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Mark Traugott 26 Soc. Probs. 38 (1978)

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University of California
at Santa Cruz

The study of social movements is a part of sociology still ill-defined and poorly
elaborated. Conventional formulations have borrowed a social-psychological per-
spective from the study of collective behavior. As a result, assumptions have been
used that are unsuited to the nature of social movements. In this study I propose
two criteria-positive solidarity and antiinstitutional orientation-as essential parts of
a restricted but more coherent definition to guide research on social movements.
I also explore briefly some of the implications and advantages of this change in

Social movements have long held a fascination for analysts of society. Because they
often arrive seemingly unannounced, because they have enormous potential for violence, and
because they are capable of profoundly transforming the social order, social movements, what-
ever their organizing principle, demand the attention of those who wish to understand the
process by which social systems resolve conflicts and effect large-scale change.
A large and fascinating set of case materials and of analyses of limited aspects of social
movement behavior has been developed since the origins of the sociological perspective and
continues to grow, but no widely accepted theoretical system has emerged to link together
isolated findings. The synthesis of theory and research on social movements is less satisfactory
than that on many other topics receiving comparable effort.
What can explain this state of theoretical underdevelopment? In this paper I will argue that a
major impediment to the sociological understanding of social movements has been the tendency
to lump them together with "collective behavior."'I There are, of course, sound intuitive reasons
for borrowing from theorists concerned primarily with crowd behavior, the propagation of
rumors, fads, panics and similar phenomena. First, incidents of collective behavior are the
universal concomitants of large-scale social movements. Rebellions and revolutions are inevitably
accompanied by gatherings of insurgents, by confrontations with police and troops, and by out-
bursts of destructive and creative impulses in volatile combination. Considered in isolation, each
incident might usefully be examined as collective behavior, but that need not imply that the col-
lective behavior perspective is a satisfactory framework for the explanation of whole social
The second reason for joining these two fields has been that collective behavior and social
movements share a sociologically distinctive characteristic: they occur outside the institutional
framework already forming everyday life. Both break through the familiar web of ordered
expectations. But do both sets of phenomena involve similar attitudes toward society's existing
My point is that recognition of such apparent similarities has obscured the equally important
differences separating the two classes of behavior. As long as we see social movements as
nothing but an aggregation of ephemeral collective behavior processes and events, we cannot
account for the qualitatively distinct strategies and objectives which these long term, often highly
organized phenomena may imply. Because incidents of crowd behavior accompany revolutionary

'The term "collective behavior" designates a set of sociological phenomena, a subdiscipline of sociology,
as well as a specific theoretical perspective. I apply the label "collective behavior theory" to the work of Le
Bon, Freud, Feuer and Smelser because they attempt to explain collective behavior phenomena, even though
they do not belong to the Chicago-derived school which bears that name.
Social Movements

ferment, it does not follow that they encompass a movement's full significance for the surround-
ing social system. Isn't sociology's basic premise and justification the recognition of the need
for a unit of analysis that embraces systems of behavior? In the study of social movements,
such a recognition requires a perspective transcending the psychological and individualistic, one
considering particular events as moments in a longer process of systematic social change.
There is another crucial distinction to recognize, concerning what is considered institutional.
The spontaneity and the lack of internal structure that students of collective behavior impute
to the phenomena they study are considered as noninstutitional. Social movements, on the other
hand, break through the framework in a completely different sense. When we cease to consider
mere episodes and begin to view movements as coherent wholes, we discern a high degree of
internal order and purposeful orientation. It is just this organizational potential that permits
social movements to challenge established institutions. Because they seek to change or replace
existing societal structures, social movements are more properly termed antiinstitutional.
These differences in unit of analysis and institutional orientation should properly set apart
the study of collective behavior and the study of social movements. A clear line of demarcation
would allow each to accomplish what it does best by developing an internally consistent paradigm.
While they would remain complementary for many purposes, the clarification of their points of
difference would permit each to focus upon a distinct set of phenomena subject to an explanatory
framework of increased specificity and power. Positive proof of this contention can only be
established empirically.2 In the next section I attempt only the more modest task of assembling
negative evidence. Using a selection of examples drawn from the historical development of the
fields in question, I propose to illustrate the theoretical confusions resulting from the lack of a
clear definition of social movements, one emphasizing their distinctive traits.


