April 22, 2010

On social movements

For my thesis I have been doing reading in social movements and different models of explaining what makes it probable that a common social or political interest transforms into a wave of activity from people with different backgrounds. So to give you a snippet of what I am up to these days, here are some of the ideas I have come across:

Some researchers think it's social structure that has the most influence on whether a movement takes off. Think of a society with a lot of young academic people when a lot of structural change is going on. People moving to the cities, new industries growing and modernizing media can all contribute to the surge of movements because change is 'in the air'.
Then there are constructivists that say it's all about how you frame the situation to help a movement grow. If you find a way to credibly explain to the public that the circumstances they are living in are unjust and inacceptable, that there is a certain reason for it and that you know how it can all be helped, over time you are sure to find followers.
And some say that it's all a matter of how the political opportunities are structured. Different authors lay emphasis on what has the most influence, but overall they consider the political system (democratic, open or closed, pluralistic or not) and how well you are connected to the people in power as crucial factors.

For my paper I am focusing on what the internet has changed or is going to change with respect to how a movement is created. More and more people are informed and connected to the neverending stream of information. I myself feed it with this post. Does it make a real difference, except that some things go faster than before? Is the internet actually furthering democracy? Well, if I had the answers to those questions yet, I would probably not be posting it here first, but I might let you know as soon as I have more insights to offer :)

So I will leave you with your own thoughts and a short and interesting video to illustrate what makes a movement from the most practical perspective :)


Sebastian said...

This is a nice post! I also like the video, but it would be nice to know more about how movements are kept alive. Is it still through new participants? Or do we not need to keep them alive and instead we channel the energy into a new movement?

Robert said...

Thanks :) I guess there is one way that the movements of the 70s and 80s survived in a way, which is institutionalizing them, in the form of NGOs, or political parties. That is how the greens in Germany were founded, as a result of the ecological movement and the anti-nuclear movement. So I guess the cause lives on in another form and movements are always something temporary. What do you think?