Social Movement Theories and Resources

Social Movement Theory, Resource Mobilization Theory, Political Process Theory, Diffusion Theory, Impact Theory and the Generational Approach are some of the ways academics analyze what starts and ends an uprising for social change. Each theory builds on a deficiency of the previous theory so together they identify the pertinent resources that enable a movement to succeed. Resources for revolutionaries include mass discontent with injustice, emotional involvement, access to material resources like money for publicity and access to ICT to educate and motivate groups in other countries as well as nationally, political weaknesses in the ruling elite, and cultural resources such as generational solidarity. Some scholars focus on what causes change in people’s lives and identities to motivate their activism and others are interested in why a movement is successful and the impact of social change (Impact Theory), as outlined below.

One of the earliest and longest lasting and most widely read social movement analyses is the Communist Manifesto (1848). The old theory of the dialectical process applies to current youth revolutions. Frederick Engels and Karl Marx developed Freidrich Hegel’s idea of the historical process in the 19th century. Marxists drew on Hegel’s view of history as a dialectic, adding materialism, to say that A is opposed by B, which results in the synthesis of C, specifically materialist class struggle drives social movements and historic change. In the youth revolutions beginning with the Arab Spring, the thesis was educated youth want jobs, civil rights, dignity and a middle-class lifestyle. The antithesis or contradiction was old dictators in power for decades with neoliberal economic policies and high youth unemployment rates who planned to pass power on to their sons. The contrast between middle-class Arab youths’ freedom to virtual spaces and political restrictions was heightened by global media’s discussion of civil rights and individual right to expression. When opposing forces are intense, it just takes a spark to set off change, like the actual fire of a self-immolation in Tunisia, providing it’s widely publicized.

The synthesis is a gradual movement towards more democracy and free elections and unwillingness to be silently passive. Other early analysts included Vladmir Lenin (the importance of a vanguard to lead the revolution), Mahatma Gandhi (soul force, non-violence and economic boycotts), Saul Alinsky (effective communication as defined in his Rules for Radicals in 1971) and Martin Luther King, Jr. (applied Gandhi’s tactics). German authors Luther Blissett and Sonja Brünzels wrote the Guerrilla Communications Handbook in 1997, including street theater, pie throwing, graffiti, and hacktivism.

The Marxist emphasis on class is still a pertinent lens; for example, what Turkey, Tunisia, Chile, and Brazil have in common besides uprisings is they have a growing middle class which aspires to more public services than the government provides and students face dismal economic futures, not even able to afford their own housing independent of their parents.

A theory of gradual change was developed in 1992 when UNICEF Director James P. Grant wanted to learn how to take small successful pilot projects (seeds) to the national level (scale). The SEED-SCALE finding was that deep change occurs because of what people think and do, not just because of economic conditions and what is given to them from above. As quality of life improves, more people are drawn to participate and a new program expands from the bottom up. The Arab Spring did grow from the bottom up without large national organizations or political parties, as when various Facebook pages and Tweets called for demonstrations against a dictator. They claimed the movement had no leaders except the Tunisian example.

In thinking about how social change occurs, European sociologists were likely to use a structural or class approach when they examined how social problems transform into social movements. For example, British sociologists of youth culture focused on working class “lads,” using the Marxist emphasis on class: Cultural Studies of youth culture at the University of Birmingham began in 1964. This study evolved into a focus on youth media—music and fashion, as in the study of Japanese “cute culture” in the 1980s or how British and American punks transformed ordinary objects like the safety pin into new styles of adornment (using bricolage to assemble new styles and identities).

Since the late 1990s, Political Process Theory (PPT) researchers have studied international protest movements such as the alterglobalization and environmental movements. A major impetus for transnational activism (according to “network theory”) is repression of dissent on the national level, therefore activists look for support outside their countries. By sharing information they create a “boomerang effect” of support. Their tactics often include: providing information about political issues or “cognitive frames” to sell their message using symbols and stories to sway people, calling on leverage from powerful actors, and holding leaders accountable.[i] What determines success of a global movement is the strength of protest networks, the weakness of opponents, and broad public support, according to political scientists Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink in Activists Beyond Borders (1998). They found the issues most likely to get popular support are equal opportunity and violence against defenseless people such as child soldiers or domestic violence. The main obstacle to a social movement’s success is national government, as would be predicted by PPT.

