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Advocacy Essay

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Updated: Jan 15th, 2020


Debates are emerging over the current status of the current activism. People begin to wonder whether or not the street rallies, demonstration, blockades and sit-ins are now things of the past. Activists such as John Maynard and Fred Maynard, among others activists have noticed changes taking place in advocacy in the recent years. These scholars have noticed that advocacy and its causes, strategies and tactics have changed.

This essay shall present the changing landscape of advocacy using theoretical approaches, factors that influence causes and strategies of advocacy, and factors that influence the success or failure of advocacy.

Scholars note that advocacy is the basic root of modern, independent advocacy organisations that started from the US and Canada in 960’s. The proponents of advocacy works on normalisation included John O’Brien’s, Bengt Nigre, and Wolf Wolfensberger’s.

Charities of today developed from advocacy. For instance, they rose from the need to recognise basic rights such as the need for education, medical care, and fair treatment particularly among the disabled and prisoners. Strong advocacy has transformed the landscape of advocacy.

The basic human rights of disadvantaged groups are now parts of legislation across the world. In Britain advocacy has grown in the last few decades in response to the needs of the people and to create independent institutions.

However, some few aspects of advocacy have not changed. These include advocacy core values, and some principles of independent advocacy. These include respect, identity, self-awareness, equality, openness, person centred, and stereotyping.

On the other hand, advocacy principles related to business planning, equal opportunities, community development, effective use of resources, evaluation procedures, equalities and diversity strategies have undergone significant changes over time due to developments in the community.

Theoretical interpretations

Rational choice theory provides a system of understanding social and economic behaviour among individuals. Olson notes that both material and non-materials incentives lead people to involve in collective action. People will consider increased rewards and engage in collective action, and sanctioning of those who do not want to take part in collective actions i.e. free-riders (Olson, 1965).

The concept of a free-rider makes no reference to some viewpoint of a person’s mental processes. It reflects different presentations of incentives. The structure of free-rider concept makes a rational, or reasonable, or normal individual surrenders to others actions that give social advantages to both self and others if the action is costly.

These factors may explain why advocacy landscape is changing. For instance, ties of friendship or the desire to be thought of well by others under collective action from the perspective of rational choice theory explain the changing aspects of advocacy (Coleman and Fararo, 1992).

Individuals act in order to satisfy self-regarding preferences or utilities. In other words, people take self satisfaction indifferently to the welfare or utility of others. Self-regard is naturally occurring phenomenon in people.

Resource mobilization theory

Theorists like McCarthy and Zald, Gamson, and Oberschall developed resource mobilisation theory to reflect the concept of going beyond the focus of an individual actor in an advocacy. McCarthy and Zald noticed that the phenomenon of free-riding provided an opportunity for people to join social movements because of incentives, cost benefits, and career benefits (Gamson, 1990).

Therefore, people join social movements for resource gain rather than a collective end goal. Further researches by other scholars established that resources contributed greatly to social movements. Strong leadership and a highly integrated community of people who share an activist orientation have contributed to the rise of social movements (Zald, 1970).

According to Beuchler, new social movements have become decentralised. Some studies indicate that resource mobilisation theory fails to provide an explanation why individuals become a part of social movements.

Studies by Tilly, Marwell and Oliver indicate that resources are catalysts for mobilisation than events. Groups rise without resources other than a public advantage in mind, and with supporters willing to protest. However, if such beginnings are successful, they generate patron support or even state positions.

In the absence of resources, dissident leaders lack the means to provide selective advantages or merely provide means of transportation for their supporters to carry out demonstrations, street rallies, blockades, and sit-ins.

This explains why Marwell and Oliver insist that resources are mandatory in collective action so as to facilitate movements. The two scholars further highlight that most protests do not take place because of resources or failure to amass resources (Oliver, 1990).

Sometimes, interest exists, but resources are not available. In this case, recruitment of protesters is not possible. Likewise, a number of studies stress the importance of patrons in securing monetary resources and widening the scope of the public interest itself.

We can demonstrate the importance of resources through a dissident who wants to organise an economic sabotage as a means of protest. The dissident needs both the people and their resources (purchasing power) in order for the protest to be a success.

A low cost of protest leads to a higher mobilisation. However, as the costs and technical resources needed to facilitate protests increase, ordinary solidarity members provide too little value to facilitate protests.

Social movements

Habermas notes that social movements rely on unconventional and radical movement strategies in promoting autonomy and self-determination (Habermas, 1990). This observation is also evident in the works of Rucht as Melucci notes that social movements are varieties of submerged networks i.e. they do not have a centralised form of organisation (Melucci, 1996; Rutch, 1998).

