SOC 350. Social Movements

This seminar introduces students to the study of U.S. and international social movements. Students study the causes, activities, successes, and failures of social movements, and their importance in the contemporary world.

This course will critically examine the nature and causes of social movements in a national and global context. It explores a number of core questions about social movements: What are social movements? When do social movements occur? Who joins social movements? How are social movements organized? What are the strategies and tactics of social movements? How does the state affect the development and success of social movements? Why do some social movements disintegrate? What impact do social movements have on society? These are among the many questions that we will grapple with throughout the semester. Some of the featured movements we will use to explore these questions will be the unemployed workers movement, the civil rights movement, the nonviolent direct action movement of the 70s & 80s, the women's movement, the gay and lesbian movement, the labor movement, the environmental movement, the new American right, and the global justice movement.  Together, we will investigate the factors affecting the emergence, growth, structure and impact of these social movements as their participants intentionally attempt to transform social relationships and reshape social values.

The course traces the development of protest movements in response to racial, class, gender, environmental and political inequality in the context of U.S. politics and history. In the first part of the course, we will acquaint ourselves with some of the theoretical perspectives posed by social movement scholars to explain social movements. We will then examine a variety of modern movements using them to assess various theories of social movements. The common point of reference for each movement is the interplay between the social and economic forces at play during the development and mobilization of each movement, the strategies and tactics adopted within each movement, the reaction of elites and government officials, and the relative successes and failures of each movement.


Political Protest & Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s, Barbara Epstein (U. California 1991).

Poor People’s Movements: Why they succeed, How they fail,  Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward (Vintage 1979).