Past analysis of social movements and social movement organizations has normally assumed a close link between the frustrations or grievances of a collectivity of actors and the growth and decline of movement activity. Questioning the theoretical centrality of this assumption directs social movement analysis away from its heavy emphasis upon the social psychology of social movement participants; it can then be more easily integrated with structural theories of social process. This essay presents a set of concepts and related propositions drawn from a resource mobilization perspective. It emphasizes the variety and sources of resources; the relationship of social movements to the media, authorities, and other parties; and the interaction among movement organizations. Propositions are developed to explain social movement activity at several levels of inclusiveness-the social movement sector, the social movement industry, and social movement organization.
John D. McCarthy is Distinguished Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at the Pennsylvania State University. He served both as Graduate Director and Head of his Department. He recently finished research projects on public disorders and another on spiritual entrepreneurs. He is now working on a book about the Tea Party mobilization, and most recently, is continuing a project on anti-Muslim events in the U.S. during the last twenty years, funded by the National Science Foundation. He is currently Co-PI on a project to investigate the discriminatory impacts of routine voter maintenance on disadvantaged voters during the last five years. In 2007 he received a Lifetime Scholarly Achievement Award, named in his honor, from the Center for the Study of Social Movements and Change at Notre Dame University.
Research InterestsSocial Movements, Complex Organizations, Policing of Protest, Dynamics of Protest
The Highlander Folk School became known to 1960s activist its pioneering experimental work with "freedom schools," the grass-roots academies held in churches, beauty parlors, and ho the South, that observers agree were crucial to the cognitive lib made the civil rights movement possible (Morris, 1984; McAda Less well known are Highlander's earlier struggles nurturing ind ionism in the South during the 1930s. Highlander is one of many organizations that facilitates progressive collective action among indigenous groups, one of those that Aldon Morris has dubbed "movement halfway houses." In this review we consider Highlander's miraculous longevity in contrast to the seemingly typical instability among this class of organizations by comparing it with the experience of the "labor colleges." These schools offer examples of the little understood phenomena of movement mentoring organizations.
American sociologists have been intrigued with the phenomena of social movements. They have studied and analyzed movements ranging from those on the left-wing aimed at overturning the social order to those on the right-wing aimed at restoring an earlier order. But they have not neglected moderate movements with ameliorative goals or movements with no apparent political goals or implications (e.g., movements related to individual deviance such as alcoholism or to a belief in the end of the world). To understand the rise and fall of all of these movements--and their related movement organizations, which normally are the unit of analysis--sociologists have focused upon members. Leites and Wolf  call this a "hearts and minds of the people" approach, which assigns primary importance to the state of consciousness of members and potential members. The development of group consciousness, the relation of a group's life situation to the formation of ideology and to social action have been primary concerns of this study and analysis.
We stress a different approach. Our "resource mobilization" approach emphasizes the resources, beyond membership consciousness and manpower, that may become available to potential movements. These resources support the growth and vitality of movements and movement organizations. This view does not necessarily deny the existence of grievances. It stresses the structural conditions that facilitate the expression of grievances.
This book is concerned with the carriers and fate of social movements in modern America. It presents an argument that in an organizational society the shape of social movements is closely tied to the technologies, forms, opportunities, and targets created by that society.
Although the literature on social movements is vast, there has been surprisingly little systematic analysis of the interaction of social movement organizations (but see James Q. Wilson, 1973; Zald and Ash, 1966; Gusfield, 1966, Nelson. 1974). Of course. practitioners and the practical theorists have developed strategies for interorganizational relations. Lenin knew how to freeze the Mensheviks out in the cold, and his able disciple, Willi Muenzenberger, knew how to create a popular front. Naturally enough. practical theorists have not analyzed the range of possible forms of social movement organization interaction, normally concentrating instead upon problems of the moment.
Mobilization of resources is a central concern among analysts of social movements. However, little research has focused on factors that influence the types and amounts of resources collective actors are able to mobilize. In this study, data from local social movement organizations opposing drinking and driving are used to assess the roles of agency (i.e., amount of effort), strategy, organizational structure, and nature of national affiliation in the mobilization of resources. Measures of agency consistently predict mobilization of volunteer labor, revenue, and membership. Strategy seems less important: An emphasis on victim services was positively related only to mobilization of members. Organizational structure, particularly the number of task committees, was consistently related to mobilization of volunteer labor, revenue, and membership. Affiliation with a highly visible and highly legitimated national organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), appears to have an energizing effect on local leaders while it dampens the effects of agency, strategy, and organizational structure. These results are interpreted within the distinctive political and cultural context of the movement against drinking and driving.