The main reasons for the rise of social movements are because of their focus on realising change in daily life, raise conscious of society, reinforce identity, and transform social relations in society. Klandermans identifies these observations in his work (Klandermans, 2005).

Social movements are subsets of community organisations, as practices and strategies to change community relations and behaviour patterns in order to promote development, allocation, redistribution, and control of community statuses and resources, including social power.

Therefore, social movements rise as a collective endeavour aiming at promoting a cause or making a social change in the face of the opposition. Social movement brings together people with similar grievances in order to take similar direct action. The fundamental point of social movement lies in the aggrieved feelings.

Social movement aims at promoting change, ranging from reformist, incremental change to radical, fundamental change. Advocates who use social movements are mainly reactionaries and progressive. Their aims are to redistribute community resources, particularly social power, and social relationships.

Some of the tactics and strategies advocates in social movement use include social marketing campaigns to educate and create awareness about social conditions. Advocates in this movement also use coalition building and networking, direct action of coalitions, and political actions. These include public demonstrations, disruption, and nonviolent civil disobedient.

Scholars who have concentrated on New Social Movements argue that social movement emanates out of the need for both a challenge and an alternative to the conservative labour movement.

Social movement concentrates with new issues in society, such as peace (protest against nuclear weapons), the environment and advocacy for the rights of women and children. Scholars note that social movement groups transcend materialism and distinction between left and right i.e. the concept of value shift hypothesis.

Inglehart notes that society is undergoing intense changes in terms of social, economic, political, and cultural dimensions (Inglehart, 1990). Occasionally, leaders may ignore the effects and resultant transformations in the face of these changes. Instead, they should be ready to evaluate the direction, intensity and nature of these changes in society.

When such leaders fail to take action, social movement emerges in order to assess the effects of these changes on public values. Cohen sees social movement as a macro-context of mobilisation and a symbolic action in the state or political sphere (Cohen, 2009).

The modern explanation of value, shift hypothesis lies with a model of society e.g. post-industrial society, information society, and advanced capitalism, among others. In order to understand the hypothesis of value shift, its concepts must focus on the agents of change, such as social, political, and economical which have taken place within a given period of time.

Once the dissidents realise that changes have occurred in society, they begin to find out the extent and direction of these changes. The advocates measure these changes with regard to materialist or post-materialist aspects.

When scholars approach social movements using Marxist theory, they note that collective actions have their roots in economic logic of the capitalist production and class reductionism. In other words, class relations rooted in the process of production define most of the significant participants in social movements.

This mainly refers to marginalised collective action outside revolution. However, new social movements focus on politics, ideology, cultural, identity e.g. sex, gender and gender, among others spheres as the basis of most collective action.

Factors that influence causes and strategies in advocacy

Strategies are long term, multifaceted and generally incorporate a variety of tactics that activists consider appropriate to the context, objectives and available resources. Moyer argues that many advocates tend to focus primarily on tactics, which render them less likely to achieve their goals than activists (Moyer, 1990).

This is because tactics approaches make use of regular press releases with the hope that the media will report their grievances to decision-makers, and preferred actions and policies will follow.

Consequently, there are a number of strategies and factors influencing the choice of advocacy strategies. The traditional models and strategies of advocacy came in two forms. These included self advocacy and one to one advocacy. They were all equal in value and served specific needs.

These traditional approaches included group or collective advocacy, self advocacy, and issue-based advocacy. There were other forms of advocacy, such as peer advocacy where all the parties share similar experiences, citizen advocacy where individuals fight for the rights of the disadvantaged citizens, non instructed advocacy where individuals think that they are free to communicate their ideas.

In recent time, other forms of advocacy have emerged such as the works of lawyers, self-help groups, religious groups, and work groups, among others. However, these groups do not fully adopt the title of advocacy.

Group advocacy as a strategy can come from case advocacy. Group advocacy can be part of a certain effort, or an ongoing community activity or a social movement. This strategy helps society to develop consciousness, collective consciousness, knowledge and skills for self-advocacy.

When advocates assess a situation in society, they may start with an individual, and end up advocating for a group. For instance, in a regime of dictatorship the problem may start with an individual, political detainee and end up affecting the rest of other detainees.

Community advocacy has multiple facets and acts as a bridge between the micro and macro advocacy modalities. This strategy requires community consciousness raising and education about tactics challenging the status quo. Most community advocacies occur as a result of disheartening situations, conditions that cause disadvantages, aggravate or harm a segment or the whole community.

According to Butcher, the strategy of internal change creates empowerment and capacity for new social constructions. However, patterns and constructions of reality in advocacy can discourage involvement of people in advocacy. The role of social action is to raise consciousness for possible action systems (Butcher, 2007).