The discipline of sociology defies purely substantive definition. It constitutes a perspective
applied to subjects as diverse as religion and revolution, suicide and sports, politics and parlor
games, in short to a full range of social activities, including the pursuit of sociology itself. The
essence of this perspective is its adoption of a group unit of analysis. Sociology, at least within
the formulation developed by its classical proponents, focuses upon human behavior characterized
by a sense of social solidarity. The existence of relational ties accounts for the emergent properties
of the social world and justifies a sociological enterprise distinct from other social sciences.
This sociological perspective can be traced back to a specific historical period and cultural
setting. Western Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was the point of
origin for a series of changes among which the development of sociology may be counted as
one of the more modest. These changes had ramifications in all aspects of social life but were
most clearly associated with the growth of capitalism in the economic realm and the emergence
of the "masses" in the political sphere. This process, conveniently summarized by the idea of
modernization, created both the need for and the possibility of a science of society. The conflicts
generated by changing patterns of social behavior spurred the search for new institutional forms.
The renewed faith in rationality encouraged concern with intervention in the social realm.
The advance of the division of labor and the increase in aggregate wealth made possible the
existence of full-time specialists in the analysis of collective life. The consequences of these
converging trends was speculation of a protosociological nature.

2 This is provided in part by the work of the "resource mobilization" school. Its members are
establishing in practice many of the points this paper attempts to develop theoretically.

The French Revolution represented one culmination of these changes. Many individuals
important in the development of the sociological tradition were tied to it, either as inspirators
(Montesquieu and Rousseau, for example) or as its analysts and interpreters such as Burke,
Tocqueville, and Marx. Indeed, European social theorists continued to be preoccupied through-
out the nineteenth century by this true turning point in modern history, the immediate impetus
for so much of the nineteenth century intellectual activity that laid the foundations for a branch
of sociology concerned with social movements. In a sense, then, the attempt to explain crowd
behavior and social unrest sociologically is nearly as old as the sociological enterprise itself.
Gustave LeBon is considered by many to be the originator of what became a collective
behavior research tradition. His interest in mass-based social change first had been aroused by
his study of the events of 1789. As chief of ambulance services in Paris at the time of the Commune
of 1871, LeBon had ample firsthand experience of crowd phenomena and popular insurrection.
Fascinated by their vitality and at the same time provoked into a hostile and reactionary response
by their destructive potential, he dedicated a major portion of his scholarly activity to the
study of the revolutionary process.
Despite the eclecticism of his interests, two themes pervade and unify LeBon's work. The first
is his reliance on a psychological perspective. The second is his preoccupation with what he
terms revolution, but what, because of his psychological bias, amounts to the interpersonal
aspect of the crowd behavior assuming such importance in revolutionary periods. Nowhere in
LeBon's extensive writings are these themes more fruitfully combined than in his most celebrated
work, The Crowd, significantly subtitled, A Study of the Popular Mind.
The significance of The Crowd for the later development of social movement analysis is that
LeBon offered two approaches to the explanation of his subject. Psychological arguments pre-
dominated, but there were also many insights of a truly sociological character, although his
immediate successors virtually ignored them.
From the very first page of the preface of that book (1960:1), LeBon grapples with the
essential sociological problem:
When... a certain number of... individuals are gathered together in a crowd for the purposes of action,
observation proves that, from the mere fact of their being assembled, there result certain new psycho-
logical characteristics, which are added to the racial characteristics and differ from them at times to a very
considerable degree.'

