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Structural Characteristics of Modern Social Movements Essay

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Updated: Feb 18th, 2021


The Second Edition of the book by Tilly and Woods covers a comprehensive history of structural social movements from the year 1768 to date. It covers issues relating to the rights of immigrants, development in media technologies, the rallying of the war against Iraq, opposition of the organization of Olympics in China, and responsibilities played by Facebook and bloggers in propagating social movement behaviors.

The book covers the role of these events and other current events in bringing a conviction of how social movements developed from the 18th century in Europe to eventually bringing the most progressive movements throughout the world. Characteristics of modern forms of social movements are elaborated below as illustrated in the book.

Bloggers and Facebook

According to the authors of the book, bloggers have increasingly grown to become powerful tools of social movements among people and development all over the globe. Blogs have gained an influential role in society because of their ability to enable citizens to discuss issues that were not spoken out in the public domain. For instance in Egypt, the number of active bloggers is almost two hundred thousand.

Most of the bloggers discuss several topics, uploading videos and literature which reach out to the whole population. Other than these blogs, others discuss sensitive matters like sectarianism, sexual abuse, and state protest and in some cases used to insult the president or religion leading to the arrest of the bloggers. The influence of blogs on society and media in recent times has been very considerable because it has spread throughout the population to become agents of spreading information for students, protesters, reporters, and common civilians providing a platform to discuss freely on any topic they select (Tilly and Wood, 2008).

With the total number of Facebook users growing to almost five hundred million people all over the world, it has become a social site for drumming up support for rallies, demonstrations, organizing boycotts, and other social pressure groups.

For instance, Facebook has been used to organize a tea party protest in the United States and demonstrations for democracy in Egypt. Students across the United States used the social site to protest against the government’s decision to cut funding in schools while at the same time using it to make contacts with television and newspaper stations to publicize their protests. According to the book, Facebook has become a major means of a multitude of communication among the youth for organizing protests.

Political activists in Burma used Facebook to protest against military dictatorship and mobilize for the need for democratic rule. Burma’s Rangoon Facebook page, ‘just do it for democracy,’ sparked numerous protests across Egypt. Citizens of Burma are being educated to use the internet even in remote areas with the aim that they would use it to protest against the military dictatorship.

Immigrant movement

There is a critical examination of networks that trigger the organization of movements that brought about rights for immigrants in the United States. The rallying up of immigrant rights of the year 2006 to rally support against apartheid and global racialism between the north and south is featured. The network for immigrant mobilization has opened up the debate for ethical and political importance to do away with the borders that forbid the free movement of people. The authors argue out that the fight for the rights of the immigrants is the same as the struggle to change the contents of democracy in the United States.

A national body was set up to champion the rights of immigrants and refugees. This body, ‘The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights,’ comprises several groups of people including activists, immigrants, refugees, and religious leaders whose main purpose is to educate the public and come up with plans and strategies on issues that affect immigrants and refugees. According to the authors of the book, the immigrants have exploited several networks to champion their rights by opposing strict immigration rules. They have managed to organize several local and national campaigns and conventions, supported the diversity of immigrant leadership, organized rally, opened up communication systems, and made print materials like journals and newsletters.

Anti China Olympics

Anti Olympic organization in China is also explored in the book. Some of the potential groups that organized anti-Olympic campaigns were overseas societies and human rights groups based in China. These groups comprised Christian leaders who wanted the Chinese government to end restrictions on religion, campaigners who wanted China to use its influence in buying Sudan’s oil end fighting in Darfur, and environmental activists who wanted China to take steps of ending global warming.

In the drama that took place during the lighting of the Olympic flame in Greece, there was a brief disruption of the ceremony by a group of protesters concerning issues in Tibet. It was later found out that the protesters belonged to organizations funded by the US and French governments. This reveals that the United States could have been involved in the campaigns against China hosting the Olympic games of 2008.

Anti Iraq war

As part of the protests against the war in Iraq, the book discloses the improved support that protesters against the war in Iraq had gained towards the start of the war in 2003 by the United States and its allies.

Tilly and Wood (2008) argued that people across the world were involved in mass protests before the invasion and demonstrators and activists have continued to oppose the war to date. The main opposition of the war in Iraq within the US came from grassroots while they questioned the reason for the invasion, how the war was carried out, and the public opinion has changed after the results of the war in 2004. Anti-war groups held demonstrations during the republican and democratic national conventions in 2008.

Technology and globalization

Advances in technology have been on the front position in monitoring protesters on CCTV, cameras, and the present social media. But technology is working towards benefiting demonstrators. A smartphone called the ‘Sukey’ is being developed and which can direct protesters away from problematic areas. It is a device that enables demonstrators to stay secure and still going. The global civil society has also debated upon its role in creating an open society with more democratic space, incorporated with good governance and global values which is a good incentive for protesters. Protesters are always against inequality in society. In most cases, inequality also arises among protesters when some of them decide to take incentives or bribes, hence, inequality is an issue with protesters.

The changing features of social movements are covered that include effects of emerging technologies and globalization. Globalization alone does not lead to social mass movements but a combination of several factors instead. Internal factors like poor safety conditions and an economy that is not regulated combined with the global recession and lesser merchandise prices can lead to massive radical social movements.

Concerning the evolution of the social movement, Tilly and Taylor argue that social movement unions are influenced by other institutions in their surroundings. Because organizations compete for members, the social movement organizations can be likened to the extent to which their functions overlap. The conclusion is that competition bears responsibility in drawing members and regulating its size and function.

