SOC1105 Chapter 3 Notes. Textbook: Social Movements, 2 Edition.Author: Suzanne Staggenborg.
*This chapter is about Macro (large-scale), Meso (organizational), and Micro (Individual) level based
questions regarding social movements and collective action.
*Various issues to be covered are interrelated. Theorists attempt to connect these different levels of
analysis in their explanations of social movements and collective action.
Movement Emergence: Mobilization and Recruitment
*Movements typically don't suddenly emerge, and new ones often linked to previous ones.
*Mobilization: The process whereby a group that shares grievances or interests gains collective
control over resources.
*Recruitment: Part of the broader process of mobilization.
-Both are ongoing processes rather than one-time events. Continual need to maintain control
Influences on Mobilization
*Factors involved: large-scale socioeconomic and political changes, opportunities and threats, critical
events, pre-existing or emergent organizations, leaders, resources, frames.
-Theorists point to importance of large-scale social changes in stimulating social movements.
-Eg. Urbanization creates social problems (poor housing conditions).
-Eg.American civil rights movement (decline of cotton as a cash crop), migration of
many southern blacks to cities.
*Two important factors: Resources controlled by a group, and extent of organization among members
prior to movement mobilization.
-Pre-existing communication network if individuals already share membership in some of the
*Leaders can mobilize movements even without pre-existing grievances.
*Political process theorists: Political opportunities or threats lead to social movements.
-People more likely to engage in collective action if chance of success is perceived as high.
*Political opportunities not everything; framing activities of leaders important in diagnosing problems.
-Collective action frames turn grievances into a drive for justice (emotional energy).
-Framing issues in a way compatible to the culture, also potentially effective without political
-Eg.American suffrage movement. Found culturally resonant frames and resources >
Political opportunities for support of women's suffrage.
-Women's unique perspective (effective) VS Rights as citizens (ineffective).
Individual Recruitment and Participation
*Adherents: Those who believe in the cause and want to see movement goals achieved.
*Constituents: Supporters who contribute resources to a movement.
-There are many more adherents than constituents (Eg. Support for environmental measures).
*Collective behavior theories: Importance of grievances, individual discontent. But not always the case
or reason people become activists.
*Rational Choice Theory: Focuses on costs and benefits of collective action for individuals.
-Many latent groups have grievances, few mobilize because of cost for the individual.
-Free Rider Problem: Rational individuals will want to benefit without investment, because
collective action can result in collective good without their individual contribution.
-Can be solved if they are offered selective incentives (benefits that are only for participants).
-Also solved in small group situation, individual motivated to pay because their
contribution makes a relatively big difference.
-Otherwise, free riders, unless coerced into participation.
-Material incentives, solidary incentives (come from associating with the group),
purposeful incentives (sense of satisfaction from contributing to worthwhile cause).
-Collective identity can act as a selective incentive. -people want to share an identity
(environmentalist) achieved through participation.
*Other theorists address free rider problem; recruitment also affected by organizational arrangements
and structures, such as social networks.
-Free rider problem less saliant for modern social movements; many are becoming
professionalized (paid leaders who work full-time, attract conscience constituents over
-Eg. Environmental movement, many organizations with paid staff and members that
send financial contributions rather than by actively participating.
-With 'paper members', participation from large masses of people is less critical.
-Low-risk commitments of conscience constituents, free rider problem not as important.
*Contrast, there are more high-risk activism movements.
-Eg. Civil rights, animal rights, anti-abortion, etc. high-risk activism.
*Some, such as visible minorities, may have 'no exit' – they're identified and treated as group members
for being a visible minority. They also may feel closely tied to the group engaged in collective action,
more likely to participate.
*Importance of local communities and friendship networks over isolated individuals (critiques of
Rational Choice Theory).
*Several types of structural factors that increase likelihood of activism.
-Prior contact with a movement member: Individuals come to a meeting with friend, contact
leads to further involvement.
-Membership in organizations: Organizational memberships give people access to information
and make them targets of movement recruitment efforts within organizations.
-History of Prior Activism: Organizing skills transferable from one movement to another,
subsequent activism way of retaining one's identity as an activist.
-Biographical Availability: Individuals with responsibilities (children, demanding jobs) less
*Structural Availability: Explains recruitment of individuals from streets rather than through social
networks. These people lacked commitments that would prevent/hinder participation.
-Network ties to activists can draw individuals, but lack of competing ties can also free people
Movement Maintenance, Growth, and Decline
*Maintenance necessary after initial mobilization. Movements either grow in strength or decline.
Commitment of participants + new supporters recruited.
*Movement organizations important.
*But movements are not stable and unified entities. Maintained by both formalized organizations, but
also more informal networks. Shifting coalitions of actors.
Social Movement Organizations
*Important in most modern social movements.
*Scholars identified key dimensions on which SMOs vary: extent of bureaucratization/formalization in
the organization, and extent of centralization. -Bureaucratic/formalized: established procedures, developed division of labour, explicit
criteria for membership, and rules governing subunits.