In this passage LeBon not only correctly identified the emergent quality of crowd phenomena,
he also hesitantly pointed to the relational context as the most direct and parsimonious solution
to the apparent anomaly between individual and social behavior.
Yet LeBon left this insight undeveloped. Instead, he elaborated a line of reasoning which was
to have great influence on later thinkers, and give collective behavior its social-psychological
focus. Crowd behavior was seen as the triumph of the participants' unconscious impulses over
their faculties of reason. The lead toward a group unit of analysis was rejected, and LeBon's
implicit standard of comparison became the behavior of abstract individuals. When group
members were found to act differently in a collective context from what might have been

I These concerns are reflected in the titles of books LeBon published after 1895: The Psychology of
Socialism (1909); Political Psychology and Social Defense (1910); The French Revolution and the Psychology
of Revolutions (1912); The Psychology of the Great War (1916); The Psychology of our Times (1920); and
The Psychology of Revolution (1931).
4 LeBon, a medical doctor who also took an active interest in physical anthropology, spent years
collecting measurement of the cranial capacity of both fossil and living specimens. On this comparative
data he based his naive hierarchical categorization of intelligent organisms according to species, race and sex.
(It was this work which Durkheim cited in The Division of Labor.) The contemporary reader, however,
might wish to read "genetic and cultural heritage" in place of "racial characteristics."
Social Movements

expected of them in isolation, the discrepancy was taken as presumptive evidence of irrationality.
For example, LeBon saw clearly that crowd conditions could create in participants a sense of
power and anonymity. This observation could have constituted a point of leverage toward a
sociological interpretation of emergent characteristics. It would have been sufficient to point out
that group members dare to attempt acts that as individuals they would never contemplate, pre-
cisely because the existence of bonds of solidarity creates a qualitatively distinct situation. In
case of failure, they enjoy a relative impunity that is no mere illusion because, acting as a collec-
tivity, participants can neutralize the efficacy of social control by concentrating equal or superior
forces. Similarly, their sense of power is often realistic, based both on the strength of numbers
and the opportunity to coordinate the efforts of individuals joined by a sense of common destiny.
But instead of acknowledging the rational element in the change of perceptions accompanying
the formation of solidary groups, LeBon retreated to an explanation based on such social-
psychological processes as suggestion, contagion, rumor propagation and reciprocal reinforce-
ment. These phenomena involve congregations of individuals, to be sure, but in no way depend
on the existence of relational bonds.
LeBon's emphasis underscored the discontinuity between "normal" individual behavior and
crowd behavior, a different and, by implication, "pathological" form of behavior. The terms of
this opposition could have been reconciled by recognizing the existence of a transcendent social
reality. LeBon, however, kept so closely to the individualistic standard that he was led to the
sociologically questionable assertion that collective phenomena not understandable in individual
terms must lie beyond the limits of normal behavior.
Through LeBon's work, the field of collective behavior was actually offered a choice
between two sets of orienting assumptions. But later thinkers selectively developed the social-
psychological alternative, relegating the sociological aspects to a secondary status. Freud's
Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego is instructive for it shows how the sociological
core of The Crowd-the recognition of emergent phenomena-was rejected in favor of reduc-
tionist explanations:
From our point of view we need not attribute so much importance to the appearance of new characteristics.
For us it would be enough to say that in a group the individual is brought under conditions which allow
him to throw off the repression of his unconscious instinctual impulses. The apparently new characteris-
tics which he then displays are in fact the manifestation of this unconscious, in which all that is evil in
the human mind is contained as a predisposition (1965:9).
From this stress on the role of the unconscious and on the essentially malevolent impulses
underlying crowd behavior it is only a short and easy step to a fully elaborated pathological model.
Of course, the psychological approach is undeniably useful in certain aspects of collective
behavior analysis, for example in the study of group process or in accounting for the appeal of
certain ideological systems to highly specific segments of a differentiated public.
This psychological approach is, however, severely limited as an explanation of large-scale
change of lasting consequence. For in projecting outward from individual characteristics it ignores
the role of larger social constraints transcending individual factors and shaping them significantly.
The abstract individual floats suspended, cut off from considerations of time and place. To
explain, for instance, student unrest as the result of unresolved Oedipal conflicts (Feuer, 1969) is
to raise as many questions about the development of social movements as one answers. For if a
presumably universal developmental crisis in the human (male) life cycle is supposed to underlie
definite social movement manifestations, it remains to be shown why they erupt in one historical-
ly specific set of social circumstances rather than another. The psychological approach cannot,
in short, provide answers to an issue of great sociological interest: what accounts for the variation
in the probability of emergence and in the form of social movement activity?

