Social Movements

“You must be
the change
you wish to see
in the world.”
without a
-Frederick Douglas
Social Movements
Things change
when people make things change.
What are Social Movements?
• Loosely or tightly organized collective efforts
by relatively powerless groups to affect social
or political change operating outside of
institutionalized political channels.
– (e.g. Civil Rights, Global Justice, Women’s
Movement, Environmental, Labor, etc.)
Key Characteristics of
Social Movements
• Operate primarily outside institutional political
• Arise due to a group’s exclusion from “normal”
institutional political channels
• Are always resisted by those in positions of
power and privilege (when it is a movement that
threatens said power and privilege)
– (People in power prefer protesters go through
institutionalized channels because the people in
power run those channels)
Goals of Social Movements
1. Redistribute material resources more
– E.g. Labor Movement, Global Justice Movement
2. Gain full citizenship
– E.g. Civil Rights, Women’s, Gay Rights Movement
3. Re-define society’s values, norms, and
– E.g. Environmental and Anti-War Movements
How do powerless people
exercise power?
Source of Social Movement Power
• How do powerless people exercise power?
• By withholding their consent!
– Refusing to participate in everyday life
– Denying others their labor (your labor)
– Most effective when done collectively
Why is withholding consent or
compliance powerful?
Powerful people only
have the power we
allow them to have
when we comply.
Movement Tactics and Strategies
• Civil disobedience
– Purposefully and openly violating the law
• Street protests
– Marches, parades, rallies, etc.
• Strikes
– Refusing to work to force employer to concede
• Boycotts
– Refusing to shop, buy, or patronize a targeted enterprise
• Property destruction
– Intentional damage done to public or private property
• Violence
– Use of physical force or power against another
Elite Responses to Social Movements
• Repression
– Using violent and non-violent means (e.g. arrests, intimidation,
military force, etc.)
• Co-optation
– Taking over issues or leaders by adopting movement issues or
recruiting its leaders
• De-legitimizing Strategies
– Applying labels like “communist,” “terrorist,” or “radical” to
leaders or movement goals to undermine legitimacy of
movement demands
• Covert Efforts
– To infiltrate or sabotage through use of FBI, CIA, or paid
informants to undermine movement organizations
What do/can Social Movements
Specific policy changes
Changes in legal codes
Shifts in attitudes, norms and values
Often inspire counter-movements
– (e.g. Conservative backlash to Women’s
Why are Social Movements Important
• Represent efforts to re-define social reality
from the bottom-up
• Expose the normally hidden dynamics and
structures of power in society
• Demonstrate that otherwise powerless people
are able to “act back” and influence society

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