Methods of Social Movement Research

Methods of Social Movement Research

Methods of Social Movement Research

Methods of Social Movement Research

Excerpt

“Theory-bashing, ” as John Lofland (1993) called it, is the ritual knocking down of a simplistic theoretical model erected for the occasion before the author goes on to announce his or her own contribution. Social movement scholars, in Lofland's view, have been among those most committed to this intellectual ritual. Social psychological and breakdown theories, resource mobilization theory, and, most recently, political process theory have all enjoyed the dubious honor of serving as targets. Doubting that scientific progress is served by this habit, Lofland regretted that it had become so pervasive in the social movement literature and, although on the wane in the 1990s, was still common. Yet Steven Buechler's (2000, p. xi) recent assessment seemingly belies Lofland's forebodings: “Social movement theory and research have recently become some of the most active areas within the discipline, producing a tremendous volume of work on diverse aspects of collective action.” Along with many others, we agree with this observation; social movement theory has made significant progress. Was Lofland then wrong? Was what he saw as ritualized theory-bashing in fact lively debate that has pushed the study of social movements forward? Yes and no. We propose that the “secret” of the success of social movement theory and research has, indeed, been its characteristic openness to criticism and new approaches, but only in so far as this has been accompanied by a readiness to put new ideas to empirical test. This, and the creative employment of a variety of research methods, has in our view turned the study of social movements into a real empirical science and a successful enterprise.

The success of social movement studies is evidenced by both the profusion . . .

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