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Do social movements start out as deviant behavior and then develop into societal change? Use a current example.

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It is generally true that social movements start out as deviant behavior. The difficulty in selecting a current example is that these movements take some time to develop into societal change. One of the most recent such movements, for instance, is Extinction Rebellion, founded in 2018 to address the issues of climate change, ecological collapse, and biodiversity loss. Extinction Rebellion protesters have been widely criticized for their tactics, which include spraying government buildings with fake blood and sabotaging public transport systems in London and New York, sometimes by gluing themselves to subway trains. The tactics of Extinction Rebellion certainly classify as deviant behavior and often break the law. However, we have yet to see whether they will be successful in creating societal change.

The actions a society considers deviant shift over time. When a movement has been successful in creating societal change, it is likely that at least some of the behavior involved in its activism will cease to be considered deviant. The most obvious examples are the campaigns for women's suffrage and the civil rights movement. Rosa Parks's refusal to give up her seat on a bus for a white person now seems perfectly reasonable to everyone. However, some of the more extreme and violent tactics espoused by the Black Power Movement, for instance, would still be regarded as deviant, despite the justice of their cause.

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I am not entirely sure how “current” the example must be, given that this question has been categorized under the history section, so I will use one from the twentieth century. In 1917, revolutionary activists overthrew the Romanov dynasty in Russia, precipitating the Russian Revolution and a social movement that would have profound social and ideological consequences. I can think of no better example of a social movement that started off as deviant behavior only to later become a full-fledged revolution directed at instigating a regime change.

Throughout the late 1800s, many educated members of Russian society, known collectively as the intelligentsia, were dissatisfied with the conditions of the Russian economy, industry, and society, all of which resulted from the Great Reforms of Alexander II in 1861. New revolutionary “parties,” which until 1905 were little more than conspiracy groups, included the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Cadets, and Socialist Revolutionaries. Some members of these underground radical parties, not satisfied to wait for reform through legislative means, engaged in acts of political terrorism and actually succeeded in assassinating a number of high-ranking members of the bureaucracy (including Alexander II himself in 1881). The 1905 Revolution in Russia saw many of these parties become legally recognized and given seats in the new state congress—the Duma—but animosity still existed between the tsar and his sympathizers and the advocates of a workers’ revolution.

The secretive activities of these radical revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries chief among them, started off as small groups of political extremists engaging in what you have here called “deviant behavior.” However, the mass destruction, political instability, and dislocation occasioned by the outbreak of the First World War proved too much for the Romanov regime to handle, and in February of 1917, these political deviants successfully overthrew the government. From that point forward, these former extremists became the leaders of a new, legitimate social movement. First, from February to October, the Cadets were in charge, until the Bolsheviks seized power from them in the October Revolution and successfully constructed the first socialist state in history.

By using the Russian Revolution as a titular example, I would say that, yes, in some cases, initially deviant behavior can develop and mature into fully fleshed out social movements. Although the history is quite different, one might argue that this general observation could be made of the French and American Revolutions as well: a small group of political dissidents eventually took power through means of a legitimized social movement. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, and in general, if you are going to try to make this sort of argument, you need to be clear about the details and who is taking what action.

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