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Social Movements

  Social movement is a term used by political theorists and sociologists to describe various forms of collective action aimed at accomplishing or blocking social change within a society.

There are considerable variations between social movements. Many social movements are very small, amounting to no more than a few dozen members, and others might incorporate thousands, even millions, of people. Some movements carry on their activities within the framework of the law of the society in which they operate, others function as illegal or underground groups. In general, however, they tend to be loosely organized and operate outside of the established political framework of a society.

Social movements are usually distinct from formally organized political parties or pressure groups. Although they may have links with political parties, and they can, in time, go on to form a political party. Thus the distinction between the two can become blurred. Social movements can gradually become formal organizations. The Salvation Army in the UK, for example, began as a social movement but has now taken on the characteristics of a more permanent organization.

Sociologists distinguish four main types of social movements: (1) Transformative movements are directed at far-reaching social changes of the societies of which they are a part. (2) Reformative movements have limited objectives aspiring to alter only certain aspects of the existing society. They may focus on a specific type of injustice or inequality. (3) Redemptive movements are concerned to rescue people from a life they see as corrupting. Many religious movements belong to this category. (4) Alternative movements aim at securing partial change in individuals. A good example of a movement of this type is Alcoholics Anonymous.

Sociological research on social movements has tended to focus on the social and psychological characteristics of their participants, the relations between the leaders and the led, and the social and political outcomes of their activities.

An example of a social movement that has been influential over the last few decades is the Women\'s Movement. The Women\'s Movement has not only provided subject matter for sociologists to study, but it has also changed the ways in which sociologists think about certain areas of social behaviour and identified weaknesses in established frameworks of sociological thought. The feminist movement is a good example of the ways in which social movements can help to bring about social change. DA

See also collective behaviour; feminism; legitimation; religion; sectarianism.Further reading A. Giddens, The Nation State and Violence; , N.J. Smelser, Theory of Collective Behaviour; , J. Wilson, Introduction to Social Movements.



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