In times of the economic instability social movements become more common in countries all over the world. Socioeconomic inequality, controversial political decisions, and other issues are the usual reasons of social movements, a phenomenon that demonstrates the power of global society.
Social movements are very important, because they can change a lot and make a positive difference.
There are many types of social movements, as well as theoretical approaches to the study of them. Each of these approaches has a specific framework, which defines and analyses social movements using different techniques. Having specific advantages and drawbacks, each of these approaches is very important in the theory of sociology, as it emphasizes certain aspects of social movements' reasons, course, and outcomes.
According to Giddens et al., a social movement is a "collective attempt to further a common interest or secure a common goal through actions outside the sphere of established institutions" (2011:376).
This general definition emphasizes the fact that social movements usually involve a large number of people that have a common goal, and want to change some social, political, or economic issues. However, many approaches to the study of social movements presuppose different definitions and explanations of the essence of social movements.
One of the most influential approaches to the study of social movements is the economic deprivation theory.
It defines all social movements as a result of economic deprivation, or poverty, on the one hand, and willingness of the poorer to eliminate this deprivation, on the other hand.
Indeed, economic inequality is one of the most complicated issues nowadays. A small part of the population controls most of the economic resources, while the other part just has to survive. Furthermore, the small part becomes richer year after year, exploiting the poorer, extracting national resources, and using cheap labor force.
As a result, people are dissatisfied with such a situation, and they begin to protest. The Occupy movement is a great example. This international movement against social and economic inequality expresses the idea of social protest against economic deprivation, which was created due to a market economy and capitalism.
However, all social movements have decision making centers, which accumulate different resources needed to organize all activities, and allocate them according to specific needs. Actually, resources are very important for social movements because they facilitate an entire complex of actions. The value of resources is studied using the resource mobilization approach. It focuses on the methods of accumulation and meaning of resources for the success of a social movement. This approach assumes that movement activists are very rational allocating their resources. Therefore, social movements occur when people are able to get a sufficient amount of resources needed to change socioeconomic and political situation (Giddens 2009:1016).
Nevertheless, available resources are not the only factors that cause social movements. Structural strain approach takes into account other reasons of a social movement, and defines the latter as a complex of different factors, which interact with each other, and result in social movements. It is similar to the deprivation approach, and assumes that whenever a group of people feels a tension or deprivation, and has an idea how to make a difference, it starts to organize actual movements if there are available resources and lack of social control (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning. 2006:2).
Furthermore, there have to be a catalyst, or a special event that triggers the movement. For example, the nations of the Arab world were inspired by political changes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, and began protests in their countries. As a result, a revolutionary wave called the Arab Spring occurred in many countries.
Alan Touraine's field of action approach is completely different than all previous theories.
It focuses on the course of a social movement, and emphasizes the meaning of interaction during it. It contradistinguishes social movements with other forces, which act against them. This approach assumes that different strategies are formed because of such interaction, and they are very important in a course of social movement.
As a result, social movements are characterized with a state of constant change, because groups of activists and other forces are perpetually interacting with each other. For example, labor movement involves different actions of individual workers, trade unions, and employers, which have their interests, and act in a particular way to protect them.
There are approaches that assume that social movements are based on a common idea or motive.
For example, feminist movements were focused on issues, all of which fall under the label of feminism. Feminist movement theory was created historically due to social shifts in the middle of the 1800s. Different injustices in women's rights caused social movements, which were aimed to eliminate such social inequality. This theory underlines the meaning of unequal rights and the willingness to adjust these rights eliminating gender discrimination.
New social movements are nowadays significantly influenced by globalization and information technology. As countries become closer to each other, social and cultural barriers are eliminated, and this results in a closer exchange of cultures.
Consequently, vulnerability rises, and nations become more active in terms of defending their rights, and the rights of a global society, which include general issues that are common for all nations. These issues are concerned with the "ecology, peace, gender and sexual identity, gay and lesbian rights, women's rights, alternative medicine, and opposition to globalization" (Giddens et al. 2011:383).
New social movements deal with the global safety, and focuses on environmental, anti-nuclear technologies, or anti-globalization issues, for example.
The movements criticize economic globalization and activities of transnational corporations. Furthermore, they criticize technologies that may be harmful for people.
To sum up, social movements have many reasons of their beginning. The main factors may be personal, interpersonal, ethnical, or others, and in all cases people are protecting their rights, having a hope for a better life. Being a very powerful form of a collective action, social movements can change socioeconomic situation, and make a positive difference for both separate nations, and the entire global society.