Select Definitions of Social Movements

Compiled by Benita Roth

Herbert Blumer. "Collective Behavior," in Robert E. Park, ed. An Outline of the Principles of Sociology. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1939, p. 199.

Social movements can be viewed as collective enterprises to establish a new order of life. They have their inception in the condition of unrest, and derive their motive power on one hand from dissatisfaction with the current form of life, and on the other hand, from wishes and hopes for a new scheme or system of living.

Janet Chafetz and Anthony Dworkin. Female Revolt: Women's Movements in World and Historical Perspective. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Allanheld, 1986, p. 48.

Women's movements are characterized by the "conscious and collective revolt on behalf of women, defined as a general category with a set of problems and needs specific to themselves, which in turn are created by a sociocultural system that categorically disadvantages them relative to men."

Luther P. Gerlach and Virginia H. Hine. People, Power, Change: Movements of Social Transformation. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970, pp. xvi-xvii.

Our study of movement dynamics has led us to identify five key factors which are operationally significant and which we believe must be present and interacting before a collectivity of whatever size becomes a true movement. These five key factors are:

1. A segmented, usually polycephalous, cellular organization composed of units reticulated by various personal, structural, and ideological ties.

2. Face-to-face recruitment by committed individuals using their own pre-existing, significant social relationships.

3. Personal commitment generated by an actor or an experience which separates a convert in some significant way from the established order (or his previous place in it), identifies him with a new set of values, and commits him to changed patterns of behavior.

4. An ideology which codifies values and goals, provides a conceptual framework by which all experiences or events relative to these goals may be interpreted, motivates and provides rationale for envisioned changes, defines the opposition, and forms the basis for conceptual unification of a segmented network of groups.

5. Real or perceived opposition from a society at large or from that segment of the established order within which the movement has arisen.

Mary Fainsod Katzenstein and Carol McClurg Mueller, eds. The Women's Movements of the United States and Western Europe: Consciousness, Political Opportunity, and Public Policy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992, p. 5.

One reason for the diversity of feminism is the fact that the women's movement is a potentially transformational social movement and thus draws supporters with a range of different agendas. The movement is transformational in the sense that it engages both a broad range of issues and a set of issues that can deeply affect the daily experiences of an individual's life . . . . What this "agenda" entails is nothing less than the reformulation of public life, the educational sphere, the workplace, and the home--that is, a total transformation of society.

William Kornhauser. The Politics of Mass Society. New York: The Free Press, 1959, p. 212.

Mass movements mobilize people who are alienated from the going system, who do not believe in the legitimacy of the established order, and who therefore are ready to engage in efforts to destroy it. The greatest number of people available to mass movement will be found in those sections of society that have the fewest ties to the social order . . . .

Doug McAdam. Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency 1930-1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982, p. 25.

Social movements are "those organized efforts, on the part of excluded groups, to promote or resist changes in the structure of society that involve recourse to noninstitutional forms of political participation."

Sidney Tarrow. Power in Movement: Social Movements, Collective Action and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 4.

Rather than seeing social movements as expressions of extremism, violence, and deprivation, they are better defined as collective challenges, based on common purposes and social solidarities, in sustained interaction with elites, opponents, and authorities.

Ralph H. Turner, and Lewis M. Killian. Collective Behavior. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1972, 1987, p. 223.

A social movement is a collectivity acting with some continuity to promote or resist a change in the society or organization of which it is a part. As a collectivity a movement is a group with indefinite and shifting membership and with leadership whose position is determined more by informal response of the members than by formal procedures for legitimating authority.

Guida West and Rhoda Lois Blumberg, eds. Women and Social Protest. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 13.

The four types of issues that have drawn women into the protest arena historically and throughout the world are (1) those directly linked to economic survival; (2) those related to nationalist and racial/ethnic struggles; (3) those addressing broad humanistic/nurturing problems; and (4) those identified in different eras as "women's rights" issues.

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