What are the differences between pressure groups and social movements?
Pressure groups seek to influence policy or public bodies. Usually they arise as the result of a social movement.
A pressure group is an organization which seeks as one of its functions to influence the formulation and implementation of public policy’ (Grant 2000) or
‘The field of organized groups possessing both formal structure and real common interests in so far as they influence the decisions of public bodies’ (W J M Mackenzie)
Unlike social movements, pressure groups usually have a single issue. Pressure groups are also more likely to be organised (formally) and have (registered) members. Social movements, on the other hand, tend to have 'supporters'.
Examples of social movements include the women's and youth movements. These aim to change, or raise awareness, of the social order. Out of these groups, particular issues may arise that require political (rather than social) change. Pressure groups then form from especially passionate members of the social group. These pressure groups would then use political strategies in order to gain new or modified legislation on one issue.
In this way, social groups (i.e. Amnesty International), might support, provide members or resources for, several pressure groups. Each targeting a specific government on a specific issue.
Pressure groups (or interest groups) and social movements are hard to distinguish from one another. They have a lot of similarities. The difference, though, is that an interest group is generally more of a "mainstream" group that tries to influence the government in conventional ways. By contrast, a social movement is usually more of an "outsider" group that has to resort to unconventional ways of getting its point across.
Interest groups can include groups like the Chamber of Commerce or an interest group in favor of closer ties with Israel. These groups have power and act by giving campaign donations to politicians, helping them write legislation, and other such "inside" tactics.
By contrast, social movements start out as outsider movements like the Civil Rights Movement. These movements lack the ability to do "insider" things and therefore resort to things like protests.
Wilson (1990) defines pressure or interest groups as: “Organizations, separate from government, that attempt to influence public policy implementation or changes.” Pressure groups represent the interest of particular sections of society. These organizations use their societal influence to "pressure" the government into passing and amending public policies and government decisions to suit the sections of society that they represent. The influence of pressure groups on government can be direct or indirect. Simply, pressure groups are usually formal, have a set agenda and lookout for the benefit of their cause and members.
Social movements, on the other hand, are prolonged informal campaigns without the typical rules and procedures of an organization that seek to prevent policy changes or implement new policies for the protection of social traditions/customs or because of moral and ethic values. Simply, social movements are informal, just groups of people with similar social views that lookout for the greater good of the whole society.