Book Review: The Social Movements Reader, edited by Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper (Blackwell Publishing, 2003)

imagedb.jpegThe Authors
Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper edited The Social Movements Reader. Goodwin is an associate professor of sociology at New York University. Jasper is an author who has written many books covering social movements including The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements.

The Book
The Social Movements Reader is an incredibly thorough and useful book that takes a comprehensive look at what social movements are and why they exist. It is structured around ten basic questions: When and why do social movements occur? Who joins or supports movements? Who remains in movements and who drops out? What do movement participants think and feel? How are movements organized? What do movements do? How do the state and mass media influence movements? Why do movements decline? And what changes do movements bring about?

After a brief introduction on each chapter, the editors include selections from a variety of researchers and practitioners that seek to answer each question by focusing on specific movements. What results is a practical and thorough primer on what makes social movements work or fail. The editors have done a terrific job selecting a wide range of authors and topics and cover succinctly and clearly the growth of understanding of social movements throughout history.

The Reaction
The editors’ take on mobilizing a social movement was of particular interest to me within the context of social movements and Christianity. Although equating Christianity to a social movement risks greatly narrowing the scope and impact of Christianity, there are certain similarities and things that can be learned from how groups have mobilized and connected people within movements.

It was interesting to see the analysis of why people join and stay in social movements. While it involves availability and belief alignment, the primary factor was connection to others who were involved (p. 94). This fact is true in involvement with almost any organization (or religion). Regardless of marketing and communication, individual connections have the most impact.

The use of elite white students during the civil rights movement was an excellent example of using power in an unexpected way. It wasn’t coercion. It wasn’t a power play. Instead of trying to get powerful but sympathetic white college students to lobby their friends for change (which would have been difficult to organize and would have seen little success), leaders encouraged the students to come and serve. This brought both media attention and FBI protection that would have otherwise been non-existent.

Although it was a risk to call in white people for ‘help’, the movements’ leaders understood the powerful images it would provide. Those images helped to turn tides of media attention and public opinion (p. 57).

In the end, there is an unavoidable difference between Christianity and a typical social movement. Christianity uniquely impacts the world. It lasts throughout time. Some people hold the beliefs and ideas of a social movement with religious ferver, but in the end a movement typically encompasses just one part of life. Christianity is an internal change that results in outward action. Social movements must create their plan as they go. But Christianity has its map for action in the example of Jesus Christ.

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Book Review: The Social Movements Reader, edited by Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper (Blackwell Publishing, 2003)

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