Social Movement Theory: Introductory Materials

People who join social movements are engaging in a basic process of democratic civil society. Starting in the 1970s, sociologists rejected the idea that movement activists were engaged in irrational collective behavior, but began studying social movements as collections of people with complaints who develop a plan to make the larger society respond to their needs.

Social movements in the US and other nations have been great forces for social change. To understand why and how social change happens, we have to clear why movements begin, how they succeed and fail as you can read in works when you order essay for your studies.

When discussing social movements it is important to see ideology and methodology as separate facets of social movements. 


Some Basics of Social Movement Theories:
Simple Snippets of Sociological Sense
by Dan Brook

Four Stages of Social Movements

Different Approaches and Major Theoretical Models
Within Sociology

  • Collective Behavior
  • Ideology
  • Framing
  • Narratives
  • Resource Mobilization
  • Political Process Model
  • Rational Choice
  • New Social Movement Theory
  • Power Devaluation
  • Movement Culture
  • Emotion

What does a Social Movement Need to Succeed?
by Chip Berlet

What does it take to build a strong social movement? With a tip of the intellectual hat to Goffman, Zald, McCarthy, Meyer, Gamson, Snow, McAdam, Benford, Klandermans, Johnston, Ewick, Silbey, Polletta, and a marching band of other academics, these are the basic building blocks of a successful social movement:

  • A discontented group of politicized persons who share the perception that they have common grievances they want society to address 
  • A powerful and lucid ideological vision linked to strategies and tactics that have some reasonable chance of success 
  • The recruitment of people into the movement through pre-existing social, political, and cultural networks 
  • A core group of trusted strategic leaders and local activists who effectively mobilize, organize, educate, and communicate with the politicized mass base 
  • The efficient mobilization of resources that are available, or can be developed, to assist the movement to meet its goals 

  • An institutional infrastructure integrating political coordination, research and policy think tanks, training centers, conferences, and alternative media Political opportunities in the larger social and political scene that can be exploited by movement leaders and activists 
  • The skillful framing of ideas and slogans for multiple audiences such as leaders, members, potential recruits, policymakers, and the general public 
  • An attractive movement culture that creates a sense of community through mass rituals, celebrations, music, drama, poetry, art, and narrative stories about past victories, current struggles, and future successes 
  • The ability of recruits to craft a coherent and functional identity as a movement participant 

Applied Sociology: Practical Guides

Social Movement Theory for Activists


Featured Social Movement Organization

Spirit House Project uses the arts, research, education, action, and spirituality to bring diverse peoples together to work for racial, economic, and social justice, as well as for spiritual maturity.

Featured Physical Archives

Marquette University has acquired a large collection of FBI files on US right-wing organizations and individuals. The files were released under the federal Freedom of Information Act to researcher Ernie Lazar. The Lazar Collection is also ONLINE!

Emory University: Neighbor's Network (Atlanta, Ga.) 1987-1998)

Featured Multimedia

Anti-Nazi lithograph cartoons by a survivor of the the genocide.

Why this Webpage?

The goal of the website is to provide online linkages to a variety of existing and new transatlantic resources for the study of social movements that seek to expand or restrict access to full democratic human rights for all people. The mission is to illuminate the relationship of hierarchies of race, gender, and class to societal conflicts, especially those involving social movement organizations and their specific ideologies, frames, and narratives.

This website is sponsored by a group of scholars in the United States and Europe for the purpose of providing reliable resources for scholars, researchers, students, journalists, and organizers for human rights as defined by various international documents and United Nations declarations.

The Social Movement Study Website is an independent collaborative non-profit endeavor that receives no funding from governments or partisan political organizations.

Advisory Board
(in formation)

Cynthia Burack (US)
James Danky (US)
Alex DiBranco (US)
Martin Durham (UK)
Matthew Feldman (UK)
Paul Jackson (UK)
Angelia R. Wilson (UK)

The global human rights movement challenges the
systems, structures, and institutions that create, defend, and extend
oppression and repression in a society.

“Without a struggle, there can be no progress.”
                      --Frederick Douglass

“There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions.”
                      --Audre Lorde

"The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion."
                       -- Molly Ivins

Democracy is not a specific set of institutions but a process that requires dissent.

Democracy is a process that assumes the majority of people,
over time, given enough accurate information, the ability to participate in a free and open public debate,
and can vote without intimidation, reach constructive decisions that benefit the whole of society, and
preserve liberty, protect our freedoms, extend equality, and defend democracy.

Without dissent there is no progress in a society: Dissent is Essential

Unless otherwise noted, all material on this website is copyright ©2022 by Research for Progress

Site curated by Chip Berlet