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21.3F: Resource Mobilization Approach

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    The resource-mobilization approach is a theory that seeks to explain the emergence of social movements.

    Learning Objectives

    • Use the resource-mobilization theory to explain some of the successful social movements in history, such as the Civil Rights Movement

    Key Points

    • The resource -mobilization theory asserts that social movements form when people who share grievances are able to mobilize resources and take action.
    • This theory places resources at the center of both the emergence and success of social movements.
    • In this case, resources include knowledge, money, media, labor, solidarity, legitimacy, and internal and external support from a powerful elite.
    • The centrality of resources to the success of social movements explains why some discontented people are able to form movements while others are not.
    • This theory has a number of underlying assumptions regarding movement membership, movement organization and broader societal factors that influence movement formation and development.
    • This theory has been criticized for placing too much emphasis on resources, particularly financial resources, as the success of some movements depends more on the time and labor of members rather than on money.

    Key Terms

    • opportunity structures: Exogenous factors which limit or empower collective actors (social movements).
    • grievance: A complaint or annoyance; also a formal complaint.
    • resource: Something that one uses to achieve an objective, e.g. raw materials or personnel.

    Resource-Mobilization Theory emphasizes the importance of resources in social movement development and success. Resources are understood here to include: knowledge, money, media, labor, solidarity, legitimacy, and internal and external support from a power elite. The theory argues that social movements develop when individuals with grievances are able to mobilize sufficient resources to take action. The emphasis on resources explains why some discontented/deprived individuals are able to organize while others are not. Resource mobilization theory also divides social movements according to their position among other social movements. This helps sociologists understand them in relation to other social movements; for example, how much influence does one theory or movement have on another?

    Some of the assumptions of the theory include:

    • there will always be grounds for protest in modern, politically pluralistic societies because there is constant discontent (i.e., grievances or deprivation); this de-emphasizes the importance of these factors as it makes them ubiquitous
    • actors are rational and they are able to weigh the costs and benefits from movement participation
    • members are recruited through networks; commitment is maintained by building a collective identity and continuing to nurture interpersonal relationships
    • movement organization is contingent upon the aggregation of resources
    • social movement organizations require resources and continuity of leadership
    • social movement entrepreneurs and protest organizations are the catalysts which transform collective discontent into social movements; social movement organizations form the backbone of social movements
    • the form of the resources shapes the activities of the movement (e.g., access to a TV station will result in the extensive use TV media)
    • movements develop in contingent opportunity structures, which are external factors that may either limit or bolster the movement, that influence their efforts to mobilize. Examples of opportunity structures may include elements, such as the influence of the state, a movement’s access to political institutions, etc. As each movement’s response to the opportunity structures depends on the movement’s organization and resources, there is no clear pattern of movement development nor are specific movement techniques or methods universal.

    Critics of this theory argue that there is too much of an emphasis on resources, especially financial resources. Some movements are effective without an influx of money and are more dependent upon the movement of members for time and labor (e.g., the civil rights movement in the US).

    Aberle’s Four Types of Social Movements: Resource-Mobilization Theory emphasizes the importance of resources in social movement development and success.

    21.3F: Resource Mobilization Approach is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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