There are specifiable benefits when analysis is based on a group rather than an individual unit
of analysis. The most immediate benefit is to permit the social movement analyst to cover less
ground. Mixing social-psychological and sociological perspectives has produced a field of study
loosely joining phenomena so diverse as to defy explanation by any single theoretical framework.
The desire for inclusiveness has had a high but hidden cost in theoretical specificity.
Brief consideration of Neil J. Smelser's Theory of Collective Behavior will help to demon-
strate the drawbacks of such theoretical inclusiveness. I have selected this particular book not
because the eclecticism of its approach is exceptional, but on the contrary, because it is the out-
standing attempt to systematize the field. Smelser tries to incorporate within a unified theory the
explanation of panics, fads, crazes, booms, riots, lynchings and revival meetings in addition to
reformist and revolutionary social movements. Not surprisingly, his propositions are posed at a
highly general level. We are offered a six stage sequence of causal inputs (structural conducive-
ness, structural strain, generalized beliefs, mobilization, precipitating events and social con-
trol) that only in combination determine a particular outcome. The "value-added" scheme which
Smelser appropriates from economics is an ingenious way of accommodating the existence of
multiple causes. However, these forms of behavior are so diverse, and the accompanying situa-
tional factors so complex that Smelser's conclusions are just too vague.' The entire framework
can only be applied post hoc. For past social movements it is assuredly possible to point to
conditions and events fulfilling each of Smelser's six categories of cause. The existence of the
movements seems sufficient testimony to their efficacy. But what about the predictive capacity
of the theory for future movements? Here the determination is difficult, if not impossible,
to make. Moreover, in dealing with the acquired facts of existing movements, we rarely find
that the six stages develop in neat temporal order or lend themselves to a clear judgment that
they were inarguably present or wholly absent.
Smelser recognizes these difficulties, and offers as a solution the notion of "activation." He
argues that the conditions or events constituting a given stage of the causal sequence may lie
dormant or may undergo a lengthy process of development before being effectively set in motion.
But has our ability to explain really been advanced by this refinement? Differentiating between
causal factors remaining dormant and achieving active status can only be done after the fact, in
a specific research situation. Under what conditions could Smelser's model of causation be dis-
proved? All past or present movement fulfill the necessary conditions virtually by definition.
Is there, after all, a moment when no conduciveness or strain exists in society? Is there a move-
ment mobilizing no one, or offering no system of belief or involving no act construable as a
precipitant? As for social control, a movement's existence seems sufficient proof that control
was absent or inadequate. For movements which did not occur or have not yet occurred, the
existence of appropriate causal conditions-even in all six categories-will not disprove the
theory, since it is always possible to invoke the lack of "activation" of one or more.
The relative scarcity of specific social movement research based on Smelser's scheme, despite
its prominence, is eloquent testimony to the gap still separating theory and research in the field as
presently conceived .6 The failure to distinguish like from unlike phenomena inevitably leads to
overly general conclusions. On a continuum so broad as to encompass both panics and revolu-
tionary social movements, the extremes will inevitably have little in common.
Panics presume no bonds of solidarity among participants, but the opposite. Once the cry of

' An additional difficulty is that elements of Smelser's definition of his object of study reappear as elements
of his proposed analytical scheme, creating the problem of circularity in his reasoning.
' Quarantelli and Hundley (1969) have made one of the rare attempts to apply this framework to
an actual (minor) incident of student unruliness. They encountered much the same kind of difficulties
suggested here.
Social Movements