Advocacy networks can exchange information with thousands of international NGOs, some of them addressing youth issues. However, NGOs work on projects rather than movements. They may use the language of the anti-capitalist left, as in “empowerment,” “gender quality,” and “bottom-up leadership,” but they usually don’t try to change the basic structures because they rely on funding from donors.[ii] The Internet’s cyperactivism provides international support for groups like the Zapatistas and anti-GMO movements, alternative media as on YouTube, hactivism (e.g., revealing Nation Security Administration secret documents or denial of service to punish a corporation), and culture jamming. It gives new meaning to corporate advertising such as “spoof sites” like that appeared to feature Victoria’s Secret underwear printed with anti-rape slogans advocating consent, created by a feminist group). Internet Studies developed around 1999 as an academic discipline.

In the only book specifically about youth’s role in a Middle East uprising, Mozambican scholar Alcinda Honwana analyzed the Tunisian youth movement that displaced dictator Ben Ali.[iii] She maintains that the research on social movements that began nearly a century ago is biased towards Western Europe and North America, with some research on South America. Also, studies of non-violent movements have neglected Africa with the possible exception of South Africa. (A paper on theory of nonviolent actions calls for a new theory about techniques of nonviolent action.[iv]) Honwana reported that In the Global South, movements are more interested in jobs than human rights.

Since the 1990s North Americans were interested in what makes a movement succeed, using Resource Mobilization (RM) and Political Process (PP) models that looked at the structure and organization of movements. RM developed in the 1970s to analyze costs and benefits of participation, criticized for not explaining the loose networks used in recent movements and not giving enough attention to emotions and beliefs of activists. This deficit was corrected by Framing Theory that studies how social psychology and ideology influence our decisions. Applying PP to the Tunisian movement, as to why Ben Ali couldn’t maintain power, Honwana points to economic crisis, unemployment especially of young college graduates, and splintering of the elites, plus widespread anger over police violence and censorship. At the funeral of the Tunisian vendor who set himself on fire to protest corruption, 5,000 angry marchers chanted, “Farewell, Mohamed, we will avenge you. We weep for you today, but we will make those who caused your death weep.” In terms of framing the uprising to get mass support, the demand “Ben Ali leave” had broad appeal. But she finds PP limited because youth aren’t involved in the old political process; they’re making a new politics outside of political parties. She concluded that Social Movement Theory hasn’t looked closely at post-revolutionary governments that are developing a new form of politics and, with a few exceptions, “these theories have failed to take account Southern realities.”

Globalization research focused on how globalization disempowers youth, as by dangling consumerism in front of poor young people or erodes local cultures, explains education professor Mica Pollock.[v] To correct this deficiency, she studies transnational youth activism as a political phenomenon. Pollock leads an international ethnographic research project titled “Global Youth/Global Justice.” She’s studying how young people consciously use international partnerships to solve social problems, pointing out that “researchers have yet to focus on how young people. . . may be disproportionate participants” in peaceful transnational activism. Researchers and the media also often ignore nonviolent tactics, as youth who throw rocks and break windows get more attention. Pollock gives the example of the International Solidarity Movement for Palestinian nonviolent civil disobedience that began in 2001. The thousands of international participants are mostly young, white, middle-class North Americans and Europeans. They see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as their responsibility, a global social justice problem. They do consensus decision-making in “self-consciously informal and anti-hierarchal” small affinity groups. Young Palestinians use other nonviolent resistances such as flying kites or going to school during curfew and “The Electronic Intifada” about life under occupation.


The New Social Movements

Theories evolve in reaction to deficiencies in previous theories. Movements in the past often used formal political channels like political parties or labor unions or formed hierarchical organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Organization for Women, while contemporary youth activists often dismiss these organizations as unresponsive and hierarchical as in the Third Wave of US feminism. Instead youth organize quickly using electronic media to share information and support globally. Not affiliated with political parties or unions, they distrust doctrinaire ideologies. Some label this approach “anti-politics,” not ideological, or anti-systemic movement, but activists are clear they strive for more equality and that the neoliberal system is the enemy.

During the 1960s academics influenced by European scholars developed the New Social Movements approach (NSM) recognizing decentralized and democratic forms of organizing. They realized that current movements in post-industrial economies are different than the labor movements of the past that focused on working class struggle for wages. The rise of the well-educated middle class involves new multiple identities—gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, and class. Previously, issues other than class were dismissed as bourgeois by leftists. Scholars of the NSMs respected the new movements of the 60s, especially since some had participated in them. This view contrasted with earlier mass society theory that looked at the rise of fascist movements, including Hitler Youth in the 1930s, as deviance.

