SOC1105 Chapter 2 Notes. Textbook: Social Movements, 2 Edition.Author: Suzanne Staggenborg.
*Several major theoretical approaches have influenced the thinking of social movement scholars in
Europe and North America.
*Researchers tend to borrow from different theoretical approaches, and theorists try to synthesize them.
*However, few scholars attempt to build universal theories that can be applied across time or space.
-Importance of historical context and cultural differences.
*Before 1980s: analytical approaches developed:
-'new social movement theory' in Europe
-'collective behavior' and 'resource mobilization' mostly from U.S.
-But, many cross-national collaborations and influences between Europe and NorthAmerica.
***Collective Behavior Theory*******************************************************
*Referred to as classical model of social movements.
*Have also been labeled strain or breakdown theories -collective behavior comes from social
disruption, grievances deeply felt, instead of standard part of political process.
*Theorists have studied wide range of phenomena (eg. Crowds, riots, social movements, etc).
*Study of crowds began in late 19 century.
-Gustave Le Bon (European theorist) analyzed psychology to explain crowd behaviour.
-Emphasized irrationality and and abnormality of crowds. But most collective behavior
theorists disagree that crowds are irrational.
*Collective behavior theorists do share several assumptions.
-Collective behavior exists outside institutionalized structures. BUT some note linkages
between non- and institutionalized structures. They are unstructured situations unbound by
-Results from a structural/cultural breakdown or strain (eg. Natural disaster or dramatic event).
-They assign an important role to the shared beliefs of participants in analyzing the emergence
of social movements and other forms of collective behavior.
-Most focus on psychological states of participants versus pre-existing organization/strategy.
The Chicago SchoolApproach to Collective Behavior
*Initiated in the 1920s by Robert Park and Ernest Burgess (1921).
Symbolic Interactionism: Social psychological theory that focuses on how actors construct meanings
through social interaction.
*This perspective: Collective behavior develops when established systems of meaning and sources of
information have broken down, forcing participants to construct new meanings to guide their behavior.
-Social movements can create new organizational structures and new culture.
-Emergent Norm: Shared view of reality that justifies and co-ordinates collective behavior.
Examples: Environmentalist's view of ecological imbalance, Marxist's view of class
*Not fixed. Systems of belief emerge and develop as social movement actors interact with one another,
public, opponents, and authorities.
-Emergent Norms: May develop in response to a precipitating event. Smelser's Theory of Collective Behavior
*Neil Smelser presents a model consisting of six determinants. The model is 'value added' -conditions
operate together, each condition adds value to the explanation.
-Structural Conduciveness – permits or encourages certain types of collective behavior. Eg.
Panics occur in money markets instead of financial systems.
-Structural Strain – Such as real or anticipated deprivation, like economic deprivation.
Combines with conduciveness.
-Growth and spread of a generalized belief – For potential participants. Belief identifies source
and nature of the strain, suggests possible responses.
-Precipitating Factors – Things like a dramatic event. Gives a concrete target for action. Eg.
Police brutality provoking race riot when there is conduciveness, strain, and generalized belief.
-Mobilization for action – It must occur. Leadership is important.
-Social Control – May act to prevent it, or limit its scope. Dependent on police, courts, press,
community leaders, and other agents of social control.
*'Value-added' model found to be useful by theorists in predicting action, but only to an extent.
-Relies too heavily on structural strains to explain social movements.
-No clear criteria exist for identifying strain, and once action occurs, it is always possible to find
-Theory assumes society is normal, while strains are abnormal, when in fact they are fairly
constant in most societies.
Mass Society Theory
*Collective behavior as an extreme response to social isolation.
*Social stability is important. Common values maintained through various social institutions.
*'Mass Society' – Few secondary groups (eg. Religious groups or community organizations) to bind
people together and keep them attached to mainstream society.
*Social changes (eg. Rapid industrialization, economic depressions, etc). People uprooted from normal
associations, such as new immigrants to cities or unemployed workers. Result: People become isolated
from social/political institutions. 'alienation and anxiety', and 'atomization' make people susceptible to
recruitment by social movements such as the German Nazi movement.
*Possible that alienated, fanatical, irrational individuals seek identity and sense of belonging when
society is rapidly changing.
-Empirical research: Not the isolated individuals, but the opposite.
-People who are involved (not isolated) most likely to join social movements.
Relative Deprivation Theory
*Based on observation that people often rebel as things are improving.
-Done by those who are improving their positions, or are best off within an aggrieved group.
-As conditions improve, expectations rise. But feeling of deprivation if rate of improvement
doesn't match expectations.
-Eg. Women's movement. Support increased despite access to education because of lack
of high-paying occupations.
-Deprivation is relative.
*Popular in the 1960s and 1970s, but since then, many strong critcisms.
-Relative deprivation studies typically infer psychological states of relative deprivation from
objective indicators such as unemployment rates. Studies found objective measures ineffective for predicting rebellions. Better predictors: organizational capacities and governmental
-Collective action is likely generated by factors such as resources and and organization.
-Relative deprivation feelings may be generated just by participating in a movement (may not
be a precondition).
***Resource Mobilization and Political Process Theories**********************************
*1970s, NorthAmerican social movement research began to shift away from the concerns of collective
-Resource mobilization and Political Process approaches. Criticisms of past theories:
-1960s – collective behavior theory provided inadequate explanations for new waves of protest.
-Mass Society theory – not supported by empirical studies. Resource mobilization theorists
argue it is the connected, rather than the isolated, who engage in movements.
-Strain theories – Cannot make predictions solely on amount of suffering or frustration.
-These theorists instead believed social movements were a continuation of the political process,
even though by disorderly means. Political phenomena VS Psychological phenomena (newer
perspectives VS collective behavior).
Resource Mobilization Theory
*Early theorists: strains or grievances can almost always be found, but resources, organization, and
opportunities for collective action are necessary for movement.
*Resources: Seen as central to collective action in this approach. Many studies support link.
-IntangibleAssets: Commitment of Participants
*Many types of resources identified:
-Moral Resources: Legitimacy.
-Cultural Resource: Tactical repertoires.
-Social/Organizational Resources: Networks, organizational structures.
-Human Resources: Labour and experience of activists.
-Material Resources: Money, office space.
*Movement Entrepreneurs: They're important. Draw on public sentiments, increase demand for
*Beneficiary Constituents: Those that benefit from movement. Often contribute.