Week 11: Starting Points Ch. 16

Estimated Reading Time 00:18:25

Starting Points

Chapter 16
Social Movements and Voluntary Associations

Teppy seems really focused and concise-ish in all previous chapters but now he started to ramble a little bit. That, or maybe I’m just not concentrating as well. Anyway, a long and long-winded chapter.

Governments are not the only source of social order. We also form smaller groups within society. We would choose to associate with voluntary associations voluntarily (bad sentence, I know). When voluntary associates aim to produce change, we call them social movements.

Was our evolution a mistake? By gaining intelligence, do we really make the world into a better place? Are we evolving or devolving?
(The textbook has a marvellous quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide, it’s not something that can easily be topped, but here’s another quote that I like.)

In my opinion, it [Life] is a highly overrated phenomenon. Mars gets on perfectly without so much as a microorganism. See: there’s the south pole beneath us now… No life. No life at all, but giant steps, ninety feet high, scoured by dust and wind into a constantly changing topographical map, flowing and shifting around the pole in ripples ten thousand years wide. Tell me… would it be greatly improved by an oil pipeline?

-Doctor Manhattan, Watchmen

We invented cultures, built societies, discovered science, pushed technology to its limits. We have created structure and order — we have used social norms and written laws to grant our actions stability and predictability.

While some norms remain, others change. We can change society without destroying the social order. We often work together to bring about changes. Voluntary associations and social movements have helped to shape the society we live in today.

Interdependence: The Real State of Nature

One of the fundamental features of social life is interdependence. We share common goals, common dangers, common friends, common enemies. We benefit from cooperation.
e.g. The market is a complex network formed by dyadic relationships. Market need regulation (repeated 3 times in two paragraphs — Teppy is a Keynesian).
e.g. The Internet is like an information market.

We are embedded in large social networks, and many of these networks are interconnected. As a result, we live in a “small world”. — Six degrees of separation, with “sociometric stars”.
We can choose who we associate with, but not the people who we associate with associate with. We only have limited control of our social network.

Classic Studies: Improvised News: A Sociological Study of Rumour

(Kind of a functionalist approach.)

Rumours are often the medium by which ordinary people express political views, construct images of reality, and show their social solidarity.

Tamotsu (Tom) Shibutani called rumours “improvised news”. Shibutani (1966) showed in his book that rumours travel through existing networks and provide a basis for sociability among people. The information they convey may be distorted by they always carry important social truths.

Gordon Allport and Leo Postman (1947) first characterized rumour as pathology. They simulated the children’s game “broken telephone” in a lab. They defined rumours as a “circulating supposition or belief without secure standards or evidence.” The movement of information from one person to another tends to distort the message.

But can you really emulate rumours in a lab? Meanings and motives are lost.

There are many important respects in which a psychology laboratory at, say, the University of British Columbia, is not like an Aboriginal community in the Yukon, for example. (If you remember nothing else from this book, please remember the previous sentence, for it calls attention to a key distinction between psychology and sociology).


Shibutani’s analysis of rumours focused on ordinary people in natural communities. Studied Japanese-American relocation centre and noted how an interned population made sense of its situation. Shibutani sees rumour as a social information to clarify issues of common concern through repeated interaction and discussion. Rumour formation is problem-solving.

Shibutani points out that you typically get rumour when unusual, unexpected events occur, and the normally reliable channels of communication break down. Then, people turn to others — often opinion leaders — for information.

Much of life is ambiguous, so we need to speculate — form rumours. Many important informations have to be made with inexact information, this understanding of collective decision making is widely applicable.

There are five roles to perform:
5.Decision Maker
In the process of turning alleged facts into information, some opinions are challenged, rejected, while others are retained. This continues until the group reaches a satisfactory interpretation of situation.
Contrary to Allport and Postman’s view that rumours are increasingly distorted, Shibutani shows that rumour collaboratively gain accuracy and provide more stability.

Rumours spread within existing social networks. People don’t spread rumours indiscriminately, to whoever they see. Rumour spreads through a series of interpersonal communications, until they eventually reach the outskirts of the communication network.
Rumour is a powerful method of communication with the potential to strengthen and increase solidarity of networks.

Knopf (1975) said maybe Shibutani should have based his analysis on more rumours, instead of just the 471 rumours he had.
Meyersohn (1969) said that the model is too simplistic.

Shibutani’s work is the first review on the topic of rumours and provided good insight. Shibutani offered a positive image of human beings whereas Allport offered a negative one.

Voluntary Associations and Sociability

voluntary associations address a variety of concerns, include alumni associations, frats, book clubs, etc etc. All these groups draw on familiarity among members — and sometimes intimacy, trust, and similarity.