The “post-material” approach to studying progressive movements that developed in the 1960s and 70s considers not just one category such as class or anti-imperialism, but multiple identities as explored by feminists, GLBT, anti-racist and other new movements in “dynamic interaction.” Political scientist Ronald Inglehart identified post-materialistic (also called post-modern) values as concern about the effects of globalization, the environment and gender equality. Thus, recent goals are social and cultural rather than strictly economic (as explained by Italian Alberto Melucci). They include values such as respect for nature, the women’s movement theme that the personal is political, or gays transforming the word “queer” from a negative to a positive. The personal is political means power isn’t just about government, but about who speaks for how long in meetings, who brings the coffee, what’s defined as heroic in street demonstrations, and daily relationships.

Examples of the new movements with highly involved youth activists include civil rights, feminism, ecology, alterglobalization, anti-war and nuclear movements (in 2011 major anti-nuclear protests occurred in Tokyo and Berlin with over 100,000 in the latter demonstration), and the recent Occupy movements. Country-specific movements include the Abahlai baseMjondolo drive for housing for poor South Africans and Jhola Aandolan in India against plastic bag use along with other Indian environmental and anti-GMO movements.

In the 1960s US youth protest centered on the war in Vietnam, civil rights and feminism. Beginning in the 1980s protests against unemployment and austerity programs were central globally, as mirrored in music such as English bands UB40 (the unemployment form number), The Specials’ song “Ghost Town” warning “the people getting angry,” and Frankie Goes to Hollywood—they distributed a T-shirt with the slogan “Frankie Says Arm the Unemployed.” Anti-globalization demonstrations continued into the next decades, as with protests against the G8 meeting in London in 2007, condemned by Prime Minister Tony Blair as “mindless thuggery.” Sociology professors fault studies of the new transnational organizations such as the alterglobalization movements: “few researchers have investigated actual protest organizations and/or spoken with actual demonstrators.”[vi] These networks formed a new collective identity around social justice and use the Internet in “internetworked” movements that engage in “cyberactiivsm.” The focus on identiy formation is part of NSM theory.

The new movements are interested in human rights and are likely to be composed of loosely organized supporters rather than members of hierarchical organizations with a physical headquarters building. Instead of trying to influence governments they mistrust, they sell their ideas to potential supporters using marketing symbols and techniques like repeating a theme such as “There were no weapons of mass destruction” to oppose the Iraq War. They use disruptive or contentious tactics like demonstrations, marches, and boycotts.

Contemporary post-materialist movements are characterized by new intersecting identities.  Philosopher Judith Butler is a post-structuralist who influenced feminist theory and Queer Theory where young people identify themselves by multiple characteristics such as sexual preference, ethnicity, class, etc. [vii] See her speaking at Occupy Wall Street about demanding the impossible.) Despite the influence of feminist teachings of intersecting identities, many of the recent social movements “fetishise the present” and resist focus on women’s rights, not studying the lessons that could be learned from past feminist struggles.[viii] This lack of historical knowledge “weakens the consolidation of resistance movements against neoliberal capitalist globalization.” The scholars who point out this deficiency in current social movements, blame the marginalization on feminist “tendency to privilege a partial, white, bourgeois, liberal perspective,” post-structural abstraction rather than political action (as in Judith Butler’s post-structural questions, “If there is no subject, who is left to emancipate?”), as well as sexism. They advocate, “the reinvention of feminist praxis in order to move it from the margins of scholarly and political activity to the centre of revolutionary thinking and practice.” Feminist theory exposes the “hidden relations of oppression,” the power structures within and between movements, the focus on the male hero’s direct actions, and what’s left out of social histories such as black women’s role in the US Civil Right Movement. It emphasizes writing about the lives of ordinary women, as in the many anthologies about young women stories or the anthology by Craig Jeffrey and Jane Dyson, eds. Telling Young Lives: Portraits of Global Youth (2008). Building effective alliances “proceeds from the feminist practice of listening closely to and learning from the experiences of others, past and present.” The test of what alliances to make is how a movement responds to sexual violence such as occurred in Occupy camps in the US[ix]; do they blame the victim or the perpetrator?

