SOC103 - Chapter 16 – Social Movements & Voluntary Associations
• Voluntary association: group formed voluntarily. Unlike other voluntary associations, social movements usually have a
Interdependence: The Real State of Nature
• Interdependence: contributes most to social integration, promotes tolerance & civility, especially if the state is committed
to such values
• Markets: do not & cannot regulate themselves, vulnerable to distortion by insiders, monopolists & fraudsters. Markets can
easily create dangerous booms & busts (currently experiencing bust). Markets respond to our human need for
interdependence & are self-regulating in the sense they set prices without outside political interference.
• Cyberspace: striking feature is its diversity, de-localizes social interactions
• Milgram’s experiment (1967): asked randomly chosen people in Omaha & Wichita to do their best to get their package
to their Bostonian counterpart only through people they knew personally, on a first-name basis. We are all connected by
(only) six degrees of separation.
• Small world property: those with large & diverse networks played an especially important role in linking people &
networks (sociometric stars)
• Ron Burt: calls them brokers & entrepreneurs when they connect unconnected networks. Typically have an unusual
amount of social capital.
Classic Studies: Improvised News: A Sociological Study of Rumor
• Rumours: in every social settings & every kind of news, medium to express political views, construct images of reality &
show social solidarity
• Shibutani, Improvised News: A Sociological Study of Rumor (1966): rumours travel through existing networks, basis for
sociability. Info sometimes distorted but carries important social truths. Collectively achieve clarity through repeated
interaction & discussion. Rumour formation is a problem-solving strategy that relies on pooling of resources. Rumours are
improvised news: news imagined & created under conditions of hardship & confusion. In collective transaction, there are
five roles to perform: messenger, interpreter, skeptic, protagonist & decision maker. Rumours collaboratively gain
accuracy & provide more stability. People rarely transmit them serially or randomly, indiscriminately to strangers & friends
alike, as Allport & Postman suggested. Rumours spreads within a network through series of interpersonal
communications, until they eventually reach the outskirts of the communication network. Gradually, through deliberations,
an overall story gains consistency & clarity. By sharing with other members of the network, the improvised news story
• Allport & Postman, The Psychology of Rumor (1947): lab experiment, simulated the children’s game broken telephone.
Showed that the movement of info from one person to another tends to distort the original message, the result, as heard
by a large number of people most distant from the source, is often deeply flawed – even downright wrong.
Voluntary Associations & Sociability
• Voluntary associations: more organizationally complex than networks, address wide variety of concerns (i.e. alumni
associations, charitable groups, church groups, book clubs, etc). Though often aimed at solving a particular problem, are
rooted ultimately in sociability, which some have considered a natural & universal human impulse. Sociability as pure play
may be the most basic human inclination.
• Huizinga (1955 ): humanity as homo ludens (man the game player). Play is free, music, sports, culture as a form of
play, animals have play. However, there are still social norms of tact to obey: related to civility, oblige us to keep a little of
ourselves back even when we are being the most open & intimidate. To do otherwise would be to use a play event for
some other purpose: for attention, support, pity or encouragement. Play is not intended to be psychodrama. When people
organize voluntarily, it is not always goal oriented.
The benefits of voluntary associations
• Cote & Erickson (2009): voluntary associations provide sociability, brings together diverse group for common cause,
meet as equals (sites of positive learning & schools for democracy). Have unpredictable effect on social tolerance
(environmentalists more tolerant, sport groups less so). Trust, familiarity & sociability important sources of tolerance. Trust
is hard to develop between groups, doing so requires us to share rules & interpretations about the world, which increases
our predictability in one another’s eyes. Often, trust arises within voluntary associations, as an unexpected benefit.
Voluntary associations that are more connected with one another help to promote generalized trust & social cohesion. We
can think of society not so much as a network of individuals but as a network of organizations
People control one another informally
• Informal social control: control through guilt, shame, gossip, rumour & threatened rejection, extremely effective because
of our views of the generalized other (Mead). Fall within two processes: rewarding wanted behaviour & withholding
rewards for unwanted behaviour. Social control is an idea especially at home in sociology & anthropology, but not other
social sciences (such as political science or criminology). Social control, defined as control by society or social relations, is
distinct from political, military, police, or even legal control. Social control identifies society as the source of control in our
lives which brings attention to civil society as a place of importance in human lives, rather than the state (Hobbes 1968
) or the economy (Marx)
Classic studies: The Civilizing Process
• Elias, The Civilizing Process (1969 ): polite manners & state government develop together. Good manners began
with aristocracy, spread to bourgeoisie. Self-control in the form of good manners, polite excretion, & private sexuality, coincides with the rise of a strong state, since it is through the rise of this state that a national, official culture develops.
Regional variations are less socially acceptable.
Ways of looking at social movements & voluntary associations
• Social movements grow out of voluntary associations
• Breakdown approach: builds on Durkheim, social movements form when rapid & widespread changes in society weaken
the social bonds. Social movements thus signify societal disintegration. Arising only when social equilibrium has been
disturbed (social disorganization). Critiques say that social conflict is a natural feature of social life – not a pathology or
symptom of social disorganization. Social movements are types of organization – not merely disorganization - &, by
destroying current social arrangements, expose the conditions that perpetuate inequality. In short, some movements are
not spontaneous, childish outbursts of frustration but organizations with rational goals & plans.
• Relative deprivation theory: functionalist, people form protest movements when they believe that society is falling short
of what they expect or aspire to have, even if in the past people were satisfied with less. (I.e. when society enters a period
of economic & social progress, people‘s expectations rise).Yet, because high (new) expectations persist, a gap opens up
between the newly established expectations & disappointing realities. It is this gap that gives rise to protest or even
rebellion by the least-advantaged citizens. Critiques: not only most disadvantaged who fight for social change, middle &
upper class more likely to lead revolutions because they have access to resources. Not all societies that experience
relative deprivation try to bring about social change through revolution, thus other factors are involved. More of an
ideology intended to criticize protesters who the ruling class deems impatient & irrational. This approach devalues protest
as a seemingly trivial symptom of discontent.
• Ideology: strategy, program or point of view that justifies goals & strategies of the movement: i.e. justify demands for
• Systemic theory: highlights importance of group dynamics, frustration is effective only when they mobilize & develop a
common ideology. Inspired by functionalist & social breakdown theory, focuses on frustration of individuals but on the
whole society, improves relative deprivation theory by focusing on the organizational aspects of protest (making it more
sociological, ultimately based on circular reasoning)
• Resource mobilization theorists: protest organizations are much like many other organizations & just as helpful to
society. Like other organizations, social movements try to spread the influence of their perspective on society through their
counter-ideology: ideology that supports alternative social values & challenges the dominant ideology: ideology that
supports the status quo & ruling class interests. Like other organizations, social movements try to find & mobilize
supporters for their position. Do not assume a consensus about the way society is organized. They believe just the
opposite, arguing that there will always be frustrated people in society because social goods are (always) unequally
distributed. Resource availability determines the formation & actions of social movements, not goals & motivations.
• To succeed, protestors need at least one & (perhaps as many as) three types of power. Economic power: control over
material production (i.e. capital, technology, labour power, materials, etc), political power: control over legitimate use of
violence (i.e. control over the state, police, military) & ideological power: ability to spread symbols & ideologies through
social institutions like schools, churches & media. Social movements arise when they gain access to at least