"Fire!" is raised in the proverbial crowded theater, each person reverts to action based on
individual interest. Because of their individualistic character, panics and related forms of collec-
tive behavior have been quite adequately explained by gaming theory, an extension of neo-
classical economics' assumptions about the abstract individual's behavior (Mintz, 1951; Berk,
1974; Johnson, 1974). One need only imagine a wildly skewed reward structure (participants
will either escape or burn to death) involving asymetrically distributed probabilities of success
(among those near or distant from inadequate exits). If "players" are assumed to act accord-
ing to sheer self-interest (the lack of positive solidarity), the "solution" emerges as fast as one
can say "prisoner's dilemma."
The success of the gaming approach should astonish no one. Although collective behavior
theorists persist in the attempt to explain them, panics are not obviously sociological behavior.
Those caught up in a panic reaction respond to one another not in a sociologically meaningful
relational context but as objects, in an almost purely physical sense, aiding or impeding escape
from danger. If one adds as a factor in the gaming formula an appropriate degree of preexisting
positive solidarity (imagine that the group is not a randomly assembled film audience but a
gathering of relatives), organization (an army platoon), or leadership (a conference on civil defense
preparedness conducted by an expert in evacuation procedures), then panic is correspondingly less
likely to occur. Yet the very factors inhibiting the panic reaction are among the most essential
preconditions of social movements.
The analyst will labor in vain to draw generalizations both substantive and valid from the study
of phenomena that are polar opposites. Yet this seems a fair description of past attempts to
generate a theory of collective behavior and social movements. The fundamental difference be-
tween these two types of behavior is the existence of bonds of positive solidarity that makes it
possible for social movements to generate common ideology, internal organization, continuity
of leadership and a sense for strategic necessity. The elementary forms of collective behavior
lack these traits because they lack the cohesiveness and staying power that depend on a sense
of common destiny among members.
Moreover, it is the existence of these bonds of solidarity that makes the sociologial perspective
necessary and useful. Just as social movement participants adopt a group unit of analysis-for
example, in accepting individual sacrifice in the name of collective ideals-so social movement
analysts must adopt a group perspective to understand the "idiosyncracies" of collective
action, that is, their differences from individual behavior.' Bonds of positive solidarity are so
essential to social movements as to constitute one of their defining characteristics.
It is true that in confining one's attention to solidary behavior, a number of fascinating
phenomena having a more or less superficial resemblance to social movements would be eliminated
from consideration. But they could continue to provide the focus of the related but independent
field of collective behavior. The study of social movements, meanwhile, would be liberated
from the ambiguity of its present charge. Redefined in terms compatible with a group perspec-
tive, it would quickly rediscover its true vocation and special aptitude for the explanation of
lasting, large-scale challenges to existing institutions.


The criterion of positive solidarity is necessary but not sufficient to define social movements.
It is a characteristic common to most of the phenomena sociologists study and perhaps all
phenomena to which sociological assumptions properly apply. However, the solidary behavior

' Some idea of what the sociological interpretation of crowd phenomena might have yielded is
provided by the work of George Rude, especially the Crowd in the French Revolution (1959). Rude
demonstrates that the timing of the Parisian journies, no less than their ideology and objectives and the

that most sociologists examine occurs within institutionalized settings enjoying the presumption
of legitimacy. Collective behavior and social movements stand outside this constraining frame-
work. It is for this reason that the association between the subdisciplines devoted to their study
makes intuitive sense.
Still, one might ask whether this point of commonality conceals an equally significant dis-
tinction, for collective behavior and social movements actually assume quite different orienta-
tions to established institutions. Disregard for this difference has led to the attempt to assimilate
these two fields. Herbert Blumer's 1939 essay on collective behavior exemplifies this approach.
It begins with a consideration of the elementary forms of collective behavior. Blumer strikes at
their essence when he underscores their spontaneous and ephemeral character. His contribution
was to acknowledge their "non-institutional" quality, to perceive that they arise only in situations
where "preestablished understandings or traditions" have been suspended. It is the lack of struc-
ture and stability that he uses to define collective behavior.
Had this perspective been confined to the study of elementary collective behavior, it would
have been beyond reproach. But Blumer sought to explain social movements as well, although
these structured and enduring phenomena contravene his initial definition and assumptions.
Blumer, for example, observed that millennial sects grow out of revival meetings and that
revolutions grow out of riots. Why then, he asked, are not social movements merely collective
behavior writ large?
Blumer erred in identifying the part with the whole. This tendency to project the indeter-
minateness of elementary collective behavior onto fully elaborated social movements is a con-
sistent weakness of the "Chicago school." Kurt and Gladys Lang, for example, begin Collec-
tive Dynamics by stating that its title was chosen to emphasize the lack of structure and the state
of flux characterizing the phenomena examined. They include as part of their very definition
the assertion that collective dynamics are "not reducible to social structure" (1961:3-4) and
promise that "the forms of collective behavior that have the characteristics of organization are
excluded from the discussion in this book" (1961: 11-12). To that extent, the Langs appear to
favor the separation of the two fields. Yet to their otherwise coherent treatment of collective
behavior they append two chapters on social movements. They rationalize this inconsistency by
claiming that social movements, especially in their formative phases, fit the collective dynamics
model. The Langs even state explicitly what Blumer had only hinted at. "A social movement
always refers to elementary collective behavior on a large scale" (1961:496). With this assertion
they undo what was best and clearest in their approach.
What the members of the Chicago school have failed to see is that in the course of develop-
ment social movements acquire unique characteristics. The inherent limitations of noninstitu-
tional status-the inability to extend in time and space, and thus to achieve lasting change-
are shed in favor of a higher destiny. Structure and organization permit social movements to seek
more than an evanescent escape from the constraining influence of their institutional settings:
they become capable of systematically transforming those settings in line with collective goals.
Rather than noninstitutional, their governing principle is essentially antiinstitutional. The order
and stability they routinely exhibit are the preconditions for effecting a type of social change
beyond the scope of elementary collective behavior.

