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21.3D: The Stages of Social Movements

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    8589
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    Social movements typically follow a process by which they emerge, coalesce, and bureaucratize, leading to their success or failure.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Discuss the process and purpose of social movements, defined by Blumer, Mauss and Tilly

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • Social movements are a major vehicle for ordinary people’s participation in public politics.
    • 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 described how social movements follow a process by which they emerge, coalesce, and bureaucratize, leading to their success or failure.
    • After bureaucratization occurs, a movement can either succeed, fail, have its leaders become co-opted, have its members be repressed by a larger group (e.g. government), or become accepted into the mainstream.
    • While a social movement can take a number of different paths, whether or not a movement will ultimately decline varies from movement to movement. Moreover, movement success can often be difficult to define as the goals of a movement may change.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • cooptation: A co-opting, or a commandeering, appropriation.
    • Sidney Tarrow: (1938-present) a professor of political science and sociology, known for his research in the areas of comparative politics, social movements, political parties, collective actions and political sociology.
    • Charles Tilly: (1929 – 2008) An American sociologist, political scientist and historian who wrote about the relationship between politics and society.

    Charles Tilly defines social movements as a series of contentious performances, displays and campaigns by which ordinary people make collective claims on others. For Tilly, social movements are a major vehicle for ordinary people’s participation in public politics. Sidney Tarrow defines a social movement as collective challenges [to elites authorities , other groups or cultural codes] by people with common purposes and solidarity in sustained interactions with elites, opponents and authorities. He specifically distinguishes social movements from political parties and advocacy groups. The term “social movements” was introduced in 1848 by the German Sociologist Lorenz von Stein in his book Socialist and Communist Movements since the Third French Revolution (1848).

    Social movements are not eternal. They 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 (see ). 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 sense of coherence in terms of membership, goals and ideals. 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.

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    Stages of Social Movements: This graph depicts the various stages a social movement can undergo in the course of its development.

    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 discuss 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. For instance, MoveOn.org, a website founded in the late 1990s, was originally developed to encourage national politicians to move past the Clinton impeachment proceedings. Since that time, the group has developed into a major player in national politics in the U.S. and transformed into a Political Action Committee (PAC). In this instance, the movement may or may not have attained its original goal—encouraging the censure of Clinton and moving on to more pressing issues—but the goals of the movement have changed. This makes the actual stages the movement has passed through difficult to discern.