Social Movements: Elements of Change

Posted on June 27, 2012 by


Charles Tilly, esteemed sociologist, political scientist, and historian, is probably best known for penning scores of articles and lecturing on the relationship between politics and society, or social movements. Now, it’s true that not all social change requires a political change, but a fair amount does and given the political fervor in our world today, it seems appropriate that we explore the elements of social movements in the context of political change and social media.

According to Charles Tilly, social movements are a series of contentious performances, displays, and campaigns by which ordinary people made collective claims on others; a major vehicle for ordinary people’s participation in public politics. He goes on to say that to be successful, there are three major elements to any social movement:

  1. Campaigns: a sustained, organized public effort making collective claims of target authorities;
  2. Repertoire: employment of combinations from among the following forms of political action: creation of special-purpose associations and coalitions, public meetings, solemn processions, vigils, rallies, demonstrations, petition drives, statements to and in public media, and pamphleteering; and
  3. WUNC displays: participants’ concerted public representation of Worthiness, Unity, Numbers, and Commitments on the part of themselves and/or their constituencies.

So building off his definition, here are some other questions for us to consider:

  • How do you define a “movement”? Is it the same as Tilly’s?
  • Do you think the elements are still relevant?
  • What role does social media play in these elements? Is it a necessary piece?

In keeping with our recent shift to broaden our scope to all things social change, we definitely want to hear from both charities and others that don’t necessarily fit the non-profit mold. Should be a lively, relevant exchange for anyone who’s part of the greater social change community and looking to share ideas. Please join in!