Practice Question  – Examine how social movements come to an end. Illustrate with examples. [UPSC 2020]

Approach – Introduction, Define Social Movements, Discuss the stages of Social movements, Explain in detail bout the decline of social movements, Give examples, Conclusion. 



In the society a large number of changes have been brought about by efforts exerted by people individually and collectively. Such efforts have been called social movements. A social movement may, therefore, be defined as “a collectively acting with some continuity to promote or resist a change in the society or group of which it is a part”. In common parlance, media and political circles the term ‘social movement’ is often used loosely conveying different meanings. Sometimes it is used to show a historical trend like modernisation or urbanisation. The term is also used to indicate a set of activities undertaken by one or many organisations to bring ‘change’ in society such as education movement launched by the government department of education for starting schools and enrolling students. It is also used for collective action of a segment of society. 



Paul Wilkinson defines social movement as “ a deliberate collective endeavour to promote change in any direction and by any means, not excluding violence, illegality,  revolution or withdrawal into ‘utopian’ community. Social movements are thus clearly different from historical movements, tendencies or trends.

According to Herbert Blumer. “Social movements can be viewed as collective enterprises to establish a new order of life. They have their inception in the condition of unrest, and derive their motive power on one hand from dissatisfaction with the current form of life, and on the other hand, from wishes and hopes for a new scheme or system of living.”

Social movements are, according to Sidney Tarrow , “ collective challenges, based on common purposes and social solidarities in sustained interaction with elites,
opponents and authorities”.



Migratory Movements

Migratory movements take place when a large number of people leave one country and settle at some other place. The reason for mass migration may be discontent with present circumstances or the allurement of a bright future. Mere migration of people does not mean migratory movement.

There is a migratory social- movement only when there is a common focus of discontent, a shared purpose or hope for the future and a widely shared decision to move to a new location. The Zionist movement, the movement of Jews to Israel was a migratory social movement. Similarly, the movement of people from East Germany to West Germany can be called migratory social movement.

Expressive Movements

When people are faced with a social system from which they cannot flee and which they feel powerless to change, the result is an expressive social movement. In an expressive social movement the individual comes to terms with an unpleasant external reality by modifying his reactions to that reality. He somehow makes life bearable. He tries to ignore the miserable present and fixes his gaze upon a glorious future. The Hippie movement is an expressive social movement.

Utopian Movements

A Utopian movement is one which seeks to create an ideal social system or a perfect society which can be found only in man’s imagination and not in reality. There have been a number of Utopian socialist in the nineteenth century such as Robert Owen and Charles Fourier. Such movements are based on a conception of man as basically good, cooperative and altruistic. The Sarvodaya movement can be called a Utopian movement.

Reform Movements 

The reform movement is an attempt to modify some parts of the society without completely transforming it. Reform movements can operate only in a democratic society where people have freedom to criticize the existing institutions and may secure changes. The movements to abolish untouchability, dowry system, preserve wild life, control population growth are reform movements. The total revolution movement led by J. P. Narayan was a reform movement. The movement led by J. P. Narayan was a reform movement.

Revolutionary  Movements

The revolutionary movement seeks to overthrow the existing social system and replace it with a greatly different one. The reform movement wants to correct some imperfections in the existing social system but a revolutionary movement wants to root out the system itself. Revolutionary movement’s flourish where reform is blocked so that revolution remains the people’s only alternative to their present misery. The communist movements in Soviet Russia and China were revolutionary movements.

Resistance Movements

The resistance movement is an effort to block a proposed change or to uproot a change already achieved. The revolutionary movement arises because people are dissatisfied with the slow rate of social change whereas resistance movement arises because people consider social change too fast. The D. M. K. movement against Hindi can be termed resistance movement.



Stage 1 – Emergence

The first stage of the social movement life cycle is known as the  emergence, or, as described by Blumer, the “social ferment” stage. Within this stage, social movements are very preliminary and there is little to no organization. Instead this stage can be thought of as widespread discontent. Potential movement participants may be unhappy with some policy or some social condition, but they have not taken any action in order to redress their grievances, or if they have it is most likely individual action rather than collective action. A person may comment to friends and family that he or she is dissatisfied with conditions or may write a letter to the local newspaper or representative, but these actions are not
strategic and not collective. Further, there may be an increase  in media coverage of negative conditions or unpopular policies which contributes to the general sense of discontent.

Stage 2 – Coalescence

At this next stage in the life cycle, social movements have overcome some obstacles which many never overcome. Often, social unrest or discontent passes without any organizing or widespread mobilization. For example, people in a community may complain to each other about a general injustice, but they do not come together to act on those complaints and the social movement does not progress to the next level. Stage two, known as coalescence, or the “popular stage,” is characterized by a more clearly defined sense of discontent. It is no longer just a general sense of unease, but now a sense of what the unease is about and who or what is responsible. Rex D. Hopper, in examining revolutionary processes, states that at this stage “unrest is no longer covert, endemic, and esoteric; it becomes overt, epidemic, and exoteric. Discontent is no longer uncoordinated and individual; it tends to become focalized and collective”. Further he states “this is the stage when individuals participating in the mass behavior of the preceding stage become aware of each other”.

Stage 3 – Bureaucratisation

The third stage is known as bureaucratization. This stage, defined by Blumer as “formalization,” is characterized by higher levels of organization and coalition based strategies. In this stage, social movements have had some success in that they have raised awareness to a degree that a coordinated strategy is necessary across all of the SMOs. Similarly, SMOs will come to rely on staff persons with specialized knowledge that can run the day-to-day operations of the organization and carry out movement goals. Social movements in this stage can no longer just rely on mass rallies or inspirational leaders to progress towards their goals and build constituencies; they must rely on trained staff to carry out the functions of organizations. In this phase their political power is greater than in the previous stages in that they may have more regular access to political elites.

Stage 4 – Decline

Finally, the last stage in the social movement life cycle is decline, or “institutionalization.” Decline does not necessarily mean failure for social movements though. Instead, Miller (1999) argues, there are four ways in which social movements can decline:
• Repression
• Co-optation
• Success
• Failure



Social movements continue to be a major force in the world. Sociologists provide important analysis of social movements that helps us to understand both past and present societies, as well as to anticipate changes and trends that may play out in the future. As new movements develop, they can learn from the investigation of prior movements’ experience to better prepare for future possibilities. The model of analysis provided by the theory of the four stages of social movements is an important aspect in the development of knowledge about collective action. As social movements continue   understanding how social movements form, develop, solidify, and decline. The model can be seen as one of many tools that sociologists use in examining our world.




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