Social change movement

Comments · 118 Views

There are numerous definitions of social movements. However, the core of the concept is included in Wilson’s (1971: 8) definition: ‘A social movement is a conscious, collective, organized attempt to bring about or resist large-scale change in the social order by non-institutionalized m

Social movements develop because there is a perceived gap between the current ethics and aspirations of people and the present reality. As Wilson said: ‘Animated by the injustices, sufferings, and anxieties they see around them, men and women in social movements reach beyond the customary resources of the social order to launch their own crusade against the evils of society. In so doing they reach beyond themselves and become new men and women.’

Because social movements are the consequences of new elements of civil society, which are not incorporated into the social order, they are always unconventional. Civil society is normally in a state of change, but social structures tend towards stability. That is why social movements almost always exist. If the discrepancy between civil society and social order is large, then social movements are strong and numerous. If the discrepancy is small, then social movements are weak and more conventional.

This ‘disenfranchisement’ leads to mobilization – first organizational, where resources are harnessed in support of the cause. Resources include: people, time, skills/expertise and funds. Then mass mobilization, where society is recruited behind the cause.

There is inevitable resistance to social change. Many do not want their vested interests or status quo threatened. There is also simple inertia.

Tactics of change: non-violence includes negotiation, direct action, events/media stunts, demonstrations, propaganda, strikes, boycotts, non-co-operation, civil disobedience, parallel structures. Violent breakaway groups undercut the movement’s legitimacy.

Actions undertaken by civil society to effect change are generally informed by strategic thought. In thinking strategically, social change activists try to identify the nature and causes of social problems and then choose specific targets that are deemed the most likely people or organizations to resolve those problems. One of the keys to a successful strategic approach is in maintaining effective communication with, and among, members of the public.

It is readily acknowledged by leading social theorists (Arendt, 1958; Habermas, 1989) that just and effective democracies require a strong and functional public sphere. The public sphere operates best where citizens, as individuals or in groups, are informed about the social, political and corporate affairs that affect their interests, and enter into public discussion about the plans, policies and activities of those in power whose decisions affect their area of concern. This on-going discussion provides the feedback and direction needed for healthy governance.

Social Movement Organizations

Organizing New Social Change Activities: The surplus energy accumulated by the society and given expression through the initiative of pioneers and their followers does not gain momentum until it becomes accepted and organized by society. The process of organization may take many different forms. It may occur by the enactment of new laws or regulations that support the activity or it may be in the form of a new system or accepted set of practices. Each development advance of the society leads to the emergence of a host of new organizations designed to support it and puts pressure on existing organizations to elevate their functioning to meet the higher demands of the new phase.

Integrating the Organization with Society The organization is the mechanism by which the surplus energy in society is harnessed, mobilized, directed and channeled to produce greater results. The organization derives energy from being integrated with the society in which it functions. The energy of society comes from its needs and aspirations. This energy pervades the social organization established to meet these needs. The more finely the organization is attuned to fulfil underlying social aspirations, the greater the energy flowing through it.

The will of society changes over time as old attitudes and goals are replaced with new ones. Organizations that adapt to these changes continue to thrive. Those that remain fixed in the past decline, become ineffective, and are eventually discarded or fade away

Types of Social Movements

David Aberle (1966) described four types of social movement including: alterative, redemptive, reformative, and revolutionary social movements, based upon two characteristics: (1) who is the movement attempting to change and (2) how much change is being advocated.

A. Alternative Social Movements are looking at a selective part of the population, and the amount of change is limited due to this. Planned Parenthood is an example of this, because it is directed toward people of childbearing age to teach about the consequences of sex.

B. Redemptive social movements also look at a selective part of the population, but they seek a radical change. Some religious sects fit here, especially the ones that recruit members to be ‘reborn’.

C. Reformative social movements are looking at everyone, but they seek a limited change. The environmental movement fits here, because they try to address everyone to help the environment in their lives (like recycling).

D. Revolutionary social movements want to change all of society. The Communist party is an example of wanting to radically change social institutions.


Reform Movements - movements dedicated to changing some norms, usually legal ones. Examples of such a movement would include a green movement advocating a set of ecological laws, or an animal welfare organization advocating controls on animal experimentation. Some reform movements may advocate a change in custom and moral norms, for example, condemnation of pornography.

Radical Movements - movements dedicated to changing some value systems. It directs to the creation of new social order and the destruction of existing social order. Those are usually much larger in scope then the reform movements, Examples would include the American Civil Rights Movement which demanded full civil rights and equality under the law to all Americans, regardless of race. An animal rights organization demanding an end to all animal use would fall into this category.

Methods of Work:
Peaceful movements - opposed to using violent means. The American Civil Rights movement, Polish Solidarity movement, or Mahatma Gandhi civil disobedience movements would fall into this category. Animal welfare organizations fit into this category.
Violent movements - various armed resistance movements up to and including terrorist organizations. Examples would include the Palestinian Hezbollah, Basque Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) or Ireland’s Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) movements. Some animal liberation groups fit into this category (but not all, as some following a liberation philosophy use peaceful methods).

Old and New
Old movements - most of the 19th century movements that recruited their followers from a specific social class (only workers, only peasants, only Aristocrats, only Protestants etc.). They were usually centered on some materialistic goals like improving the living standard of the given social class.
New movements - movements which became dominant from the second half of the 20th century - like the civil rights movement, environmental movement, gay rights movement, peace movement, anti-nuclear movement, anti-globalization movement, etc. Sometimes they are known as postmodernism movements. They are usually centered on a non-materialistic goal.