-More informal SMOs: Fewer established procedures, rules, and membership requirements,
less developed division of labour.
-Centralized SMOs have 'a single centre of power', but decentralized SMOs, power is dispersed.
-Although formalization and centralization tend to go together, possible to have
decentralized+formal or centralized+informal.
*These differences affect organizational maintenance, goals, and strategies.
-Formalization leads to focus on organizational maintenance at expense of protest.
-Poor people's movements, arguably better to focus on engagement in disruptive tactics.
-Focusing on large-scale organizations squanders period of opportunity.
-Eg. Great Depression, or turbulence of 1960s.
-But, focusing on bureaucratization and centralization can be appropriate during slow
-Eg. Centralized National Women's Party, 'doldrums' between passage of
women's suffrage in 1920s and rebirth of women's movements in 1960s.
-Abeyence can be kept with a centralized, 'elite-sustained' organizational
*SMOs main problem: How to encourage participation while avoiding internal conflict.
-Leadership important. Interact with participants and offer frames, tactics, organizational
vehicles that allow participants to construct a collective identity and participate in collective
action at various levels.
-Meaningful opportunity to contribute to decisions, goals, strategies = greater solidarity and
commitment to the SMO.
-Often conflicts over who has authority, and over which structures work.
*Civil Rights, student, and women's movements: Tried to develop forms of 'participatory democracy'
to closely involve activists.
-At worst, degenerate into 'tyranny of structurelessness.' Unaccountable leaders and exclusive
informal structures if structure is shunned.
-At best, process helps build movements, develop participant's political skills, creates solidarity,
development of new tactics.
-Eg. United Farm Workers 1960s/1970s VS Better-Funded rival union, UFW succeeded.
Greater 'strategic capacity.'
*Factors that increase 'strategic capacity':
-Create forums for regular, open, authoritative deliberation among leaders, for their access to
information and authority to act on decisions.
-Greater flexibility from multiple constituencies VS single source.
-Holding leaders accountable to their constituents = better leaders.
-Leadership teams (consist of insiders and outsiders) VS single leaders.
-Use diverse leaders with diverse repertoires of collective action = more ideas.
*Strategic campaigns crucial not just for goals, but also growth and maintenance.
Movement Strategies and Campaigns
*Movement activists have disposal of strategies/tactics within the repertoire familiar at the time.
-Modern repertoire: demonstrations, public meetings, petitions, press statements.
-Activists: 'symbols of personal affiliation', form 'specialized associations devoted to pursuit of
-Many movements: Mix of direct-action tactics and institutionalized tactics.
-'Contentious performances' common. *Collective Campaign: 'an aggregate of collective events or activities that appear to be oriented
toward some relatively specific goal or good, and that occur within some proximity in space and time.'
-Usually a series of collective campaign in a movement. Not single events, often aimed at
government officials/other authorities.
*Campaign at one time may alter conditions for subsequent campaigns.
-Dynamic interactions between opponents.
-Eg. The women's movement. Developed vehicles for new strategies, such as participation in
electoral politics in response to anti-feminist counter-movements.
*Interactions with allies, countermovements, mass media, government officials affect various aspects:
mobilization, strategies, outcomes.
-Multi-organizational fields: In addition to SMOs, variety of types of organizations that
oppose or support the movement.
-Within and across movements: coalitions formed, compete, or conflict.
-Non-movement adversaries, mediators, and audiences also engaged by movements.
-Government authorities/other elites may facilitate or repress protest campaigns.
-Strategies and tactics are adjusted based on these interactions.
*Policing of Protest: State response to campaigns. Repressive, or tolerant, under different types of
government, also depends on type of collective action.
-Western democracies have many trends. 1960s: Escalated force. 1970s-1990s: Negotiated
management.After 1990s: Strategic incapacitation.
*Critical Events: Movement campaigns create, or result from, these events.
-Focuses attention on particular issues, which create threats or opportunities.
-Some events outside of movement control, others are orchestrated.
-When not in control of occurrence of event, can still make use of event. Eg.Anti-nuclear power
activists after 1979 nuclear accident.
*During a campaign, more opportunities to mobilize inactive movement supporters + strengthen
commitment of activists, more opportunities for leadership roles. Collective identities often go under
expansion due to new actors. If movements cannot create campaigns anymore, difficult to maintain.
-Eg. Civil rights movement. Peaks occurred with tactical innovations. 1950s: Boycotts, 1960s:
Sit-ins, 1961: Freedom riders revived movement,After: community-wide protests in southern
cities. Late 1960s: Decline, movement had difficulty devising campaigns to address issues of
race and poverty.
*Countermovement campaigns can generate new movement strategies, new rounds for collective
action. Movements and countermovements often respond to each other. Success on one side, response
from the other.
-Abortion clinic opened in Toronto, 1983.Anti-abortion activists launched intensive campaign
of daily protests.Abortion rights supporters responded by organizing demonstrations to protect
-Federal systems in U.S. and Canada provide numerous venues, such as the courts and
legislatures. One side chooses these, other follows suit.
*Emotions are central, just as organization and strategic planning are.