Social Movements and Social Change

Learning Goal: I’m working on a sociology multi-part question and need an explanation and answer to help me learn.


16.1 What Is Social Change?

  1. Social change is transformation of a culture over time. Social change can consist of major cultural and social upheaval, but can also consist of subtle, gradual changes over time. Social change can also be intended or unplanned, controversial or mundane, lasting or temporary.
  2. Collective behavior occurs when individuals embark together on some sort of group action. Contagion theory suggests that when people come together, a unified crowd or mob mentality results. Emergent norm theory argues that groups are guided by norms; and as a result, the behavior of those in the crowd fits within these norms.
    1. A crowd is formed when a large number of people come together in a geographic location. Crowds can be created randomly or purposively, and can be either organized or chaotic.
    2. Mass behavior occurs when large groups of people, not necessarily in the same geographical location, engage in similar behavior. Fads are interests that are followed with great enthusiasm by many people for a period of time. Fashions are a widespread style of both behavior and appearance. Social dilemmas occur when behavior that is rational for an individual can lead to collective disaster. One class of social dilemma is the tragedy of the commons, in which individuals using limited, collective resources in their own interest ignore the interests of the whole group, resulting in problems for all. The other class of social dilemma is a public goods dilemma, in which individuals must contribute to a collective resource from which they may or may not ever benefit. Whereas a tragedy of the commons benefits the individual at a cost shared by all, a public goods dilemma exacts a cost on the individual, but the benefit is shared by all. The dilemma in this latter case is how to get people to contribute to a public good if it is not mandatory.

16.2 Social Movements

  1. Social movements require leadership, organization, and ideological commitment to promote or resist change. Also, they may challenge mainstream culture and change the lives of the participants. Mass society theory argues that individuals join social movements because being part of a group provides a sense of meaning, security, and belonging. Relative deprivation theory argues that social movements begin when groups seek rights that they see others in society already have.
  2. Resource mobilization theorists focus on how social movements develop from ideology to practice. Considerable resources are needed to create a functioning social movement.
  3. The stages of a social movement are incipiency, coalescence, bureaucratization, and decline. Individuals who join social movements are generally highly engaged people who have resources to devote to the social movement.
  4. Social movements are generally either progressive and forward thinking or regressive and reactionary.

16.3 Technology and Social Change

  1. Technological determinism is the theory that technology plays a defining role in shaping society. Cultural lag is the term sociologists use to describe a disconnect between the pace of a changing social condition and that of the cultural adjustment to the change. Technology often develops more quickly than the change in attitude toward the new technologies. When this happens, a society struggles to create new norms, values, and laws in response to the technological developments.
  2. During the 1960s, McLuhan argued that technology could turn the world into a “global village.” Cultural diffusion has allowed technologies to become globalized. Most global television events are produced in the United States. This predominance has led some to warn against cultural imperialism and cultural leveling.

16.4 Implications for a Postmodern World

  1. Postmodernity refers to the social conditions and attitudes characteristic of postindustrialized societies, which focus on ideas and cultural debates rather than material things, and on questioning the achievements of science and technology. Traditional institutions will need to change to accommodate this new attitude and way of living; however, it is uncertain what these changes will look like

    Social Movements Terms and Concepts

    social movement, counter movement, SMO, social change, tragedy of the commons, framing, cultural diffusion/lag/imperialism, globalization, contagion theory, relative deprivation, emergent norm theory, public goods dilemma, stages: define/organize/bureaucracy/decline, regressive/progressive, resource mobilization (know the different types of resources identified in power point slides), window of opportunity (political), goals, success/failure

No Easy Walk Video

This video is available via Kanopy.

Go to the Moorpark Library (Links to an external site.) , and look for Video Streaming (Links to an external site.)

Select Kanopy (about half way down the page) and after you log in with your Moorpark credentials, search for No Easy Walk which is episode four of Eyes on the Prize.


We have spent much time studying conflict theory which focuses on the impact of the powerful. However, very frequently social change comes from the “bottom up” meaning that groups of regular ordinary people create the conditions to influence society.

Several social movements have been in the news the past months. Whether it is surrounding abortion/gun control/immigration/racism/etc. people are agitated and trying to impact social policy.

For this assignment we will study Fridays for Future (also known as School Strike for Climate). Using ideas from the chapter, and especially the power points, predict if the SMO will be successful or will fail. Remember, this is not your hope that they will or will not succeed, but a prediction based on specific factors. Why, exactly, will they do better than the counter movement, if you think they will succeed? Why, exactly, will they not do as well as the counter movement, if you predict failure?

I strongly suggest that you offer very specific examples of each of the factors of social movement success. Analyze whether these factors are being utilized, or if you think the counter-movement has utilized them to a greater extent.

You should show your understand of the role of:

*Resource mobilization (identify specific resources and show how the SMO has or has not mobilized those resources)

*Goal specification


*Utilizing windows of opportunity

You must show clear examples of each. For instance, don’t just say “they mobilized people” – show their membership numbers. This is the first – and only – assignment that will require you to use outside sources to complete. Here is the main webpage for the organization: (Links to an external site.) Much of the material is available there. If you use other sources (but you very well may not have to) you must include references.

Again, you may agree or disagree with this climate movement and/or this specific SMO. That is not the question – the question is whether, based on what you learned about social movement success, Fridays for Future will be successful or not.

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