Culture Theory adds the component of feelings of injustice to analyzing social movements, rather than the focus of rational choices in Resource Mobilization Theory, also considers use of symbols to brand their movements. Scholars recognize the power of emotions like anger in social movements, in addition to structural cracks in the system that creates political opportunities

In a late modernity or post-material era, the constraints of the old social order are loosened, allowing for more choice and freedom in lifestyles. British professor Robert Hollands counters the “dominant theoretical thinking about young people and politics overemphasizes the importance of individualism and ‘lifestyle politics.’” In youth studies, young people are normally “objects” of analysis without the scholar doing participatory research involved with youth. He calls for examination of youth social movements that include the actual words of the young activists. In his article on student occupations of British universities in 2010, Hollands quotes a student called Harry, age 20, who reported that in his experience in school leadership, “adults generally seek to constrain the voice of any youth to within narrow confines and control. . . .” The students he studied critiqued capitalism and engaged in physical occupations of university buildings, not just using the Internet as some accuse them of doing. Two other rare examples are three researchers identified 71 youth involved in local organizing in Chicago, Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro, while 17 activists in their 20s and 30s wrote about their experiences in Voices from the Global Spring.[x]

Youth Studies is represented in The Journal of Youth and Adolescence was first published in 1972, followed by Youth Studies in 1998, the Journal of Youth Studies in 2000, and others.[xi] Youth Studies Australia ceased publication in 2013 but back issues are available. Universities like the University of Minnesota offer a major in Youth Studies, but “youth-centered definitions of their lives remain largely absent. Young people have not been enfranchised by the research conducted on their lives.”[xii] Youth studies has analyzed developmental stages in the transition to adulthood, surfacing in the more recent concept of “emerging adulthood,” as young people delay marriage and careers.

The Positive Youth Development movement counters the old emphasis on youth deficits and delinquency—mainly teenage boys, with community efforts to provide young people with the skills they need to transition into adult life and prevent risky behaviors. Reflecting psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner’s focus on the ecological system, the adolescent (can be ages 10 to 24) is nurtured in a social context including school and youth organizations. Youth identiy is also shaped by gender, class, ethnicity, sexual prefernce, etc. Australian professor Johanna Wyn advocates for more interest in youth in the context of their family relationships, which was neglected in the focus on development.[xiii]

Since the beginning of the 21st century, youth studies has been interested in transition to adulthood; characteristics of Generations X, Y, and Z; and adolescent brain development causing more risk taking, as seen in Andy Furlong’s Youth Studies: An Introduction (2012). Professor Peter Kelly cautions against the influence of “governmentalised” studies of interest to government departments, corporations and NGOs, who are interested in topics like youth alcohol and drug use.[xiv] A Google search of global youth turns up many studies of youth tobacco use.

In Gramsci Is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements (2006), Canadian sociology and political philosophy professor Richard Day contrasts the older “hegemonic” revolutionary strategies with the new more anarchical forms of organizing. The former relied on authoritarian offensive force led by a vanguard against one basic form of oppression (class) and the national government. The new emphasis is on the “logic of affinity,” as in the global justice movement. The goal is to involve small groups that oppose neoliberalism in setting up small alternative organization without expecting revolution to occur.             Examples of large international groups connected by the Internet are Independent Media Center, Food Not Bombs, and People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights (they all have Facebook pages). An international organization is the World Social Forum, first held in Brazil in 2001 to counter the World Economic Forum and an offshoot of the alterglobaliztion movement. Its purpose is to bring activists together to “discuss and strategize alternatives to capitalism.”[xv] They believe they are the world’s largest gathering of activists and social movements. Photos of recent conferences on the Forumn website, with many young faces. Of course the 2013 international organizing committee received criticism for being too hierarchical, just as every second wave feminist gathering I attended included complaints about exclusion of a group such as lesbians or working class women.

Richard Day says the new approach to changemaking “trusts in non-unified, incoherent, non-hegemonic forces for social change.” Social movements in the 21st century often involve leaderless occupation of a public space, addressing local and national problems as well as the global system of neoliberalism. Youth often engage in prefigurative politics, creating now on a small scale what they envision for future society, such as horizontal organizing based on direct democracy and direct action including creation of free health clinics. What’s different about contemporary activism is its decentralized approach, breaking up into self-organized affinity groups that don’t focus on the state, but forming their own small gardens, independent media, etc., in what Day calls “post-anarchism.” However, Dutch researcher Jerome Roos warns, “We should be careful not to fetishize [a favorite word drawn from Marxism] direct democracy…. We must self-organize, and then push our quest for autonomy outwards to eventually encapsulate all of society.”[xvi]

Other theories were interested in how movements interact with the larger culture and create their internal subcultures with collective identities signified by clothes, work usage, symbols, and action. For example, the culture of the US peace movement of the hippies in the 1960s is well-known: long hair, long dresses and skirts for women, the peace sign, the Volkswagen bus, permissive attitudes toward sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll music–as seen in videos of the Woodstock, New York music festival in 1969. Cultural studies also recognize the importance of emotions such as the common theme of anger about lack of dignity in recent uprisings. In the culture of ore recent youth activists they are likely to wear T-shirts with slogans on them, wear a rubber bracelet signifying a particular cause, flash the V-for-Victory sign with their fingers, listen to hip-hop music, text on their cell phones, and emphasize the power of the people as in “The people want the fall of the regime.”

