Social movements are groups of people who come together because they share common interests in shaping social change. It may also refer to large groups of people who seek to achieve, or block, a process of social change through action in an informal way or disregard of established institutions. These groups are not necessarily formally organized. They may work separately for a common agenda. They may be composed of an alliance of individuals or organizations that are against a given social order. Social movements have a link with given political, social and democratic issues (Giddens et el.).
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There are different theoretical approaches that explain the rise of social movements. Social movements may arise due to the feelings of discontent, desires for a change from the status quo, or even yearnings for change for the sake of change. Sociologists’ theories compare differently on their explanation on the formation of social movements. Changes in social policy and structures may be caused when individuals and groups of people surpass ancient confines. Social movements impact public opinion even when they prove initially unsuccessful. For instance, people became skeptical on Margaret Sanger’s efforts for adoption of birth control during the initial days. However, contraceptive products have become acceptable and popular among the people in America today.
Economic deprivation theory discusses that social movements occur when members of a society get unhappy with their economic situation. Sociologists have explained that people's perceptions of their economic conditions may trigger the formation of a social movement. An economically deprived group may feel unhappy, because they realize that they are less privileged than other groups. For example, a lower class neighborhood may feel relatively deprived when they compare their status to that of upper-class neighborhoods. This can trigger discontent among the low-class members. This discontent translates into a social movement when the deprived members start to feel that they should have more privileges than the ones they enjoy. Therefore, the deprived group concludes that it cannot attain its goals through formal method. The group organizes a social movement to undertake collective action. This theory is similar to the structural-strain theory, because they both emanate from the perception that the society has problems. The structural strain theory discusses that the status of deprivation in the society leads to structural conduciveness. It is important to mention that just like the economic deprivation theory they are experiencing. These lead to tensions that produce conflicting interests in the society. The civil rights movement is an example of a social movement that arose as a result of economic deprivation and structural-strain theories in the society. The landless people movement in South Africa also emerged as a result of structural strain and economic deprivation perspectives (Giddens et el.).
The resource mobilization theoretical approach is similar to the feminist movement perspective. Resource mobilization theory discusses that social movements are formed when a charismatic leader inspires members of a society. The leader must be able to mobilize resources for a given cause. The necessary resources for mobilizing members into a social movement include knowledge, money, media, labor, solidarity, opportunity, legitimacy and support from the elite. It points out that social movements are rational responses to new situations and prospects in the social order. The perception of movements is that they are creative customs of political involvement. They generate and tap new political assets available in contemporary autonomous civilizations. In similarity, the feminist movements emerge as a result of desire for gender equality. For example, feminist groups started when women realized that in order to change society they would require their own movements. Gender activists mobilized them together on a range of issues. New York Radical Women Organization from 1968 is an example of a social movement formed as a feminist alliance. The Al Qaeda can also be viewed as a social movement that has developed due to resource mobilization theory. These feminist and resource-mobilized alliances are similar, because they may require their members to act in conforming traits. For instance, members may have common dress code, refuse given products, pay fees, join demonstrations or rallies, employ new members, as well as use certain language.
The theory of globalization and field of action perspectives exhibit similarities in that they both refer to an arena as a catalyst for the formation of social movements. The field of action theory postulates that social movements rise due to the existence of a platform where issues can be articulated, ideas developed and society empowered. In similarity, globalization denotes that social movements have risen as a result of globalization in the world. There is intense scrutiny of issues through massive and highly mediated world summits. This has led to opinionated alliances that articulate their desired order. For example, Anti-Nuclear movement, Environmental Conservation groups and Animal Rights Societies are social movements that can be traced to globalization and field of action theoretical perspectives (Habermas). However, these theoretical perspectives are distinct in various ways. For example, the economic deprivation and structural strain theory postulate of a status of deprivation and discontent in the society, by contrast, the resource mobilization and feminist movements discuss a strong desire for change from the status quo through charismatic leaders. The economic deprivation, structural-strain, feminist movement, globalization and resource mobilization theories are in complete contrast to the new paradigm of formation of social movements as a result of technological innovations. For example, social media technology has led to revolution movements in Islamic states such as Egypt and Tunisia. Moreover, social movements in these states can be highly attributed to technology rather than other theories.
In conclusion, there are different perspectives of theories that explain the formation of social movement. However, common premises underline these theories. For instance, discontent on the existing social order, shared problems, mobilization and a desire for change trigger social movements. These can be noted as the main factors, which underscore the formation of social movement.
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