Protest is now central to politics in Western democracies, but it is known to citizens mainly through portrayals in the media. Yet the media cover only a small fraction of public protests, raising the possibility of selection bias. We study this problem by comparing police records of demonstrations in Washington, D.C. in 1982 and 1991 with media coverage of the events in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and on three national television networks. We model the consequences of demonstration form, context, and purpose on the likelihood of media coverage. The estimated size of a demonstration and its importance to the current media issue attention cycle are the strongest predictors of its coverage. Additional analyses support our claim that heightened media attention to an issue increases the likelihood that protests related to that issue will be covered. Comparing 1982 to 1991 suggests that television coverage of protests is increasingly subject to the impact of media issue attention cycles.
Social movements often seek to draw attention to issues they deem important by organizing public demonstrations with the aim of attracting mass media coverage. But only a small proportion of all public demonstrations receives any media attention. This article asks whether even the minimal coverage that demonstrations receive reveal any influence of social movements in shaping how issues are framed by the mass media. Analyzing newspaper and television news stories on Washington, D.C. protests held during 1982 and 1991, we ask whether news reports on protests are framed in ways consistent with the aims of protesters. Do demonstrators receive media coverage that highlights the issues about which they are concerned, or does coverage focus on the protest event itself, to the exclusion of the social issues that movements target? Our results support much of the surmising among media scholars, that even when movements succeed at obtaining the attention of mass media outlets, media reports portray protests in ways that may undermine social movement agendas. Despite this obstacle to communicating protest messages through demonstrations, movements engage in other forms of communication that can affect public interpretations of mass media frames.
Hypotheses about police presence and police action at social movement protest events in New York State between 1968 and 1973 are tested with the aim of understanding the broad mechanisms of social control used by authorities during this cycle of mass protest. Contrary to the popular perception of overzealous police repression of protest in this period, results show that police did not attend the majority of protest events. Tests of dominant explanations of police presence using logistic regression analysis indicate that the best predictor of police presence at a protest event was how threatening the event was--police attended larger protest events and those that used confrontational tactics. Tests (using multinomial logistic regression) of explanations of police action, given police presence at an event, indicate that extreme forms of police action were also triggered by threatening characteristics of events. Events in which subordinate groups and social movement organizations participated were also more likely to draw police action. Novel contributions include the comparison of dominant explanations of protest policing and methods that move beyond the tradition of examining repression through police presence or absence.
This article contrasts the organizational structure, goals, and tactics of congregation-based organizations (CBOs) with individual membership organizations (IMOs) that represent alternative organizational repertoires for groups aiming to empower poor communities in the United States. Organizational records of 86 CBOs and 125 IMOs are evaluated. It was found that CBOs mobilize substantially more community members and are more likely to devote their efforts toward leadership development and organization building. On the other hand, IMOs are far more likely to employ aggressive social change tactics, whereas CBOs focus more on consensus issues. Finally, IMOs employ a far more diverse array of grassroots funding strategies. The generalizability of these findings is discussed.
Social capital plays a central role in facilitating the mobilization of social movement organizations (SMOs). Do the initial mobilization advantages of social capital persist, however, as movement organizations evolve? And do the strategies pursued by social movement organizations affect these advantages? We investigate these questions through a broad empirical analysis of factors affecting the short-term persistence of local chapters of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Reasoning that multiple forms of social capital would each have a positive impact on survival, we assess the independent effect of several indicators of social capital with mixed results. Consistent with prior research, we find that access to patronage at founding and a greater stock of weak ties in the community confer survival advantages. Yet SMOs that emerged from preexisting groups and those with leaders previously tied to one another through civic engagement were less likely to persist, raising a first cautionary flag about the generality of advantages of resource co-optation and “bloc recruitment.” The effect of preexisting, strong ties among group leaders varies by how much emphasis the group placed on victim aid activities. Those ties conferred expected survival advantages on groups that did not strongly emphasize victim aid activities. The implications of these results are discussed.
Expectations about police responses to disorderly campus gatherings are explored here using details about nearly 400 disorderly convivial gatherings and confrontational protests that occurred during recent decades. Past work suggests that protests may represent threats to authorities, but protests also are privileged by the First Amendment, yielding conflicting expectations about the forcefulness of police responses. In contrast, convivial gatherings, even those that breach the public order, may be less threatening to authorities, while at the same time more difficult to police because of their comparative lack of social organization. Analyzing details of the gatherings, we find that while police frequently attempt to disperse disturbances of both kinds, they use force in only a small minority of them. However, police are substantially more likely to use force when protest participants also use force than when convivial participants do, suggesting that the relationship between threat and police response is heavily contingent upon the nature of the event as well as the behavior of participants. The findings highlight the interplay between the internal dynamics of gatherings and the way they are perceived by authorities.
