Making Sense of Social Movements

Making Sense of Social Movements

Making Sense of Social Movements

Making Sense of Social Movements


"...effectively demonstrates the enduring importance of 'classical' social movement theory...and provides a cutting edge critical review of recent theoretical developments. This is one of the most important general theoretical texts on social movements for some years." - Paul Bagguley, University of Leeds
  • Why and how do social movements emerge?
  • In which ways are social movements analysed?
  • Can our understanding be enhanced by new perspectives?
Making Sense of Social Movements offers a clear and comprehensive overview of the key sociological approaches to the study of social movements. The author argues that each of these approaches makes an important contribution to our understanding of social movements but that none is adequate on its own. In response he argues for a new approach which draws together key insights within the solid foundations of Pierre Bourdieu's social theory of practice.

This new approach transcends the barriers which still often divide European and North American perspectives of social movements, and also those which divide recent approaches from the older 'collective behaviour' approach. The result is a theoretical framework which is uniquely equipped for the demands of modern social movement analysis.

The clear and concise style of the text, as well as its neat summaries of key concepts and approaches, will make this book invaluable for undergraduate courses. It will also be an essential reference for researchers.


In this chapter I outline and assess Herbert Blumer's (1969) theory of social movements. This theory belongs to the 'collective behaviour' (CB) camp of movement theory, referred to in my Introduction, and it is often cited in the blanket condemnations that approach receives in the contemporary literature. In my evaluation I will suggest that there is, indeed, much that is problematic in Blumer's account but I will also attempt to draw out some valuable insights that have been buried by critiques of CB. In particular Blumer's account raises important issues relating to identity, meaning and culture within social movements, which, having been neglected in the work of the critics of CB, are now re-emerging as central issues in and for movement analysis. More to the point, Blumer offers us a solid and insightful basis for thinking about these issues which is still superior, in many respects, to those advocated in the more recent literature. His work deserves a re-evaluation and it is my intention to do just this.

Blumer's work is rooted in the perspective of G.H. Mead (1967). Many critiques of his work within the social movements literature fail to recognize this and, as a consequence, do his work an injustice. I hope to right that wrong here by beginning with a reasonably detailed, if brief, overview of the main tenets of Mead's approach (see also Joas 1985; Crossley 1996, 2001c). Having done this I spend two sections of the chapter examining Blumer's account of social movements and their formation. Finally, I offer a critical evaluation of the contribution which Blumer's account can make to a contemporary analysis of social movements.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.