According to Gamson, there are three collective action frames that facilitate social action (Gamson, 1990). These are the frames advocates use to justify their social actions. The author argues that injustice component consists of moral indignation that occur has a part of a political process.

Gamson states that agencies believe that they can take action through collective social action. Social changes in society may affect people and the advocates must prevail over such effects (Hardcastle, 2011).

Scholars in this field indicate that social actions main concern is to challenge people who hold power. This is because social actions promote insurgency, reform movements, reforms, and third-party traditions.

They recognise that social action of today uses media events, such as Tea Bagger, internets and, social network sites, other campaigns aimed for reforms unlike in the past where inadequate resources and technology affected the works of advocates.

Activists use social action internationally with strategies of demonstrations and protests for a number of reasons. For instance, in Palestine activists use social action to fight for liberation whereas in developed nations, they use social action to condemn unfriendly corporate and political globalisation actions. We can recognise social action on the streets, traditional media, and social media.

This strategy works best to promote changes and reforms, such as radical, incremental, and fundamental changes in society (Hardcastle, 2011). These changes aim to distribute, redistribute community resources and social powers. This strategy has worked well developed nations such as the US and emerging economies like South Africa.

Factors that influence success or failure of advocacy

Researchers note that activists who primarily focus on tactics rarely achieve their end goals. Activists must possess sufficient information on the relevant campaign issue.

At the same time, they must also possess both practical and technical skill in order to do the job well. Advocacy also depends on interpersonal relationship skills. This is necessary in organising advocacy for political and philosophical framework for action (Shields, 2009).

Advocacy may fail because of the opposition’s deceptive messages, propaganda, and unethical financial investments in the campaign i.e. bribes. Under such circumstances, challenges may rise because of working with people who have conditions that restrain or prevent their desires or abilities to act.

These groups will provide clients with advocacy, emotional support, recognition of support, and protect clients against individual retribution from the target groups (Freddolino and Moxley, 1994).

The traditional community and labour movements failed to build a base of people with the broad range of interests, and achieve results beyond the local level. Instead, they concentrated on issues that individuals found easy to defend.

These leaders also chose to ignore the main problems their constituents experienced. At this time, society concerns were mainly the issues of priorities, such as affirmative action, gay rights, reproductive issues, and immigrants.

Another reason that contributes to the failure of advocacy is progressive strategies. They lack skills and abilities instead of being complex and extensive to contend with oppositions. Therefore, we can say that advocacies fail because they do not take past mistakes as learning points.

Lastly, advocacies also experience the problem of inability or unwillingness to address ideologies. These tendencies have weakened several progressive activists, such as community organisations, labour rights, feminism, civil rights, and identity politics. These factors undermine initiation of any movement to create a change in society because of disfranchised communities.


This study confirms that advocacy landscape is changing, and new forms of advocacies are emerging. However, vigorous activities that characterised earlier advocacies are becoming irrelevant in modern society. Activists are engaging new forms of media and tactics to convey their messages.

These scholars also note that advocacy takes time depending on socioeconomic, political, and cultural impacts of changes in society. Depending on the impacts of these factors, advocates will react in a certain manner in order to improve social condition of society.

Reference List

Butcher, H 2007, Critical community practice. The Policy Press, Bristol, UK.

Cohen, M 2009, The field of social work, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York.

Coleman, J and Fararo, T 1992, Rational Choice Theory: Advocacy and Critique. New York: Sage Publication.

Freddolino, P and Moxley, D 1994, A differential model of advocacy in social work practice, Basic Books, New York.

Gamson, W 1990, Th e strategy of social protest, Wadsworth, Belmont, CA.

Habermas, J 1990, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Hardcastle, D 2011, Community Practice: Theories and Skills for Social Workers, 3rd edn, Oxford University Press, Inc, New York.

Inglehart, R 1990, Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Klandermans, B 2005, Social Movements, Protest, and Contention, Free University Press, Amsterdam.

Melucci, A 1996, Challenging Codes: Collective Action in the Information Age, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Moyer, B 1990, The Practical Strategist: Movement Action Plan (MAP) Strategic Theories for Evaluating, Planning and Conducting Social Movements, Social Movement Empowerment Project, San Francisco.

Oliver, M 1990, The politics of disablement, St. Martin’s Press, New York.

Olson, M 1965, The Logic of Collective Action, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Rutch, D 1998, The Strategies and Action Repertoires of New Social Movements, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Shields, J 2009, Development of the Policy Advocacy Behavior Scale, Sage Publications, New York.

Zald, M 1970, Political economy: A framework for comparative analysis, Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, TN.

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