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13.1: Introduction

  • Page ID
    196293
    • Mario Alberto Viveros Espinoza-Kulick & Kay Fischer
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    4 Types of Social Movements

    We know that social movements can occur on the local, national, or even global stage. Are there other patterns or classifications that can help us understand them? Sociologist David Aberle (1966) addresses this question by developing categories that distinguish among social movements by considering 1) what it is the movement wants to change and 2) how much change they want. He described four types of social movements, including: alternative, redemptive, reformative, and revolutionary social movements

    These are typically focused limited social change and focused on specific changes to individual beliefs and behavior.

    • These include things like Alcoholics Anonymous, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and Planned Parenthood.

    These are “meaning seeking,” are focused on a specific segment of the population, and their goal is to provoke radical change or spiritual growth in individuals.

    • Some sects fit in this category.

    Reformative social movements

    Reformative movements seek to change something specific about the social structure. They may seek a more limited change, but are targeted at the entire population. May be progressive or regressive.

    • Progressive examples
      • Historical examples include the abolitionist movement preceding the Civil War, the woman suffrage movement that followed the Civil War, the Southern civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, and the environmental movement.
      • Contemporary examples of reform movements include "Buy Nothing Day," which protests the rampant consumerism of Black Friday, the DREAMers movement for immigration reform and the Black Lives Matter movement.
    • Regressive examples
      • In their attempt to return the institutions and values of the past by doing away with existing ones, conservative reformative movements seek to uphold the values and institutions of society and generally resist attempts to alter them.
      • For example, the preservationist side of the environmental movement advocates for saving or restoring wilderness and natural areas by ending or limiting access and use by tourists and business interests.

    Transformative or Revolutionary movements

    Transformative or Revolutionary movements seek to completely change every aspect of society—their goal is to change all of society in a dramatic way. They extend one large step further than a reform movement in seeking to overthrow the existing government and to bring about a new one and even a new way of life. These revolutionary or political movements seek to completely change every aspect of society.

    • Examples include the Civil Rights Movement or the political movements, such as a push for communism.
    • The United States, French, Mexican and other national revolutions fall under this category.
    How much change diagram showing the four types of social movements. Alternative social movements are limited in the amount of change but focused on specific individuals. Radical movements also focus on specific individuals but want more radical change. Reformative social movements focus on everyone but want limited change, while revolutionary movements focus on everyone and are also radical.
    Figure 13.1.1 David Aberle identified these four types of social movements, with some types of movements targeting either specific individuals or everyone, while some want limited changes, and others are more radical. (Chart based on Aberle)

    Other helpful categories that are helpful for sociologists to describe and distinguish between types of social movements include:

    • Scope: A movement can be either reform or radical. A reform movement advocates changing some norms or laws while a radical movement is dedicated to changing value systems in some fundamental way. A reform movement might be a green movement advocating a sect of ecological laws, or a movement against pornography, while the American Civil Rights movement is an example of a radical movement.
    • Type of Change: A movement might seek change that is either innovative or conservative. An innovative movement wants to introduce or change norms and values, like moving towards self-driving cars, while a conservative movement seeks to preserve existing norms and values, such as a group opposed to genetically modified foods.
    • Targets: Group-focused movements focus on influencing groups or society in general; for example, attempting to change the political system from a monarchy to a democracy. An individual-focused movement seeks to affect individuals.
    • Methods of Work: Peaceful movements utilize techniques such as nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience. Violent movements resort to violence when seeking social change. In extreme cases, violent movements may take the form of paramilitary or terrorist organizations.
    • Range: Global movements, such as communism in the early 20th century, have transnational objectives. Local movements are focused on local or regional objectives such as preserving an historic building or protecting a natural habitat.

    Ethnic Studies on Resistance and Solidarity

    A major element in the discipline of Ethnic Studies is understanding but also participating in liberation struggles, particularly those resisting white supremacy, capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, and patriarchy, or any intersecting powers that have suppressed communities of color. In fact, the genesis of Ethnic Studies as an academic discipline came out of student struggle and solidarity across racial and ethnic groups. In this chapter, the authors will first introduce frameworks of resistance, such as Indigenous sovereignty and the impact of digital and artistic activism. We will also review key influential US-based liberatory movements and organizations, such as the Black Panthers and American Indian Movement, including the role of solidarity in these organizations. In the section on labor movements, we focus on domestic workers’ and agricultural workers’ struggles to understand how capitalism, white supremacy, colonialism, and patriarchy function as interlocking systems of oppression. Then we examine the fight for justice for so-called “comfort women” as a transnational movement with a prominent base in the U.S. Finally, we wrap up with a section that highlights more contemporary movements with a focus on environmental justice, racial justice, and gender justice. This section also analyzes how movement work has transitioned in the 21st century and how our communities adapt to continue addressing important issues that affect our lives today.

    What is incredibly inspiring about the history of struggle in the United States is that contrary to popular view, people of color have a legacy of being defiant and have fought for our freedom from the beginning. We believe it is of absolute necessity to understand our history of resistance and solidarity within an Ethnic Studies framing so that students are able to identify the ways people of color have often been at the center of these struggles. Overall, we hope that students will be able to understand our rich history of resistance and be inspired to apply our collective power to demand change and organize for a more equitable, anti-racist, and liberatory future for our communities.

    Contributors and Attributions


    This page titled 13.1: Introduction is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mario Alberto Viveros Espinoza-Kulick & Kay Fischer (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .