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Social movements | Society and Culture | MCAT | Khan Academy

Voiceover: Social movements are instrumental

to changing the path of a society.

When a group of people comes together

with a shared idea,

they can create lasting effects by

encouraging change in their society

or by resisting it,

both of which will shape the future

of their society.

But a social movement is not just

a group of people with an idea.

If that were the case, every little group

with a novel idea would be starting

a social movement.

No, social movements need organization,

leadership, and resources if they ever

hope to gain momentum and make an impact.

There are different types of social movements

depending on their goal.

Activist movements are focused on

changing some aspect of society,

while regressive or reactionary movements

are actively trying to resist change.

So, you can generally see how a

social movement will form.

You get a group with a strong, shared idea

that has the resources and leadership to survive

and they can make a difference

in one way or another.

Specifically though, it is not well defined.

There are several theories as to how and why

social movements form.

One of these is called mass society theory.

Early in the study of social movements

people were sceptical of the motivations

of those involved in social movements.

They were seen as dysfunctional,

irrational, and dangerous,

and that people would only join because

the social movement provided a sense

of community and refuge from

the meaninglessness of life on one zone.

This view point was strong during

the 20th century, the time of Nazism,

fascism, and Stalinism, which were social movements

that result in the destruction of

millions of lives.

But this theory did not persist

through the century.

By the '60's, scholars took a more open look

at social movements,

especially after the civil rights movement,

which certainly did not arise simply

to satisfy a psychological need for involvement.

More recently, a few main theories

have been developed.

One is the relative deprivation theory,

which focuses on the actions of groups

who are oppressed or deprived of rights

that other people in their society enjoy.

So, if you look at the civil rights movement

from this viewpoint,

it is obviously a response to the

inequality and oppression experienced by

people of color in the U.S.

But what is interesting about social movements

is that it isn't always the people who

are the worst off who join up.

More important is how

people perceive their situation.

Someone just scraping by can be happy as a clam

because they made their dream

of owning their own little

corner bistro into a reality

and then a person making 100,000 a year

is frustrated because they don't feel like

they're respected by their company.

So, what you have to look at

is the relative deprivation,

the feeling of discrepancy between

legitimate expectations and

the reality of the present.

But, that's not enough on its own.

People must feel like they deserve better

and they must think that they cannot

be helped my conventional means.

According to relative deprivation theory

those three things are necessary for

a social movement to form,

a relative deprivation,

a feeling of deserving better,

and to believe that conventional methods

are useless to help.

But there are criticisms to this theory.

Even people who don't feel deprived

will chose to join a social movement.

They join because they want to address

a perceived injustice that they may not

even suffer from themselves.

It can be too risky for the most oppressed

people to join a social movement

because they may not have the

resources to participate,

they cannot take time off work

to promote the idea.

Even so, there are exceptions, as always.

Under Cesar Chavez, migrant farm workers united

to gain rights and job security.

Another issue with the relative deprivation theory

is that sometimes, even when all three factors

are present, no social movement is created.

OK so, it has some problems

but it's a start at least.

Another theory, resource mobilization theory,

looks at the social movements

from a different angle.

Instead of looking at the deprivation of the people,

the resource mobilization approach

focuses on the factors that help or hinder

a social movement.

You know, practical constraints like

access to resources.

Even the seemingly simple act of gathering

together a group of people with a shared idea

is not allowed everywhere.

It takes more than an idea to

start a social movement.

You need money, materials, political influence,

access to media.

More than that, a social movement

needs a strong organizational base

to recruit members and then to unite

them on a single idea.

A good, charismatic figure is necessary

to lead the group and focus the thoughts

of members and the oppressed on the objective,

to convince them to organize.

Again, looking at the civil rights movement,

Martin Luther King Jr. stood as a beacon

to the people of color who were oppressed.

He knew how to speak to a crowd

and unite them in a single idea

and how to gain the support he needed

for the social movement to succeed.

Then you have the rational choice theory

which proposes that people compare

pros and cons of different courses of action

and chose the one that they think

is best for themselves.

The choices and the actions of individuals

who are trying to do the best for themselves

shape the pattern of behavior in society.

But there are a lot of assumptions

for rational choice theory to work.

You have to assume that all actions can be

listed in order of preference

and that all preferences are transient.

That means that let's say I like apples

better than pears and I like pears

better than bananas.

If that's transient then that means

I have to like apples better than bananas.

It also assumes that a person has full knowledge

of what will happen as a result of an action

and that a person has the cognitive ability

to weigh different actions.

These are a lot of assumptions,

which are rarely all true.

Social movements can even affect people

not actively involved in them.

Social movements can cause

collective behavior like panics,

where widespread, unreasoning fear

causes people to act hastily,

and crazes, which are like fads

where something gets incredibly popular

for a short period of time,

like the latest craze in music or dieting.

This past year the anti-vaccine movement

has created a panic that has resulted in

outbreaks of diseases that were once eradicated

from the developed world.

Now that we have a couple movements

to toss around,

it might be interesting to look at what

happens to a social movement from beginning to

either success or failure in the end.

In the beginning, the universe was created.

This has made a lot of people very angry

and has been widely regarded as a bad move.

Wait a minute.

Sorry, that's the wrong story.

Social movements, right.

Those begin with a few ideas

shared by a few.

Then, you have the incipient stage

when the public begins to take notice

of a situation that they consider

to be a problem.

At this point, people begin to organize,

to coalesce into an organized group

and raise up a general stink.

A social movement's greatest achievement

will be to either succeed in changing

its host society,

or else it will have to adapt.

What is interesting about social movements

is that in the end,

they become a part of the bureaucracy

they were trying to change.

A successful social movement eventually

gets absorbed into the existing institutions

when it has achieved its desired changes.

Our entire culture and society

is formed from past social movements,

both those that have succeeded

and those that have failed.

Even failure social movements

leave a mark on their society.

The social movement Martin Luther began

against the Catholic church

resulted in Protestantism.

His name sake, Martin Luther King Jr.,

fronted a social movement against segregation,

leading to the civil rights movement.

Even Nazism left its lasting mark on world politics.

In their time, each of these social movements

seemed radical, far fetched, extreme.

Now, we accept Protestantism

as a founded religion

and we don't think twice about

the right every person has to freedom and equality.

I wonder what social movements

of today will become accepted thought in the future?

So, in the end, the social movement eventually declines.

If it succeeded, it has been incorporated

into the dominant culture.

It if failed, it isn't active anymore,

but you can still see the marks it left

on society by its passing.