Analysts have shown increased interest in how social movements use tactical repertoires strategically. While the state is most often the guarantor of new benefits, many movements—from labor to the environmental movement—target corporate, educational, and other institutions. Employing a unique data set of protests reported in the New York Times (1960–90), this research examines how repertoires are, in part, contingent on the institutional target a movement selects. In particular, the authors consider the role of each target's vulnerabilities and its capacities for response—repression, facilitation, and routinization—as explanations for the degree of transgressive protest each target faces. The results provide strong evidence for considering targets as a central factor in shaping forms of social protest.
This study builds on political mediation and movement infrastructure models to highlight contingent and synergistic ways in which social movements may impinge upon the U.S. national policy-making process. Analyses employ a variety of datasets to examine the role of environmental movement organizational capacity, protest and institutional activity in garnering Congressional attention to, and action on, salient issues from 1961 through 1990. We find all types of movement activity, but especially the development of national organizational infrastructures, to be positively associated with the convening of Congressional hearings on the environment. Only when there are high levels of both protest and institutional activity is there any evidence that the environmental movement directly influences the passage of environmental laws.
Organizations active in mobilizing low- and moderate-income communities make considerable efforts to combat inequalities and build voice for citizens, despite inherent challenges of obtaining resources, maintaining member interest, and retaining staff. How, then, do such groups remain viable—even thriving—organizations? Building upon research on organizational theory and social movements, we examine patterns of survival among a sample of community-based organizations (CBOs) between 1990 and 2004, thus providing the first systematic study of their long-term mortality processes. More specifically, we test how organizations' sociopolitical legitimacy and resources (and strategies for cultivating both) influence survival, finding that the legitimacy of organizations in low-income areas is a double-edged sword, as embeddedness in resource-deprived local environments confers both benefits and disadvantages. In particular, we find the strongest support for the notion that, beyond the considerable effects of externally obtained resources, CBOs also benefit considerably by engaging in even a small amount of grassroots fundraising. Further, although we find significant effects of extra-local legitimacy in the baseline models—through organizations' affiliation with national or regional organizing networks—we find evidence in additional analyses that the survival benefits of network affiliation are largely mediated by resources. We also find sizable but marginally significant effects of local legitimacy, and significant positive effects of organizational age and urban location. Overall, our findings suggest that although cultivating resources is the surest path to survival, organizations that build their legitimacy will be in a better position to compensate for structural resource deficits.
Associations with a professional staff but no members (nonmembership advocacy organizations, or NMAOs) are the subject of lively debate. Many argue that their proliferation has allowed an expansion of advocacy without an accompanying growth in civic engagement. This article asks if there has been significant recent growth of NMAOs and if those organizations have displaced membership advocacy organizations (MAOs). The authors find no evidence for a proportional increase of NMAOs since the 1960s. Further, among all organizations in three populations—peace, women's issues, and human rights—NMAOs have not displaced MAOs. In particular, the authors find that MAO density shapes NMAO founding, as membership groups provide a base for professional advocacy. These findings challenge the notion that U.S. civic life has undergone a systemic transformation away from organizational forms that promote civic engagement.
Why do some social movement leaders work harder than others? And, how does gender affect the patterns we uncover? Utilizing historical case study evidence of local chapters in the emerging movement opposing drinking and driving we are able to develop and test theoretical expectations about predictors of weekly effort among MADD and RID leaders. Taken together, our model explains 45 percent of the variation in leadership effort. We find bureaucratic complexity and victim support activities are more powerful predictors of effort than are individual leader characteristics, although all are important. Further analysis reveals that gender almost wholly conditions the strong effect of bureaucratic complexity on leadership effort so that increasingly complex chapter structures are associated with substantial increases in work hours for women but not men.
The political mobilization of evangelicals has been widely chronicled, but their mobilization in the civil sector has received far less attention. That mobilization is embodied in parachurch organizations, which are nonprofits infused with religious purpose but independent of congregations and denominations. Here we examine the features of local communities that account for variation in the creation of parachurch organizations. Drawing upon a broad number of theoretical approaches, we develop a series of expectations about the variation in parachurch foundings across counties. Using IRS registration records and a diverse set of other secondary data sources, we assess the impact of religious structures and cultures, organizational densities, and government and social movement contexts on parachurch foundings across U.S. counties. Our analysis finds that counties with higher rates of adherence to evangelical Protestantism generate more parachurch organizations, but only if the county is not too saturated by evangelicals. On the other hand, counties with higher rates of adherence to Catholic, mainline Protestant, and Latter-Day Saint traditions generate fewer parachurch organizations.
