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Social Movements And Activism

Social Movements Abstracts, Books on Social Movements, Astroturfing

Social problems are generally characterized by the traits of a specific social movement, though they often begin, and remain for a fairly long time, in the general movement stage.

What is a Social Movement? The Sociology of Social Movements
Sociologists have viewed social movements using a number of different perspectives - movements as a response to social strains, as a reflection of trends and directions throughout the society more generally, as a reflection of individual dissatisfaction and feelings of deprivation, and as a natural step in the generation and modification of social institutions (McAdam, McCarthy, & Zald, 1988).



Traditional work on the sociology of mass movements concentrated on the processes by which such movements emerged, how mass social movements recruited new members, defined their goals, and gathered the initial resources that would allow them to survive. Professionally oriented social movements enjoy advantages in terms of expertise, organization, they also are often relatively easy for the state to control.



In totalitarianism, governments, social movements have been controlled simply by repressing them; but in democratic systems, state and federal agencies, and their attached superstructure of laws and regulations, may in fact serve much the same function, directing and controlling the spheres of activity in which a movement is allowed to operate, offering penalties or rewards for compliance. - Stephen T. Kerr


Types of Social Movements - General Social Movements and Specific Social Movements

Herbert Blumer (1951) set forth a typology of social movementst. His main distinction is between general and specific social movements, which differ according to the degree of their focus and organization. He describes also some kinds of social movements which are distinguished mainly by their quality or style: expressive social movements (including some religious movements and fashion movements), which seek to cope with personal and social dissatisfactions without aiming to change external social conditions; and nationalistic or revival movements, which seek to impose on present-day society certain idealized values or arrangements from the past.


General social movements consist of vague goals or objectives and lack organization, leadership, and structure. General social movements grow gradually out of what Blumer calls "cultural drifts," which are "gradual and pervasive changes in the values of a people." As a general social movement begins to form from a cultural drift, it gradually acquires spokesmen not real leaders.

Specific social movements usually grows out of a general movement as the latter grows out of a cultural drift. The specific social movement is an expression of the activities of interest groups and pressure groups, which have fairly well-defined goals. Blumer offers the example of the anti-slavery movement of the 19th century, which grew out of a more general humanitarian movement. Specific social movements are apt to be of either a reform or revolutionary nature. In specific social movement organization and other characteristics are not present from the beginning, but they develop with the passage of time, largely out of the interaction of the movement with the rest of the society. Blumer stresses the importance of the time dimension in specific social movements. Most social problems are characterized by the traits of a specific social movement, though they often begin, and often remain for a long time, in the general movement stage.


Norm-oriented social movements and Value-oriented social movements - Smelser (1962 : IX and X).

Extracts from Armand Mauss, Social Problems as Social Movements, Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1975, pp. 38-71.


Norm-oriented social movement seeks to "restore, protect, modify, or create norms in the name of a generalized belief." It addresses existing norms and laws and concrete ways of doing things in a society, sometimes out of conservative tendencies, but usually out of a desire for some kind of change.


Value-oriented social movement are collective attempts to "restore, protect, modify, or create values in the name of a generalized belief." Because value-oriented movements deal with the most fundamental and all-inclusive aspects of a culture, they might be described as trying, in effect, to create a new culture.


Value-oriented social movements include many of the movements called by Blumer "expressive" and "nationalist," many of the religious movements of history, especially those that have swept whole societies and continents, and probably all of the movements based on the great "isms," such as Communism, Fascism, millenarianism, and the like, which attempt to reorder entire ways of life.


Norm-oriented social movements are content to leave the underlying culture and organization of a society pretty much intact, striving only for changes in (or preservation of) some of the social arrangements, rules, norms, laws, and other less fundamental aspects. Most social problems are of the norm-oriented type and only very rarely value-oriented, for they do not typically address the basis of the culture itself.


The American Social Movement Cultures (Washington State).
This site provides a space for the study of social movements in the US, including those movements as linked to transnational and global movements. Seeks to bring together the best insights of sociology, political science, anthropology, history, cultural studies, American studies, ethnic studies, women's studies, and other fields of social movement analysis, as well as the insights of movement activists inside and outside of academia. Helps develop work on the cultural dimension of social movements. Believes that the specifically cultural study of social movements remains relatively undeveloped.


Theories of Social Movements - Theories of social movements are closely connected with the general problems of society's development. To analyse social movements separately, in abstraction from the social structure, is to limit the problem by superficial analysis, which is not fruitful and does not allow us to understand the nature of social movements. From the Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing at the University of Kent at Canterbury.