In their book on Understanding European Movements (2014), editors Cristina Flesher Fominaya and Laurence Cox fault American NSM theory for reducing European social movement theory to “an industry of myth reproduction” without clear intellectual history.[xvii] They critique the above recounting of development of social movement theory as lacking in original research: “It is a tale of the bad old days of collective behaviour theory, followed by the rise of resource mobilization theory, the addition of political opportunity structure, the encounter with (‘European’) ‘new social movement’ theory and the arrival of framing theory.” They maintain it’s erroneous to state that European New Social Movement theory is post-Marxist or post-labor, while it’s accurate to say that new influences were post-structural, psychoanalytical, radical feminist, anarchist, green, anti-authoritarian, etc. They point out that Marxist and socialist feminism is still widely taught in British universities, along with cultural studies and history from below (also called social, people’s and folk history from the point of view of common people rather than elites). This book can be looked at as history from below.

They fault current academic writers for being timid in their politics, in contrast to braver thinkers like Simone de Beauvoir and Herbert Marcuse who were “public intellectuals,” shaped and were shaped by social movements. In addition, current scholars of social movements are criticized for not including the voices of movement participants, “history from below.” These scholars also ignore cultural studies, the local context, and scholars of revolution. In their book the chapter authors analyze how collective identities are constructed and the role of international connections. They suggest “perhaps it is time to break free of the idea that it is necessary to use social movement theory [as currently defined by US scholars] to study movements,” partly because it’s ignored by activists and is expected to gain “institutional legitimacy.” The editors conclude that broader social theory can do a better job of not separating politics and culture and placing movements in their historical setting.

Professor R.C. Smith maintains there’s no theory about current uprisings, so that the most fundamental philosophical challenge of the 21st Century is to articulate a theory that speaks to how to replace contemporary capitalism.[xviii] It would be a “holistic theory of change,” a “non-dormant social system. . .so that systems of direct domination do not historically re-emerge.” This would include theories of horizontality bridged to practical grassroots applications. It can start with Occupy’s revolutionary horizontal practices.


and youth demonstrators in jail, along with Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

A major government resource, police usually succeed in clearing occupations from public spaces albeit after three months, as in Spain, because the government and security forces are a counter resource, the major obstacle to protesters. Also, many young people don’t have access to ICT, depending on their class, race, gender, and location. (The US Global Action Project works with disadvantaged youth to provide them with media skills.) Some call the Arab Spring a middle-class uprising, but activists point out the participation of people they recruited in poor neighborhoods, as in Egypt. (More on the topic of class in the chapters on the Middle East.)

Social Movement Theory (SMT) is a framework used by scholars to understand social change networks. SMT developed in response to the activism of the 1960s in opposition to conservative scholars who viewed some protests as a dangerous form of mass deviance. Resource Mobilization Theory (RMT) concentrates on the dynamics and tactics of how movements intelligently recruit support and resources to achieve their goals through their organizations. It’s associated with American sociologists. It looks at authorities’ tactics used to inhibit social movements as counter-resources or external influences. Grievances always exist, so the question is what generates the will to revolt. RMT resources range from money for public outreach to volunteer labor, shared beliefs in human rights, to knowledge and linkages to other supportive groups and people like celebrities. For example, actor Richard Gere raises awareness about the Tibetan cause and Angelina Jolie draws attention to poverty-stricken children in developing countries. (The Movement Strategy Center provides resources for effective social change such as how to build alliances, including Youth Advocacy and Leadership, as does What Kids Can Do.[xix]) Planning and organization is needed to effectively use potential resources to achieve movement goals. RMT was criticized for not explaining the informal and coalition networks of contemporary social movements, for ignoring the importance of individual identity, emotions and beliefs over rational strategies.