Protest waves ebb and flow in contemporary America. Willingness to protest is a key precursor to a fledgling citizen’s potential for eventually being mobilized to participate in a public demonstration. Here, we explore trends in high school seniors’ willingness to protest from 1976 through 2015, employing annual data from the Monitoring the Future survey. After modest increases in willingness to protest that occurred for cohorts during the early-1990s, willingness to protest has steadily decreased for subsequent cohorts. We found that political interest, prior political experiences, and social engagement have a significant impact on time-series and cross-sectional variations in the willingness to protest for all cohorts. We address the larger implications of our research findings for theories of political participation and social movements.
Social movements are constantly evolving. Protest activity waxes and wanes as movements suffer through prolonged periods of frustration, win occasional gains, and turn to new goals and issues. While theoretical models of protest activity are often sensitive to this reality, empirical models typically treat these explanations as time-invariant, rather than situated in specific moments in movements’ histories. Quite simply, we suspect that the effect of important predictors of movement activity, notably access to resources, political opportunities, repression, and competition, varies depending on the specific moment in the movement’s life course. We explore this possibility through a detailed analysis of three main periods of the American Civil Rights movement: (1) the movement’s initial success (1960–1968), its subsequent demobilization (1968–1977), and its institutionalization (1978–1995). Our analysis builds on limited work arguing for greater sensitivity to a movement’s life course when explaining protest activity. We find that the type of organizational resources that shape mobilization varies across periods, and support for prior work showing that the concurrent push and pull of institutionalization and radicalization led to demobilization. Finally, we find that coalition work motivated protest during its period of institutionalization. We conclude by discussing the theoretical and empirical implications of these findings.
McCarthy, J. D. (2018). Toward a strategy for integrating the study of social movement and populist party mobilisation. In Populism and the Crisis of Democracy: Volume 1: Concepts and Theory (pp. 147-169). 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN: Routledge.
McPhail, C., & McCarthy, J. D. (2005). Protest mobilization, protest repression, and their interaction. Repression and mobilization, 21, 3-32.
Draws upon diverse theoretical & empirical research on repression & mobilization to explore what seems to be changing & what still needs to be learned. It is contended that the existing research tends to overemphasize violent activity within collective action & often misrepresents both democratic political systems & repression/mobilization as uniformly structured in a specific manner. A discussion of the interaction of the actors/actions involved in mobilization & repression highlights the complexity of interaction between challengers & the state as well as the wide variation in both protester objectives/tactics & protest policing. A review of videotaped interactions between protesters & police at several large events in London indicates that violent actions by either protesters or police are relatively rare & when they do occur they tend to be short-lived & engaged in by only a small fraction of the total group. An approach for analyzing interaction between protesters & the police that considers how actors adapt their behaviors to one another is suggested.
Johnson, Erik and John D. McCarthy. 2005. “The Sequencing of Transnational and National Social Movement Mobilization: The Organizational Mobilization of the Global and U.S. Environmental Movements.” Pp. 71-94 in Transnational Protest and Global Activism. Donatella Della Porta and Sidney Tarrow (eds.) Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlfield.
Is the mobilization of national and transnational social movements, as reflected in their organizational dynamics, mainly a top down or bottom up process? That is, does the increasing density of populations of transnational social movement organizations (TSMOs) promote subsequent growth in the density of populations of state level social movement organizations (SMOs), or visa versa? We approach the research question by analyzing the co-evolution of the populations of transnational and national environmental SMOs in the U.S. between 1945 and 2000. Our findings indicate that, early in the period under observation, growth in the population density and rate of founding among national environmental SMOs preceded growth among international TSMOs, demonstrating a clear sequence in the rapid emergence of the two movement populations. There is some indication that this process is reversed temporarily in the more recent time period. We discuss the generalizability of these results to other nations, movement populations, and levels of geographical scope. We conclude with a brief discussion of the elements necessary to construct a more rigorous test of the top-down thesis of mobilization.
McClurg Mueller, C., & McCarthy, J. D. (2003). Cultural Continuity and Structural Change: The Logic of Adaption by Radical, Liberal, and Socialist Feminists to State Reconfiguration. Women’s Movements Facing the Reconfigured State, 219-41.