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21.3A: Social Movements

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

    Learning Objectives

    • Discover the difference between social movements and social movement organizations, as well as the four areas social movements operate within

    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.
    • Several theories have been proposed to explain the creation of social movements. Each of these theories highlights a different aspect of society (e.g. deprivation, marginalization, culture, etc. ) as being key to the formation of these movements.
    • Social movements are distinct from social movement organizations (SMOs). An SMO is a formally organized component of a social movement, and as such it may represent only one facet of an entire movement.
    • According to Anthony Giddens, 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.

    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.
    • social movement organizations: A social movement organization is an organized component of a social movement. Social movement organizations usually have coordinating roles in social movements, but do not actually employ or direct most of the participants, who are part of a wider social movement community.

    Social movements are broad alliances of people who are connected through their shared interest in 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. Different alliances can work separately for common causes and still be considered a social movement.

    Sociologists draw distinctions between social movements and social movement organizations (SMOs). A social movement organization is a formally organized component of a social movement. Therefore, it may represent only one part of a particular social movement. For instance, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) advocates for vegan lifestyles along with its other aims. However, PETA is not the only group that advocates for vegan diets and lifestyles; there are numerous other groups actively engaged toward this end. Thus, promoting veganism would be considered the social movement, while PETA would be considered a particular SMO (social movement organization) working within the broader social movement.

    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. Anthony Giddens, a renowned sociologist, has identified four areas in which social movements operate in modern societies:

    • democratic movements that work for political rights
    • labor movements that work for control of the workplace
    • ecological movements that are concerned with the environment
    • peace movements that work toward peace

    It is interesting to note that social movements can spawn counter movements. For instance, the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s resulted in a number of counter movements that attempted to block the goals of the women’s movement. In large part, these oppositional groups formed because the women’s movement advocated for reform in conservative religions.

    21.3A: Social Movements is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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