, reformative, or revolutionary based on who the movement strives to change and how much change the movement desires to bring about.

Social movements have a life cycle: they are created, they grow, they achieve successes or failures and eventually, they dissolve and cease to exist. Blumer, Mauss, and Tilly have described the different stages that social movements often pass through. Firstly, movements emerge for a variety of reasons (and there are a number of different sociological theories that address these reasons). They then coalesce and develop a strategy to describe the goals for the social movement and identify tactics to Implement the strategy. In the next stage, movements generally become bureaucratized by establishing their own set of rules and procedures. At this point, social movements can then take any number of paths, ranging from success to failure, the cooptation of leaders, repression by larger groups (e.g., government), or even the establishment of a movement within the mainstream.

Frame analysis, and specifically frame transformation, helps explain why social movements occur in a certain way. The concept dates back to Erving Goffman, and it discusses how new values, new meanings, and understandings are required in order to understand and support social movements or changes. In other words, people must transform the way they understand a particular social movement to make it fit with conventional lifestyles and rituals.

Whether or not these paths will result in movement decline varies from movement to movement. In fact, one of the difficulties in studying social movements is that movement success is often ill-defined because the goals of a movement can change.

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Key Points

• There are both a number of different kinds of social movements, as well as various stages that a social movement can undergo in the course of its development.

• Social movements often arise among people who experience relative deprivation or alienation.

• The four domains of modern society in which social movements are active include the political sphere, the workplace, the environment, and the issue of peace.

• Social movements often give rise to counter movements aimed at stopping whatever change the initial social movement is advocating.

• Cultural Anthropologist David F. Aberle identified four kinds of social movements (alternative, redemptive, reformative, and revolutionary) based on two questions: 1) Who is the movement attempting to change? and 2) How much change is being advocated?.

• Alternative social movements are at the individual level and advocate for minor change; redemptive social movements are at the individual level and advocate for radical changes.

• Reformative social movements occur at a broader group or societal level and advocate for minor changes; revolutionary social movements occur at a broader group or societal level and advocate for radical changes.

• Other ways to categorize social movements include the scope (reform or radical), type of change (innovative or conservative ), targets (group-focused or individual-focused), methods (violent or non-violent), and range (local or global).

• Revolutionary social movements occur at a broader group or societal level and advocate for radical changes.

• Other ways to categorize social movements include classifying by scope, type of change, targets, methods, and range.

• Frame analysis, and specifically frame transformation, helps explain why social movements occur in a certain way: people must transform the way they understand a particular social movement to make it fit with conventional lifestyles and rituals.


Key Terms

Social movements: Social movements are a type of group action. They are large informal groupings of individuals or organizations that focus on specific political or social issues. In other words, they carry out, resist or undo a social change.

Social change: an alteration in the structures, institutions and/or practices of a society.

Counter movements: Counter-hegemony refers to attempts to critique or dismantle hegemonic power. In other words, it is a confrontation and/or opposition to the existing status quo and the legitimacy of that status quo in politics. This can also be observed in various other spheres of life, such as history, media, music, etc.

Relative deprivation: The act of depriving, dispossessing, or bereaving; the act of deposing or divesting of some dignity.

Resource: Something that one uses to achieve an objective, e.g. raw materials or personnel.

Relative: connected to or depending on something else; not absolute; comparative.

Revolutionary social movements: Revolutionary movement is a specific type of social movement dedicated to carrying out revolutionary reforms and gain some control of the state. If they do not aim for an exclusive control, they are not revolutionary.

Reformative social movements: A reformative social movement advocates for minor changes instead of radical changes. For example, revolutionary movements can scale down their demands and agree to share powers with others, becoming a political party.

Redemptive social movements: A redemptive social movement is radical in scope but focused on the individual.

Strategy: A plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.

Tactics: An action or strategy carefully planned to achieve a specific end.



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