Social Movement Theory: Value-Added Theory Research Paper Starter

Social Movement Theory: Value-Added Theory

This article focuses on value-added theory. It provides an analysis of the history, applications, and strengths and weaknesses of the theory. An overview of the origins and main principles of value-added theory is included as well as a discussion of value-added theory as applied to social movement formation. The main criticisms of value-added theory are also explored.

Keywords Collective Behavior; Collective Identity; Mass Society Theory; Relative Deprivation Theory; Resource Mobilization Theory; Social Movements; Social Movement Theory; Society; Sociology; Strain; Structural-Strain Theory; Value-Added Theory

Social Movement Theory: Value-Added Theory


The following is an analysis of value-added theory. Value-added theory of collective behavior argues that certain social conditions are necessary for the development of social movements. Sociologists use value-added theory to analyze the origins of social movements during periods of great social change. Understanding the history, applications, and strengths and weaknesses of value-added theory is vital background for all those interested in the sociology of collective identity and social movements. This article explains value-added theory in three parts:

• An overview of the main principles and history of value-added theory.

• A description of how value-added theory is applied to analyze and understand social movements.

• A discussion of the main criticisms of value-added theory.

The Main Principles of Value-Added Theory

The value-added theory of collective behavior determines whether or not collective behavior will occur. The theory argues that a specific combination of determinants facilitates and promotes collective outcomes and behaviors. The determinants of collective behavior form a value-added process. Value-added processes, which originated in the field of economic theory, refer to processes in which additional value is created at a particular stage of development or production. According to Knottnerus (1983), the value-added theory asserts that determinants to collective behavior combine according to a predictable pattern. Collective behavior requires the appearance of the determinants in a logical and predictable order; specifically, the theory asserts that six social conditions or “determinants are required for the development of a social movement: structural conduciveness, structural strain, generalized beliefs, precipitating factors, mobilization of participants, and social control” (Abstract).

• Structured conduciveness refers to a social situation that permits or encourages some type of collective behavior.

• Structural strain refers to a situation in which some type of deprivation exists.

• Growth and spread of a generalized belief refers to a belief that makes the situation meaningful to actors by identifying the possible source of strain, attributing characteristics to the source, and articulating possible responses to the strain.

• Precipitating factors refers to an act that confirms a generalized belief or exaggerates the condition of strain.

• Mobilization of participants for action refers to bringing the affected group into action.

• Operation of social control refers to the counter-determinants that prevent, deflect, or inhibit the accumulation of the previous determinants (Knottnerus, 1983, p. 390).

In the value-added theory of collective behavior, four components are said to account for social behavior: situational facilities, roles, norms, and values.

• Situational facilities refer to the means and resources used to attain goals in an organization or role.

• Roles refer to the expected behavior of a person in a social situation.

• Norms refer to the rules governing the pursuit of goals.

• Values refer to the goals or ends of social action.

These four components are ordered hierarchically. Value-added theory asserts that values, followed by norms, roles, and facilities, are the most important factor influencing social behavior and collective action. Values, in this scheme, are the foundation for social system integration and institutionalized action (Knottnerus, 1983).

Value-added theory explains how grievances turn into generalized beliefs and then into social movements (Arthur, 2005). Value-added theory, also referred to as social strain theory, is part of a larger body of theory called strain theory. Strain refers to the cycle of inadequate regulation at the societal level that negatively impacts how the individual perceives his or her needs, means, and opportunities. Value-added theory of collective behavior argues that individuals join hostile and radical social movements because they experience social strain. Social movements develop to reassure members that action is being taken to address strain, grievances, and deprivation (Weeber & Rodeheaver, 2003).

The value-added theory of collective behavior can be used to understand all variations in collective behavior. According to Lewis (1972), the determinants of collective behavior, structural conduciveness, structural strain, growth of a generalized hostile belief, mobilization of participants for action and operation of social control, take into account a vast range of scenarios that may result in collective behavior such as social movements. While value-added theory explains all types of collective behavior, value-added theory is particularly suited to analyzing and possibly predicting collective hostile outbursts. Hostile outbursts, a form of collective action often a precursor to social movement, refer to the act of mobilization for action under a hostile belief. The spread of hostile outbursts is understood in two main ways: real and derived phases.

• The real phase of a collective hostile outburst forms in response to the accumulation of unfavorable conditions prior to the beginning of the hostile outburst.

• The derived phase of a collective hostile outburst includes a divide between the hostility and the conditions that caused the outburst (Lewis, 1972).


Neil Smelser (1930–) developed value-added theory, also referred to as social strain theory, in the 1960s in response to the belief that all social movements form in the same way. Over the course of his career, Smelser has served as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, president of the American Sociological Association, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. Smelser disagreed with the notion that social movements have a predetermined life cycle or stages through which each social movement will move. Smelser, mentored by Talcott Parsons, is a sociologist of collective behavior, social change, and social movements. Smelser's best-known works include the following: Economy and Society (1956); Social Change in the Industrial Revolution (1959); Theory of Collective Behavior (1962); The Sociology of Economic Life (1962, 1973); Essays in Sociological Explanation (1968); Comparative Methods in the Social Sciences (1976); Social Paralysis and Social Change (1991); Social Change and Modernity (1992); and Diversity and Its Discontents (1999).

Smelser based his value-added theory of collective behavior on the belief that collective behavior and social movements occur when feelings of deprivation and strain are created by a culture in contact with a more dominant culture. Smelser viewed social movements, particularly revitalization movements, as an adaptive response to feelings of economic deprivation and social strain. Smelser based his value-added theory of collective behavior, which posits that social movements result from a lack of social integration, on the works of Talcott Parsons and Emile Durkheim. Smelser developed his value-added theory of collective action in response to and opposition to the solidarity theory of collective behavior which argues that solidarity and organization (rather than disorganization) facilitate and promote the development of social movements. Ultimately, Smelser's value-added theory can be understood as a description of the specification of conditions necessary for deprivation, strain, and grievance to cause collective episodes (Knottnerus, 1983).

Value-added theory, like other psychological theories of collective identity and collective action, argues that social movements...

(The entire section is 3780 words.)