These voluntary associations — though often aimed at solving a particular problem — are rooted in sociability, and some consider it a natural human impulse. Johan Huizinga (1955), a philosopher, spoke of humanity as “homo ludens” — we all want to play!
Play is freedom itself; play is a departure from “ordinary”; and play occupies its own time and space. Every society has play — even animals have play.
(I’m an animal, with an animal’s desires.)

Why is playing with others so fun? Different people bring different qualities and personalities to the event. We are all different and unique and that’s what makes life beautiful!
Georg Simmel points out, though, that play follows social forms and social norms (tact). e.g. Fashion. Otherwise, there is no real connection between people and we end up all playing with ourselves.
Play is not meant to be psychodrama. (The greatest tennis players, for example, are able to separate themselves from worldly concerns and simply focus on hitting the ball. Movements and shot placement become instinctive. This state of zen-like concentration is referred to as “the zone”, and is a goal for many aspiring tennis players of which I used to be one. Until I came to U of T that is. Sigh. UofT give me my life back.)

The Benefits of Voluntary Associations

Voluntary associations not only provide sociability but also bring together a diverse group of people for a common cause. Very different people can often meet voluntarily as equals. It’s great. Côté and Erickson said they are “schools for democracy”.

But voluntary associations have an unpredictable effect on social tolerance. e.g. Members of environmental groups tend to be less racist. Members of sports teams (which, broadly speaking, favour antagonism; I have nothing against sports) tend to be more racist. Labour unions are sensitive to the economy and so tend to be less tolerant too.

Familiarity is good, but trust and liking would promote tolerance even better.
Trust is the set of socially learned and socially confirmed expectations of others. We trust different people to different degrees, in different ways. In general though, trust is limited and conditional. Unconditional trust is rare and sometimes foolhardy. Trust arises in groups through reward and sanctions.

Often trust arises through connection (through “vouching”) as well as familiarity. If I don’t know you but my friend says you are trustworthy, I will trust you.

People Control One Another Informally

We want good opinion of others. Our sense of guilt or shame is based on childhood learning of the views of the “generalized other” of George Herbert Mead. Informal social control — based upon shame, guilt, gossip, rumour, and threatened rejection — is inexpensive and almost impossible to see. It punishes the rule-breaker, silently rewards the conformist with esteem, trust, and cooperation. It’s so much more effective than jailing.

Informal punishments has been an old topic under study. Some believe that control and conformity can be explained in solely individual terms, but others believe that altruistic rewards and punishments allow for better survival. Not to be a downer, but altruism is hard to find nowadays. 😦
By default then, it is easiest to explain conformity as a reaction to social control and a self-interest obedience of social rules.

“Social control” is a concept that identifies a new realm for discussing order and regulation. Social control is “control by society or social relations. It is different from military control, police control, or legal control. This concept makes civil society equally important as the state (discussed by Hobbes) and the economy (discussed by Marx).

Social control addresses two key questions: 1. Why/how is social order achieved? 2. Why does social inequality exist (and persist)?

Sociological theories, like those of George Homans, provide us with deeper insight into group influences. Especially into the ways in which groups protect themselves against deviant activities and deviant identities. Basically people reward wanted behaviour and withhold rewards for unwanted behaviour.

Classic Studies: The Civilizing Process

Formal and informal controls work together to bring about social changes. Norbert Elias wrote a book about formal/informal controls and good manners in The Civilizing Process. It’s a book in two volumes: The History of Manner and Power and Civility.

Elias shows that polite manners and state government develop together. Good manners began with the aristocracy and spread to the bourgeoisie. The middle class always wants to emulate the upper class.

Good manners is a repression of “natural” drives. Increasingly people use utensils when eating, go out of public sight when defecating, or make out and have sex in private. So politeness and shame is closely interrelated. People show their classiness through elegant manners and a knowledge of etiquette.
Good manners coincide with the rise of a strong state since it is through the rise of this state that a national, official culture develops. Regional variations are less socially acceptable. Which is why Parisians and Londoners are so proud of their accents.

As states (e.g. ruled by kings) become more stable, citizens are increasingly expected to regulate their own behaviour. Norms become widespread and people are obliged to act in socially accepted ways.

Seigel asks: how do you know if the people in 14-18th century Europe actually followed manners? Have you been there Elias? Also this work only looked at European manners.
Bullough says that this is bullocks. Elias ignores variables such as emerging concept of privacy, changing status of women, etc.

This work is still important though. It is the first to look at manners through a sociological lens. The work also showed a clear linkage “between microsociological and macrosociological realms of society” — e.g. between formal and informal control.
So we are coerced and controlled both by the army and by ridicule.