Political Process Theory (PPT), developed by sociologist Doug McAdam in the 1970s, emphasizes political opportunities in the study of social movement resources. For example, the Russian and Chinese revolutions of 1917 and 1948 occurred when the government was weakened by long wars. PPT looks at the tactics protesters use when given the opportunity of elite political weaknesses and division, and how they sell their message to get broad support (“framing” or “social constructionism” using psychology and cultural beliefs to influence potential supporters). PPT studies emotional impetus for protest, such as US anger over the shrinking middle-class and rising debt in Occupy Wall Street. PPT looks at the resources of the state and how they support or oppose a movement, usually with force and propoganda.

A crisis must occur such as a spike in food prices (a material cause), or an ideological cause that causes popular discontent with the state. Governments that are seen as unjust or ineffective lose supporters and can crumble quickly as in the Philippines in 1986, the USSR in 1989, and Tunisia and Egypt in 2011. Even if there are widespread grievances and resources, a political opportunity is necessary to make inroads in the dominant system. PPT has been criticized for ignoring the efficacy or agency of individual activists and, like RMT, not paying enough attention to the impact of culture and beliefs in social movements.

PPT has been the dominant social movement theory for nearly two decades according to Douglas Bevington and Chris Dixon, Ph.D. activists in the global justice and environmental movements.[xx] They pointed out in their 2005 article that although scholars criticize PPT, a satisfying new theory hasn’t been developed, leaving social movement theory in the US in a quagmire. Anything that helps a movement routinely gets classified as a political opportunity indicating a “structural bias.” Some academics limit themselves to narrow case studies to avoid the criticism of PPT being overly general.

The notion of a political generation is another resource, as when a group of like-minded young people who all experienced the fall of the USSR went on to lead uprisings in Serbia, Georgia, and Ukraine. German sociologist Karl Mannheim explained that a generation is uniquely different from its parents’ generation if it has different unifying experiences, such as the large size of the Baby Boomers or Gen Y’s access to ICT. The current generation has experienced environmental crises and terrorist attacks, government cuts to social services, increasing tuition costs and high unemployment. Some sociologists find studying youth as a unique generation is more useful than the focus on youth transition to adulthood, believing that Gen Y won’t grow out of their special characteristics even as they age.

Another resource in all of the uprisings was the public anger generated by police violence so that unarmed Egyptian and Ukrainian youth of both sexes were willing to go in waves to take out snipers shooting from roofs and throw rocks and broken pieces of pavement. Police violence did much to expand the size of demonstrations that convinced the military to stand aside in Tunisia and Egypt, and call in NATO assistance in Libya. Mass defections in Yemen plus armed support by the Hashid tribe for the rebels fragmented the army and ousted President Saleh.

The army’s support or refusal to fire on the crowds was a major resource for uprisings in some countries, just as Gorbachev’s removal of tanks from Eastern Europe in the late 1980s speeded the movements for independence. Antonio Gramsci (Italian Marxist political philosopher, died in 1937) described two kinds of social power, armed forces and the ideology of the ruling class as promulgated in civil society and its various institutions and media. The bottom line of who has power is who has military force or in Gandhi’s case the soul force of millions to boycott British goods and demonstrate against British rule of India. As Don Julio, a veteran of struggle for justice said, “The army is the force that backs governments. In Bolivia, as in many other countries, the army is a caste onto itself, a military caste.” [xxi] Bolivian activists set up protest tents in what they called a wake after the election of a socialist government under Morales because it hasn’t prosecuted those responsible for torture, disappearances, deaths and rapes during the previous dictatorship. Evo Morales, the first indigenous president, is afraid of the army, according to activist Don Julio.

What determines military support is the self-interests of the officers, did they not want to go down with a sinking ship as in Tunisia and Egypt or were they so linked economically and politically with the ruler that they’d fight to the death, as they did in Syria.[xxii] The army in Tunisia and Egypt refused to fire on the masses because the army relies on conscripts who could be your brother or son. When Ben Ali ordered the military to fire on the protesters, the army chief, General Rachid Ammar disobeyed. After Ben Ali left the country, the army proclaimed itself “the guarantor of the revolution.” Ben Ali had kept the military subordinate to his large security forces. The armed forces retreated early in the uprising, handing power to the new Higher Committee to Protect the Goals of the Revolution. If the army had backed Ben Ali, Mubarak, Saleh and Yanukovych, they might still be in power.

