Social Movement Theory

Define: It was introduced in 1850 by the German Sociologist Lorenz von Stein in a book he wrote, "History of the French Social Movement from 1789 to the Present" (1850). Karl Marx has contributed significantly to the overall ideology of Marxism, and theory of social change has influenced the desire to develop social movements. Social Movement Theory works to understand how and why social movements happen. Social movements “can be viewed as collective enterprises to establish a new order of life” (Blumer, 1951)


Social Movement Theory can be helpful because

1) In the scope of social work it is important to understand resource mobilization and how social movements are able to develop these mobilizing structures. There will most likely always be a need for resources in any social institution or social movement.

2) It is beneficial to analyze the range of causes that are present in any social change theory and understand how they homogenized into the movement, rather than just examining the end result. This helps in understanding why some movements do not succeed and why others do.


Social movements have evolved because people want a new order of life. They have evolved because of education and increased mobility of labor due to industrialization and urbanization. Scholars have argues that social movements have developed because people have the ability to express freely who they are, have the privilege to be educated, and, and people are more liberal in the way they think about themselves and the world.

Resource Mobilization: Empathizes the importance of resources in social movement. Resources can be seen as things like knowledge, money, media, labor, solidarity, legitimacy, and internal/external support from those who are seen as superior.

Political process theory: Focuses on the importance of the overall structure of social movements. There are three vital components in the movement formation, which includes insurgent consciousness, organizational strength, and political opportunities.

*Both resource and political process theory look at some sense of social injustice

Culture theory: Culture plays a major role in the basis of social movement theory.

Most recently, social movement has led to the whole new idea of social networking. We see this in social networking sites such as Facebook, or Twitter. Social networking has revealed a new way we see the world, connect with the world, and with each other.

How do social movements relate to now: We are seeing an increase in new social movements that are forming because the world is ever changing. We are seeing movements that are focusing on the well being of our planet such as importance of agriculture, urban planning, and social work. LGBT movements that are focusing on the importance of bringing awareness as to how serious it is. When people do not feel accepted based on their sexual orientation, gender expression (It Gets Better, You Tube Channel) Also, o

n NPR, they were talking about how there is a new movement called Revolution Muslim which goal is to focus on homegrown Terrorism and eventually Hamas. I am curious to see what the next social movement will be in 10 years from now.


  1. Apply: I believe that this theory is at the center of community develop because social movements unite people around a common cause and this leads to positive change. An injustice usually is what draws support to a cause, but change is only sustainable of the cause maintains support overtime.

    Adaptation: This theory can be applied across different disciplines. I have seen it used to tackle different educational inequality. For example, in the 1960s we saw how youth of color protested for an end to segregation and we continue to see how groups continue to unite to end educational inequality.

  2. Apply: Social movements have emerged all over the globe, an example we can point out to is the apartheid movement to end race discrimination and gain interdependence and a place in society for blacks. This is a social movement that continues on today and one that is at a nation level, but we also have other sin smaller scales. The rise of social movements are due through generations of injustices that accumulate to a point where those being oppress can no longer stand still and rise in masses to create change.
    Adaptation: This phenomena has spread across different countries such as Latin America in search of a solution to end inequality and oppression. Sometimes it is through a means of a revolution or civil war, other movements are more passive it just depends on the scope of the issue.