Derek Jarman, Act Up

What is a Social Movement?

Instructor: Nara Roberta Silva
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Social movements are instrumental in driving social, political, and cultural transformations across the globe. They raise awareness and shape public opinion; pursue collective action by way of strikes, demonstrations, advocacy; and even engage in sometimes violent forms of resistance. Whether gathering diverse constituencies under intersectional umbrellas or focalizing and amplifying the demands of particular populations, movements like ACT UP, Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion, La Via Campesina, Occupy Wall Street, the Sex Workers Rights and Landless Workers Movements, and countless others not only provide a platform for the concerns of (dis)affected persons and communities, but seek to secure alternative paths for institutional and extra-institutional change. Amidst all the variety of aims and strategies, what can we say defines a social movement? How and why do social movements emerge? And how can we gauge their effectiveness in remediating oppression and social inequality? 

In this course, we will take a broad survey of historical and contemporary approaches to collective action, asking, on the one hand, how social movements have effected change and, on the other, how our understanding of social movements has itself changed over time. Alongside specific movements and historical episodes—from rebellions in the 19th century to strikes and debates about “crowds” in the 20th, from the global movements of the 1960s to the formation of 21st-century movements via the internet and social media—we’ll consider the significant body of theory that has grown up around social movements as a force for change. Throughout, we will concern ourselves with questions like: What is the role of grievance, on the one hand, and of identity, on the other, in the rise and development of a social movement? What role does class play in social movements? What are the challenges social movements face, both internally and externally? What motivates a social movement? And, further: can causal factors, such as perceived deprivation, explain their trajectories? Readings will draw on a wide range of case studies and scholarship from, among others, Eric Hobsbawm, Frances Fox Piven, Richard Cloward, Charles Tilly, Sidney Tarrow, Francesca Polletta, James Jasper, Alain Touraine, Donatella della Porta, Ruth Milkman, Jo Freeman, Aldon Morris, and Manuel Castells.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
April 09 — April 30, 2024
4 weeks


Registration Open

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