Sociologists have different approaches for social movements and voluntary associations: breakdown approach, resource mobilization approach, cultural approach, and political process approach.

Breakdown approach
Breakdown approach builds on Émile Durkheim (and so it’s functionalist). These theorists argue that social movements form when rapid and widespread changes in society weaken social bonds. Social movements, therefore, signify social disintegration.

Relative deprivation theory is a related functionalist approach. It argues that people form protests when they think they don’t have enough, even though people a couple generations ago have had less.
But three kinds of critique was levelled at relative deprivation theory and functionalism:

  1. It is not always only the most disadvantaged members of society who are frustrated and fight for social change. Members of middle and upper classes are more likely to lead revolutions. Like the Bolsheviks.
  2. Not all societies that experience deprivation fight for change through revolution.
  3. The relative deprivation theory is an ideology, reducing dissatisfaction and oppression into trivial symptoms of discontent.

Systemic theory is another functionalist theory. It focuses not on individuals but on society. It argues that although many individuals feel frustrated, their frustration is only effective when they mobilize as a group.

Critical theorists critique the breakdown approach: social conflict is natural, not pathological. Social movements are organization rather than disorganization. Most movements are not spontaneous, childish outburst of frustration but organizations with rational goals and plans.

Behind this mask there is more than just flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea… and ideas are bulletproof.

-V, V for Vendetta

Resource Mobilization Approach
Resource mobilization theorists believe protest organizations are much like many other organizations, and just as helpful. Social movements try to spread their counter-ideology. Resource mobilization theorists say that there will always be dissatisfied people — the question should be “why aren’t people protesting all the time?”
Resource availability determines the formation and actions of social movement, not goals and motivations.

To succeed, protestors much have at least one of the following:
-economic power: control over production; or at least money
-political power: control over legitimate use of violence (e.g. police or military)
-ideological power: the ability to spread ideologies through schools, churches, etc etc. The ability to propaganda.
These protest organizations are built on social networks.

There are two different approaches to how resource is mobilized: the utilitarian perspective and the political conflict theory.
The utilitarian perspective assumes that individuals join social movements for their own interests. But then again social incentives as well as peer pressure may cause people to join too.
The political conflict theory highlights how social classes promote the interests of their members through social movements. The most important conditions for success are social ties between members, influential contacts, and available resources.

Cultural Approach
Cultural approach stresses the importance of values and beliefs. People don’t react to social situations per se, but to their interpretation of these situations. There are the new social movements (NSM) approach and framing theory.

NSMs approach arose in Europe, and argues that after structural changes in the West, new identities aren’t based on class anymore. Instead, they have given rise to “identity politics” — a substitute for class-based politics. These identity-based groups fight for equity, dignity, and cultural recognition, as much as for economic justice.
“There is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” -Pierre Trudeau, 1967

Framing theory emerged in North America, and criticized resource mobilization theory for its lack of attention to culture. They are inspired by the symbolic interactionists and is interested in how people develop and communicate cultural goals in a social movement. This communication of goals results in frame alignment.


  • breakdown approach: social movements signify social disintegration.
    • relative deprivation theory: people expect too much.
    • systemic theory: frustration is only effective en masse
  • resource mobilization approach: spreading of counter-ideology is good
    • utilitarian perspective: people join movements to further their own goals
    • political conflict theory: social classes promote their own goals in movements
  • cultural approach: people don’t react to social situations but rather to their interpretation of social situations
    • new social movements approach: identity politics, not based on class
    • framing theory: interested in how people develop and communicate cultural goals in movements
  • political process approach [not discussed in depth at all]

Classic Studies: Symbolic Crusade

By Joseph Gusfield. He wrote about the 18th Amendment to the Constitution — the one banning alcohol from USA in the 1920s – 1930s. But of course when you try to stop people from drinking it doesn’t work. This is when the arcane art of moonshining was developed.

Gusfield outlines the role of Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) — a voluntary association — in promoting this “troubled, ineffective, and short-lived legislation” (sic). From 1874 onward they tried to educate people about the dangers of alcohol, and gain support from women with alcoholic (and probably abusive) husbands.

But this fight against alcohol is about more than just alcohol. It has a symbolic meaning: it is seeking affirmation that sobriety is a key value to the American society. In the 1870s, industrialization, urbanization, and immigration after the civil war all threatened traditional WASP lifestyle.

As their efforts become less effective, the WCTU turned to more coercive legislations. This was status warfare.


Continuing from page 470:
So yeah, Gusfield is a pretty cool guy with alternative viewpoints. His approach viewed social movements as conscious efforts, not merely as symptoms of a disorganized society. Kk I’m done here.

