Social Movement Theory: Resource Mobilization Theory
Resource mobilization theory argues that social movements succeed through the effective mobilization of resources and the development of political opportunities for members. This article will focus on resource mobilization theory and provide an analysis of the history, applications, and strengths and weaknesses of the theory. An overview of the origins and main principles of resource mobilization theory is included. The application of resource mobilization theory to social movement formation is discussed. The main criticisms of the resource mobilization theory are also explored.
Keywords Action Mobilization; Collective Identity; Conscience Constituents; Consensus Mobilization; Frame; Mass Media; Mass Society Theory; Relative Deprivation Theory; Resource Mobilization Theory; Social Mobilization; Social Movement Theory; Society
The term social movement refers to a deliberate, voluntary effort to organize individuals to act in concert to achieve enough group influence to make or block changes. Social movements are power-oriented groups rather than participation-oriented movements, meaning that the group actions of social movements are not necessarily of primary benefit to individual members, but instead serve the groups' larger goals. Thus, coordinated group actions are undertaken to make changes in the larger socio-political context. Social movements tend to be most successful in open, democratic societies in which social mobility and social change are accepted concepts. Norm-oriented social movements, which are groups that attempt to make changes within a social system, are more common than value-oriented social movements, which seek to change the fundamental goals of a social system (Morrison, 1971).
Resource mobilization theory is one means sociologists use to explain the characters and outcomes of social movements. Understanding the principles, applications, and strengths and weaknesses of resource mobilization theory is vital background for all those interested in the sociology of social movements. This article explains resource mobilization theory in three distinct parts: an overview of the main principles and origins of resource mobilization theory; a description of how resource mobilization theory is applied to analyze and understand the character and success of social movements; and a discussion of the main criticisms of resource mobilization theory.
The Basics of Resource Mobilization Theory
The resource mobilization theory of social movements holds that a social movement arises from long-term changes in a group's organization, available resources, and opportunities for group action. Resource mobilization theory has five main principles (Jenkins, 1983):
- The actions of social movement's members and participants are rational.
- A social movement's actions are strongly influenced by institutionalized power imbalances and conflicts of interest.
- These power imbalances and conflicts of interest are sufficient to generate grievances that lead to the mobilization of social movement's intent on changing the distribution of resources and organization.
- Centralized and formally structured social movements more effectively mobilize resources and achieve goals of change than decentralized and informal social movements.
- The success of social movements is heavily influenced by group strategy and the political climate.
The resource mobilization theory of social movements examines structural factors, including a group's available resources and the position of group members in socio-political networks, to analyze the character and success of social movements. According to resource mobilization theory, participation in social movements is a rational behavior, based on an individual's conclusions about the costs and benefits of participation, rather than one born of a psychological predisposition to marginality and discontent (Klandermans, 1984).
The resource mobilization theory of social movements is used to explain how social movements since the 1950s have evolved from classical social movements, which are characterized by local leadership, volunteer staff, collective actions, large membership, and resources donated from direct beneficiaries; to professional social movements, which characterized by professional leadership, paid staff, informal membership, resources donated from outside the movement, and actions that represent the movement but do not require member participation. Resource mobilization theory of social movements explains how social movements mobilize resources, from inside and outside their movement, to reach goals (Jenkins, 1983).
Resource mobilization theory argues that social movements succeed through the effective mobilization of resources and the development of political opportunities for members. Social movements can mobilize both material and non-material resources. Material resources include money, organizations, manpower, technology, means of communication, and mass media, while non-material resources include legitimacy, loyalty, social relationships, networks, personal connections, public attention, authority, moral commitment, and solidarity (Fuchs, 2006).
Resource mobilization theory holds that social movement organizations with powerless or resource-poor beneficiaries require outside support and funding. There are two types of members belonging to social movement organizations: conscience constituents and beneficiary constituents. Social movements often seek out and receive resources from conscience constituents. Conscience constituents refer to individuals or groups outside of the social movement who have a moral alliance with the social movement's cause, goal, or mission. The social movement and the mass media are responsible for framing the social movement's message and character. Resource mobilization theorists have found that conscience constituents tend to contribute more when beneficiaries are framed, by the social movement itself or mass media, to emphasize commonalities with conscience constituents (Paulsen & Glumm, 1995).
Ultimately, the resource mobilization theory of social movements helps to explain the formation of social movements, the process of social mobilization, and the politics of social movements. The connections between resource mobilization theory and the formation of social movements, the process of social mobilization, and the politics of social movements will be addressed below.
The Formation of Social Movements
Resource mobilization theorists analyze why social movements form. Traditional theories of social movements argue that social movements form from the personal grievances that arise from structural and social change. In contrast, resource mobilization theory argues that social movements arise from the long-term changes in group resources, organization, and collective action opportunities. The entrepreneurial theory of social movements, a sub-theory of resource mobilization, argues that the major factor in the formation of social movements is the availability of resources, not personal grievance. Support for the entrepreneurial theory of social movements was garnered from studies of public interest movements of the 1970s. Public interest movements, including the environmental movement, anti-nuclear movement, and consumer-safety movement, were found to be initiated by public-minded entrepreneurs rather than individuals motivated by grievance, alienation, or discontent. Numerous resources, such as the welfare movement, farm worker movement, and Civil Rights Movements, have benefited from the direction of entrepreneurial leadership (Jenkins, 1983).
Social mobilization refers to the process of persuading people to join and support a social movement organization, whether it is through material and non-material means. Social mobilization involves two steps: consensus mobilization and action mobilization. Consensus mobilization refers to the process by which a social movement organization attempts...
(The entire section is 3748 words.)