Egypt is a police state, but the military had more power than the Interior Ministry’s forces. They weren’t in favor of Mubarak’s plan to make his son Gamel the next ruler and they feared Mubarak was trying to diminish their economic and political power. It’s the tenth-largest military in the world and has huge economic holdings, so the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took over government. The protesters originally thought the people and the military were one hand, but changed their minds when a violent crackdown on Coptic Christian protesters occurred in October 2011 and the military prosecuted over 7,000 civilians in military courts, including journalists and bloggers. This form of “justice” continued.

In Syria, the army felt free to shoot civilians and destroy their homes and demolish their neighborhoods because the ruling power is composed of Alawites aligned with Shiite Muslims while the masses are Sunni. Some Sunni foot soldiers defected, forming the Free Syrian Army, but other Alawites saw their economic interests tied to the regime. As in Libya, the military was not autonomous but controlled by the regime and dominated by members of Asad’s family or tribe. The elite Republican Guard was headed by Bashar’s brother Maher al-Asad. In Bahrain, in response to the rebellion of the Shia majority against the Sunni monarchy, the king calling in troops from Saudi Arabia to crush the uprising. The government even destroyed the Pearl roundabout monument where the people demonstrated. The Gulf Cooperation Council voted to send military forces to Bahrain to crush the revolt. In Libya and Yemen the military was also headed by close relatives and tribal members of the dictator. Tribes have their own militias without loyalty to the nation, a problem still plagues Libya and Yemen.


[i] Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, “Transnational Advocacy Networks in International and Regional Politics,” UNESCO, 1999.

Click to access Keck_and_Sikkink_Transnational_Advocacy.pdf

[ii] Ana Esteves, Sara Motta, and Laurence Cox, eds., “’Civil society’ vs. Social Movements,” Interface, Vol 1, No.2, November 2009, pp. 1-21.

[iii] Alcinda Honwana. Youth and Revolution in Tunisia. Zed Books, 2013 ,Chapter 3.

[iv] Ronald McCarthy and Christopher Kruegler, “Toward Reserach and Theory Building in the Study of Nonviolent Action,” Albert Einstein Institution, 1993.

Click to access TowardResearchandTheoryBuildingintheStudyofNonviolentAction.pdf

[v] Mica Pollock, “Struggling for Solidarity,” Youth Activism Forum, Social Science Research Council,” June 7, 2006.

[vi] Lauren Langman and Douglas Morris, “Internet Mediation: A Theory of Alternative Globalization Movements,” October 12, 2014.


[viii] Sara Motta, Flesher Fominaya, Eschle, and Cox, “Feminism, Women’s Movements and Women in Movement,” Interface, Vol. 3, No. 2, November 2011, p. 2.


[x] Maria De Los Angeles Torres, Irene Rizzini, and Norma Del Rio. Citizens in the Present: Youth Civic Engagement in the Americas. University of Illinois Press, 2013.

Anya Schiffrin and Eamon Kircher-Allen. From Cairo to Wall Street: Voices From the Global Spring. The New Press, 2012.

[xi] Geraldine Pratt and Victoria Rosner, eds. The Global and the Intimate: Feminism in Our Time. Columbia University Press, 2012, p. 3.

[xii] Ibid, p. 21.

[xiii] Johanna Wyn, “The Sociology of Youth,” Youth Studies Australia, 2011, Vol. 30, Issue 3, pp. 34-39.

[xiv] Peter Kelly, “An Untimely Future for Youth Studies,” Youth Studies Australia, 2011, Vol. 30, Issue 3, pp. 47-53.


[xvi] Jerome Roos, “Assemblies Emerging in Turkey: A Lesson in Democracy,” ROAR Magazine, June 19, 2013.

[xvii] Christina Fominaya and Laurence Cox, eds. European Social Movements. Routledge, 22013.

[xviii] R.C. Smith, “In Defense of Occupy’s Politics,” Heathwood Press website, November 15, 2013.


[xx] Douglas Bevington and Chris Dixon, “Movement-Relative Theory,” Social Movement Studies, Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 185-208.

Click to access mrtheory.pdf

[xxi] Leonidas Oikonomakis, “We Made Morales President, But We Were Misled,” ROAR Magazine, February 13, 2014.

[xxii] Akifumi Ikeda,”The Armies in the ‘Arab Spring’,” 2013.

Click to access 201307_mide_04.pdf

Daniel Steiman, “Military Decision-Making During the Arab Spring,” Democracy & Society, May 29, 2012.

Click to access DS.pdf


(i) Mobilization: an international journal

– Semiannual review of research and theory specialising in social and political movements, protest, and other forms of collective action such as strikes, insurrections, and revolutions. Mobilization’s purpose is to provide an international forum for the interchange of different research strategies and theoretical / conceptual approaches in order to encourage cumulative social science.