Changing Causes of Social Movement Formation

As society evolves, so does social movements. In 18th and 19th centuries most social movements were organized poorly. They lack resources and are obstructed by pre-industrial communication. So these movements are mainly local.

In the early 20th century, social movements became organized by division of labour. These movements — e.g. worker’s unions — fought for economic equality, suffrage, and redistribution of wealth. These early social movements invented new and more effective ways of protest, such as mass demonstrations, blockades, boycotts, sit-ins, and strikes.

The second half of 20th century saw the rise of new social movements (NSMs). They fought for the rights of blacks, women, LGBTQ, etc etc. They are the champions of human rights.

Kitschelt (1993) said that social movements became more active over the past few centuries. With movements becoming more complex and more focused on societal (and not local) issues. But rate of increase is not uniform and there are fluctuations.

Social movements are more likely to form when public demands are unsatisfied. This momentum lessens when resources become scarce, members become disengaged, or the issue at hand received more attention by political parties. If a social movement gains enough support, it may turn into a political party. e.g. Green Party of Canada.

Social Movements in a Globalized World

Information technology enlarges social movements and increases their complexities. But then the stakes are higher and the leadership needs to be stronger.


The willy-nilly Tilly studied social movements in Europe since 1500. He studied over 8000 “contentious gatherings” in 1758-1834 Britain. He said that social movements have their beginnings in specific events. What are these specific events? The textbook doesn’t say.

As Western culture spread through trade, colonialism, and migration, the tendency for people to form social movements spread as well. Particularly in democratic states. Tilly claimed that successful social movements can aid political causes.

Carlo Ruzzo said of Tilly: Tilly thinks that structural political conflict is based on social relations, and not people’s inherent psychological tendencies.

Tilly thinks that the job of sociologists is to trace the “logic of violence” in the mobilization of social change.

Stanley (2009) advocates the approach of following narrative inquiry. Stanley said that analysis should place the stories in the context of contemporary large-scale issues, and look beyond the storyteller’s own version of the causes and effects in the narrative.
(Basically, don’t take gossip as it is.)

Sakai (2009) follow’s Tilly’s model in analyzing trans-generational narratives. Studied stories of Northern Ireland people after WWII. Sakai finds that storytellers reinterpret their own lives through the experiences of their parents.

Green and Ward (2009) agree that the “logic of violence” is evident in Iraq following the 2003 invasion. Do you know that in unstable states the black market is as economically important as legal ones?

Pallister-Wilkins (2009) looks at activism surrounding the building of West Bank barrier wall between Israeli and Palestinian territories. Activists from both sides don’t want the wall to be built. Palestinians because this is a threat to the well-being of their communities. Israelis because they think people need not feel oppressed to act against perceived injustice.

Hockey, Meah, and Robinson (2009) look at sex lives of young adults in WWII. In stressful times people are having premarital sex! Neither individualistic approach nor the group approach can provide a satisfactory answer. It shows that people can uphold social conventions at a collective level but flout them on a personal level.

Tilly belongs to the fusion approach.

New Insights

Teppy quotes a poem. Aww how nice. In my beginning is my end.

And The Words of the Prophets Are Written on a Subway Wall
Roberge (2009) write about Jeffery Alexander’s cultural sociology, and notes how present-day societies are “ritual-like”.

Man Is Defined by Actions, Not by Words
Gustavsen (2008) notes that action-research — research aimed at informing and promoting change — exists in many varieties and domains. It is dedicated to success.

Sarah Wakefield looked at the “food movement”. Building on the Frankfurt critical theory, she uses the term PRAXISSSSSSSSS to describe how people live out their beliefs. These approaches contribute to the quest for freedom, basis of critical theory.

CMS Sounds Like PMS
In organizational management, there is “critical management studies” (CMS). Willmott (2008) asks: what’s the point of CMS? (I wonder too). It is important to include developing connections between CMS and activists. These goals of committing business to social justice are interrelated and require supranational cooperation.
(It still doesn’t really tell you what CMS is…)

In the State We Trust
Ross (2008) says we shouldn’t rely too heavily on civil society and too little on the state in bring about social changes. “Anti-statism” and anarchy is not very good.

Get Off Your Arses and Do Work
Sukhov (2008) says that despite concerns about political issues, significant factors lead people to deter taking action. These causes include:
-Underdeveloped capacity for independent moral judgement
-Connection to others who are already involved in addressing the problem
-Their own previous involvement
Many of the behaviours of respondents may appear non-rational.

Freedom Soars Like a Hawk
Critical theorists such as Soares (2007) says that postmodernism is the new face of imperialism. It doesn’t reprimand society for the social ills capitalism causes.


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