How Long? How Long?: African American Women and the Struggle for Civil Rights

By Belinda Robnett | Go to book overview

ONE
Rethinking Social Movement Theory Race, Class, Gender, and Culture

THIS WOMANIST/BLACK FEMINIST retelling of the story of the civil rights movement contributes significantly to our understanding not only of the civil rights movement but of social movements in general. It is evident that social movements are complex and many diverse theories have developed to explain them. This book brings to light some connections between these competing ideas.

One of the earliest social movement theories -- collective behavior theory -- concluded that movements were irrational, spontaneous events that tended to emerge from shared grievances and collective frustration. This model has increasingly lost favor, and many social movement scholars have turned their attention to the more rational components of a movement. 1 Resource mobilization theory posits that, while grievances and frustrations may spark collective action, resources are most critical for shaping those grievances into a viable social movement. Move, ments cannot occur without money, persons with free time, and other such pragmatic elements. This framework disavows the strategic significance of emotions and the spontaneous. Social movements, resource mobilization theorists claim, develop through rational, planned activity as do organizations that maintain the status quo. Moreover, activists behave in ways similar to actors in ordinary organizations. 2

The political process variant of this model adds the notion that movements, while emerging from rational choices and dependent upon resources, require po-

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