Two-year subscription (4 issues) costs US$38.50: Visa, MasterCard, check or money order in US dollars to Mobilization, Dept. of Sociology, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA 92182-4423 USA (credit card orders can also be faxed to 619 673 8402 or emailed to; be sure to include your name as it appears on the card, card number, expiration date, mailing address, and amount).

(i) Shifting Ground: new interactive website about social and cultural movements

“Shifting Ground is a new discussion and resource space, where academics and activists interested in new social and cultural movements can communicate with one another, debate about ideas and find relevant materials, information and links. It is an ‘interactive’, website, in the sense that anyone with access to the internet can not only look at what is on the site, using easy-to-use views, keywords and full-text searches, but also submit new items to each of the areas – the Noticeboard, the Resource Area, the Bibliography Area and the Discussion Area – or respond to what is there already.”

(ii) Home page of the new Mobilised Investigation project.

“In the different encounters of social movements that have been held in Europe this summer of 2002, we have met with others that are working with an activist perspective on diverse research projects around social movements. We have recognised ourselves in the other, lonely beings meeting their counterparts, and from shared ideas and feelings has come the initiative to propose a space where we meet.

The idea of this network is to create a (non-physical) space for convergence on an international level and with some ongoing activities like a website and an email list. Within this space we hope an active network will start to develop, where investigators meet and initiate projects, like shared publications, shared research projects, organising seminars, calling out for revolution etc….

One of our main interests with this network is to start a discussion on the relation of academia with social movements. Informed by critiques on the distant, objectifying and incomprehensible academic, we attach great importance to the development of new, more interactive and participative research methods. We believe the tools of social science can be used much more to the benefit of social movements, and not as present, to add more piles of paper to the inmeasurable industrial heap of theories destined for internal consumption.”

(iii) Home page of the ASA section on collective behaviour and social movements

– Includes a large collection of bibliographies and other teaching resources.

(iv) Loughborough University Global Observatory social movements pages

– Pages and resources on a variety of movements.

(v) Intercontinental Gatherings for Humanity and against Neoliberalism

– Documentation of contemporary inter-movement discussions.

(vi) The New Social Movements Network

– Definitely worth a look; includes a good collection of documents.

(vii) RC 48

– The home page of the ISA section on social movements.

(viii) Working group on organizing, social movements and the academy

– Report from a thought-provoking conference; well worth a read.

(ix) Economic Democracy Information Network

– A project dedicated to expanding the voice of community organisations on the Net, with an excellent range of links and issues.

(x) SocioSite Activism page

– A wide-ranging set of links on subjects relating to activism.

Other potentially relevant mailing lists:
(i) Communications for a Sustainable Future

One of the best lists of lists available in this area, including the Progressive Sociologists’ Network.

(ii) Cyberjournal

A range of anti-globalisation resources and lists are available here, including the cyberjournal and renaissance-network lists.

(iii) Critical Geography Forum

Large (c. 500 members) discussion group for critical geographers and others which seeks to promote:

  1. the development and dissemination of critical and radical perspectives in geography and related disciplines;
  2. critical and radical research, publication and educational activities undertaken by geographers;
  3. links between academic geographers and radical political activists and activities;
  4. equality of opportunity.

To subscribe, send an email to with the message

join crit-geog-forum firstname(s) lastname

(No subject heading, no signature file.)

(iv) Research on Anarchism list

“The Research on Anarchism List (RA-L) is an international forum devoted to book review, research and discussion of the theories, histories and cultures of the world anarchist movements and to anarchistic topics. RA is multidisciplinary; the subjects discussed may be as different as historiography, popular culture, philosophy, political science, ecology, economy, art, literature, utopian studies, music, etc. Contemporary events, newly emergent perspectives, books and articles may also be carefully discussed from a theoretical and historical point of view in the light of an “anarchist” epistemology. The list operates in French, German, English and Spanish.”

To subscribe, send the following message to

SUBscribe RA-L lastname firstname

(No subject heading, no signature file.)

(v) The social-theory mailing list

General mailing list, with much American sociology and psychology, on occasion including some discussion of Marxism. To subscribe, send an email to with the message

subscribe social-theory

(No subject heading, no signature file.)

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8 Archive information

Documents from the list are archived on the Web site archive


1 thought on “Social Movement Theories and Resources

  1. Pingback: Brave: The Global Girls’ Revolution draft introduction | Global Youth Transform the Future

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