The process of democratization in many states of the world has been achieved as a result of constant pressure from social movement groups. Issues of the possibility of social movements in authoritarian states are talked about. Identity has been considered an alternative to people on how activists make decisions and also an option on how organizations can evaluate the impacts of social movements (Tilly and Wood, 2008)

History of modern forms of social movements


Modern social movements are globalizing across the universe. They have been setting up links since their commencement in the 18th century, since the beginning of the first social movement which was the British mobilization against the slave trade and spread across the world with branches in several countries in all the continents. Throughout the 19th century, social movements have been gaining support and collaboration in their quest for restraint, fight for the rights of women and independence in Ireland.

Since the start of social movements to date, concerns of social movements have moved from grassroots to regional to nationwide and finally to a global level with an activist at grassroots level raising concerns at the local level, a regional activist at regional and the trend continue. At one time in history, an activist at all levels demanded the same thing as an abolitionist in the states of Boston and Philadelphia appealed the congress to bring to an end the slave trade. In the same spirit, activists for independence in the Soviet Union concurrently targeted and rallied against the leaders of the Soviet States, the United Nations, and the European Union.

Theories of social movement

Several historical social movements’ theories were formulated to explain the emergence of social movements. Some of the theories highlighted in this book include the collective behavior theory of the 1950s that explain social processes that are not being followed in the current social structures like policies and institutions. The deprivation theory of the 1960s, argues out that people organize social movements when they feel they are being deprived of some goods or services to defend themselves.

Marxist theory of the 1880s arose as a result of the need to settle the conflicts of industrial workers and their employers, in the 20th century, a revelation of this theory has been evident through activists advocating for gender balance and fighting against racism. Another theory also emerged in the 1960s called the mass society theory which explains that social movements are organized when a group of people in the community feel that they are neglected.

In the 1970s the structural strain theory gave suggestions that social movements arose due to the fact people need a conducive social environment in society, there is a need for control of social processes in the society and mobilization of resources. The political process theory of the 1980s dwells mostly on political opportunities as a basis for social movements to stage their protests.

History of social movements

Tilly and Wood (2008) argued out that the initial emergence of social movements was concerned with changes in the politics and economy that comprised capitalism in the market and governance. According to Tilly, the first social movements include the one that brought a revolution in France. Typical social movements of the late 19th century especially the labor and social movement are considered to have brought about socialist, independent parties and organizations.

After their success in the Napoleonic battles, social disturbances were experienced in Britain. Such pressure was felt in several countries as social movements pressed for reforms to be carried out like the Russian revolution in the mid-1910s which led to the collapse of the state towards the end of the 1st world war.

In the United Kingdom, immediately after the end of the 2nd world war, new social movements emerged that championed peace, environmental issues, gay rights, civil rights, and an end to nuclear weapons. The movements led to the formation of green parties mainly comprising educators and activists championing for a broad range of reforms in the justice and labor issues.

Several historical events lie behind the growth of social movements. For instance, urbanization, which brought about big settlements of people around urban areas, enabled them to gather easily and manage their activities. This made it possible for social interaction to take effect and as revealed from historical books, social movements first took place in urban areas. In the same trend, industrialization, which gathered large groups of people, explains the emergence of social movements that addressed issues of the economy.

Other social movements were formed in institutions of higher learning due to the nature of education to bring together large groups of people from different backgrounds. With advancements in technology, networking of social movement activities became efficient, growing from pamphlets in the 1800s to the current use of newspapers and the internet which have accelerated the formation of social movements. The growth of democracy and setting up of political rights have enormously propelled the formation and working of social movements (Tilly and Wood, 2008).

Social movements don’t last a lifetime but revolve around with time: they are formed, and then developed which is either followed by victory or failure. They are highly likely to be formed in time and areas that are forthcoming to them. These explain their continued emergence in the nineteenth century characterized by advocating of human rights, freedom of expression, and public disobedience. Social movements are organized in both democratic and dictatorial societies but they take different dimensions.

For it to occur, there must be conflicting situations between a cluster of individuals for instance the early movements majorly concerned gaps among the rich and poor while new movements are likely to deal with issues of ethics and values. For social movements to occur there must be leading events or initiating events that trigger a series of reactions like the Rosa Parks sitting on the side of the white of the bus that triggered civil rights movements In the United States. They are created when a group of people realizes that they share the same opinion for a specific social change (Tilly and Wood, 2008).


Over time, items of claim have been globalized. When international and national companies set up their businesses across the globe like Coca Cola and Shell, they provide platforms for international social movements. The establishment of international authorities like the UN, WTO, and the EU leads to the formation of policies and interventions that draw the attention of social movements in different countries.

When these bodies hold conferences and come up with deliberations, they attract demonstrations of their deliberations like the demonstrations against WTO’s meeting in Seattle in 1999. Majority of social movement in the world that has received vast recognition have portrayed themselves as bringing a positive cause in the globe. Several movements have emerged in independent professional areas such as activists in the area of environment, rights for women, and resistance to low wages. These movements have liaised with other likeminded organizations all over the world.

Since there is an upward trend in the formation of organizations by NGOs, there are high chances the same will be replicated in the 21st century due to the globalization of social movements. Examples include demonstrations against international companies the NAFTA. There are indications that social movements are splitting due to the fact some are using old ways of demonstration to be given a chance in political decisions while others display unity across the globe with the help of businessmen and other organizations.


Tilly, Charles and Wood, Lesley (2008). Social Movements 1768-2008 (2nd Edition). Boulder, Colarado,USA: Paradigm Publishers.

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