Understanding Social Movements: Theories from the Classical Era to the Present

Understanding Social Movements: Theories from the Classical Era to the Present

Understanding Social Movements: Theories from the Classical Era to the Present

Understanding Social Movements: Theories from the Classical Era to the Present


In thirteen succinct chapters, Buechler traces movement theories from the classical era of sociology to the most recent examples of transnational activism. He identifies the socio-historical context, central concepts, and guiding logic of diverse movement theories, with emphasis on: Comparisons of Marx and Lenin; Weber and Michels; and Durkheim and LeBon The Chicago School of the inter-war period The political-sociological approaches of the 1950s The varieties of strain and breakdown theories at the dawn of the 1960s Major paradigm shifts caused by the cascade of 1960s social movements Vivid examples of movements worldwide and coverage of all major theorists Critiques, debates, and proposed syntheses dominating the turn of the 21st century Recent trends (such as cyberactivism and transnational movements) and their theoretical implications"


In the spring of 2007 I was invited to be part of a five person team to give a workshop on social movement theory and research to social science faculty and advanced graduate students from around China. The workshop took place that summer at Renmin University, Beijing. Among other topics, I was asked to lecture on the history of social movement theory and research.

Although I regularly wrote about social movement topics, and had taught courses on it and related topics off and on for more than forty years, I had never actually written about or lectured on the full history of social movement theory. Instead, like many faculty who teach in the general area of collective behavior and social movements, I only discussed enough of the history of the subject to place the current set of interests and topics in context.

I searched for articles and books that bore on the subject, but found only a few. I worked hard on the lecture and presented a talk that not only gave an overview of the history, but also attempted to place that history in a sociological and disciplinary context. I raised the issues of what was going on in the society at the time the scholar was writing and what was shaping the intellectual context in which writings about social movements and collective behavior took place.

As I worked on the lecture I began to think that the topic really deserved a fuller treatment in book form; it seemed obvious to me that it would be really useful to both graduate students and undergraduates. But I knew that I didn’t want to write such a book. For one, I already had a pretty full scholarly agenda. I also didn’t think I was the best person to write such a book. Although I was competent to give a lecture on the topic, I did not have the depth of background in the history of sociological theory and research to do a really good book.

I began to think about who would be a good candidate to approach about writing such a book, either by themselves or with me. I quickly turned to Steve Buechler. Although I did not know him personally, more than almost anyone else I knew he had shown in his writings a continuing concern about the unfolding history of the . . .

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