Social Movements: what are they and how they occur?

What any European would remember from the 1840s? No doubts for 1848 Revolutions. At that time, revolutions were named as Spring of Revolutions. From a spring in Europe to another in the Arab World, decades passed. Before coming to the class, I was wondering how the understanding of social movements changed if it changed at all for all those time passed and what factors drives for socials movements?

In the 21st century, social movements are categorized as old or new, organized or unorganized, national or international. However, the definition of social movements is still contested. In the contemporary world, there are hundreds and even thousands of instances going on against an issue. These might be anything regarding local governance to state level protests. In all these cases, people easily get together and protest. However, except of a fraction, nearly all of these unrests are kept unheard not only in global level but also on national and regional levels. Out of many instances very few are ‘honoured’ to be regarded as ”social movements”.

My readings showed me that historically, it also has been the case. When Charles Tilly (1977)  mentioned anti cosse tax collection resistance which was organized in particular among the French women in Southern France, he asked the legitimacy of defining such an incident as a ‘movement’ just because government at the time called it as so. Has anyone heard about cosse tax resistance which took place in 1692? I don’t believe many did. My understanding is that a resistance, a protest, or a gathering should be popularized in order to be called as a ‘social movement’.

What has not remained unchallenged about the occurrence of social movements for centuries can be found in the words of Victor Hugo: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”. However, an idea in order to be mature enough to drive change needs activism. In this regard, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have an essential role in our contemporary world. CSOs include different types and sizes of gatherings from  trade unions in national scale to religious groups in neighbourhood scale.

Citizen activism can create an impact and difference if tactics of change are used efficiently. Green(2016) argues that tactics might vary from street protests to litigation, insider persuasion, media campaigns, or demonstration projects. Essential here, is to have deep knowledge about the respondent, the interests, weaknesses, ideals, strengths, plans of the respondent. More important than all of these is knowing the self, the strenght, weaknesses, abilities, and limitations. As Sun Tzu, an infamous ancient Chinese military treatise, said thousands years ago in his book, the Art of War ,“Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.”, for change to happen, the self and the respondent should be well-known.

Although knowing the self and the respondent is crucial, in many cases these might not be enough; then, ‘thinking and working politically’ can be applied to the change-context. Finding the most efficient solution with creation of new tactics or establishment of new contacts or partial concessions (or… ) can bring something close to the desired outcome. In this regard, rather than aiming for a holistic change, change can start from the bits. Working on fractions does not mean that the possibility of a holistic change will not occur in the end. As Green(2016) said “intelligent, inclusive, and respectful advocacy has a huge potential to drive change”.



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