Types of Social Movements
Social movements refer to deliberate voluntary efforts to organize individuals to act in concert and thereby achieve a strong enough group influence to make or block changes. This article provides an analysis of the main typologies of social movements, including the alternative, redemptive, reformative, and revolutionary social movement models; the traditional social movements versus new social movements model; and the economic classification of social movements model. A discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of prominent social movement typologies is included.
Keywords Alternative Movements; Collective Action; Collective Identity; New Social Movements; Post-Industrial Society; Redemptive Movements; Reformative Movements; Resource Mobilization Theory; Social Movement Theory; Traditional Social Movements; Transformative Movements
The following is an analysis of typologies of social movements. Sociologists use a wide range of measures, variables, and indices to classify social movements in order to facilitate comparisons. Understanding the main types of social movements is vital background for all those interested in the sociology of collective action. This article explores the classification of social movements in three parts:
- An overview of social movement theory and social movement typologies;
- A description of the main typologies of social movements, including the alternative, redemptive, reformative, and revolutionary social movement model, the traditional social movements versus new social movements model, and the economic classification of social movements model; and
- A discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of prominent social movement typologies.
The History of Social Movement Theory
Social movements refer to deliberate voluntary efforts to organize individuals to act in concert and thereby achieve a strong enough group influence to make or block changes. Sociologists consider social movements to be power-oriented groups rather than participation-oriented movements. This distinction means that the collective actions of social movements are not necessarily of primary benefit to individual members, but instead are rather in service to the groups' larger goals. Coordinated group actions are undertaken to make changes in the larger sociopolitical context. Social movements tend to be most successful in open, democratic societies in which social mobility and social change are accepted concepts. In post-industrial societies, norm-oriented social movements are more common than value-oriented social movements. Norm-oriented movements refer to groups that attempt changes within the system. Value-oriented movements refer to groups that attempt to change the basic goals of a system (Morrison, 1971).
Sociologist Lorenz von Stein first introduced the term "social movement" in his book The History of the French Social Movement from 1789 to the Present (1850). Lorenz von Stein, who is known for his concern with class struggle, developed his concept of social movements from his analysis of mid-nineteenth-century bourgeois-industrial society (Kastner, 1981). During that time, social movements (complete with collective identity, press attention, leadership, membership, and collective action) became popular in Europe and North America. The Industrial Revolution, which spread capital and people quickly across geographic regions, created great changes in political, social, and work environments during this period. Early social movements included labor unions and worker collectives. Following World War II, social movements grew more from concerns about social inequalities and environmental degradation than labor or work concerns.
Social movement theory, which proposes that social movements are, in many instances, created through the use and manipulation of frames, resources, and information, emerged in the late nineteenth century. The interdisciplinary history of social movement theory includes six main areas of study:
- New social movement theory,
- Value-added theory,
- Structural-strain theory,
- Relative deprivation theory,
- Resource mobilization theory, and
- Mass society theory.
Social movement theory refers to the study of social mobilization including its social, cultural, and political manifestations and consequences. Contemporary social movement scholarship is often motivated by a desire for social change and may integrate scholarship and activism (Benford & Snow, 2000). Prominent typologies of social movements, described in detail in the next section, include the alternative, redemptive, reformative, and revolutionary social movement model; the traditional social movements versus new social movements model; and the economic classification of social movements model.
Typologies of Social Movements
Social scientists classify social movements based on numerous criteria, including their scope, chronology, geographical focus, strategies, targets, goals, economic resources, and membership characteristics. Typologies of social movements tend to reflect the trends and concerns of social science thought at the time they were developed. For example, the traditional versus new social movement model emerged in the 1950s and 1960s as a means of explaining how new movements were distinct from those that came before. Social science research of the era confirmed and reflected the radical social changes (achieved by the civil rights movement, feminist movement, etc.) occurring in society. The three typologies of social movements described below, reflect sociology's nuanced study and classification of social movements over the twentieth century.
The Alternative, Redemptive, Reformative, and Revolutionary Model
Anthropologist David Aberle, in his book The Peyote Religion among the Navaho, introduced a typology of social movements referred to as the alternative, redemptive, reformative, and revolutionary model (1966). Aberle's model remains one of the most influential social movement classification systems.
According to Aberle, social movements may be classified by reference to two dimensions: locus of the change sought and the amount of change sought. The locus of change sought refers to the level or extent of change the social movement is seeking. For example, a social movement may work to change individuals, as seen in Alcoholics Anonymous, or work to change the larger society by changing the economic order, the technological order, the political order, or the law. The amount of change desired by a social movement may be partial or total. For example, the civil rights movement desires desegregation and equal rights across society, while labor movements tend to work for change in specific businesses and industries.
Aberle's social movement classification scheme can be used to evaluate the target population and scope of most any social movement. For example, numerous sociologists have used Aberle's typology to study and classify religious movements such as Buddhism, Christianity (including mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical faiths), Judaism, Islam, Shamanism, Native American belief, African Yoruba, Kabbalah, and Sufism (Masuda, 1998). The four types of movements described below (i.e., alternative, redemptive, reformative, and revolutionary social movements) describe the vast majority of nineteenth- and twentieth-century social movements:
- Transformative Movements: Transformative movements, such as radical political groups, work for total or complete structural change. They may participate in violent action to achieve change and may anticipate the coming of a cataclysmic change (Almanza-Alcalde, 2005). For example, the Christian Identity movement, a movement of "extremely conservative Christian churches and religious organizations and extreme right wing political groups and survival groups" (Robinson, 2006, para. 3), is united by a belief in some form of white supremacy and Armageddon. Armageddon generally refers to the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ. In the late 1990s, the Christian Identity movement was estimated to have 50,000 followers in dozens of sects. The largest and most well-known Christian Identity movement has historically been the Ku Klux Klan (Robinson, 2006).
- Reformative Movements: Reformative movements work to create partial societal change in order to address injustices and inequalities. Reformative movements tend to have as their stated goal a desire to foster and promote positive change and achieve a just social order. Reformative movements tend to be single-issue movements. In many instances, the single issue will become a starting point for a larger platform of change and social restructuring. For example, political reformative movements have begun working to reduce the external debt of poor countries and, once successful, branch out to change the world trade rules (Almanza-Alcalde, 2005). Fred Voget, cultural anthropologist and American Indian ethnologist, first used the term...
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