composition of the crowd itself can be related to the economic and political conditions of revolutionary
French society. In general, riots exemplify behavior recent research has shown to be more solidary than
individualistic in character, and consequently more amenable to social movement than collective behavior
It is only fair to note that Turner and Killian's Collective Behavior (1957) is in many respects an
important exception to the social-psychological bias of this theory group. The "emergent-norm" idea
represents a valuable attempt to lead collective behavior research in a more sociological direction.
Social Movements

In the study of collective behavior, the analysis of structure inevitably plays an insignificant
role because it is considered, by definition, to be absent or inoperative. This assumption has
justified the field's almost exclusive focus on group process. But if we stopped carrying the
corollaries of noninstitutionality into a clearly inappropriate realm, and started recognizing the
antiinstitutional character of social movements, new analytical possibilities would emerge. Social
structures-those which already exist and against which the collectivity reacts, those which it
employs internally, and those which it proposes to institute in the larger society-offer an alterna-
tive set of explanatory variables. Without denying or diminishing the importance of group process,
the recognition of social movements' distinctive orientation toward institutions opens up a line
of structural analysis.
How can we effectively recognize the antiinstitutional character of the true social movement?
One useful though by no means exclusive test would be the occurrence of events that, because
they challenge existing institutions, are deemed illegal. A range of behavior, from illegal assembly
and civil disobedience to terrorism and insurrectionary violence, would satisfy this criterion.
One apparent difficulty in applying it is that illegality constitutes a flexible standard subject to
wide variations of meaning in the stressful situations generating protest behavior. But this very
indeterminancy can actually help us assess the putative movement's institutional orientation,
because the constituted authorities invoke the idea of illegality to justify the intervention of
various social control forces on the basis of how serious a challenge the collectivity's beliefs
and activities present to the existing social order. For example, the mobilization of republican
sentiment for political reform in the seemingly lawful and innocuous French banquet campaign
of 1847-48 was judged to surpass the limit of legality when its size and scope were perceived
as definite dangers to the monarchical regime. In this analytical sense there are no inherently
illegal acts. Rather, the same behavior that might pass overlooked in a small and isolated col-
lectivity will incite repression once it represents a threat to the existing order. The concept of
antiinstitutionality focuses attention on the confrontation between opposing groups in a social
setting where conflict has reached critical proportions.
Illegality and antiinstitutionality are by no means synonymous. Crime, for example, implies
no necessary challenge to the social order. Indeed, many forms of criminal behavior presume
the continued existence of a given set of social institutions. Only illegal behavior aimed at the
reconstitution or overthrow of the structures that it attacks fulfills the definition of antiinstitu-
tionality. Conversely, not all social movement activities will be illegal. Throughout most of the
movement's life history, the greater part of members' efforts will be directed at organizational
maintenance (recruitment and mobilization) and the preparation of its alternative program (the
generation of appropriate ideology and tactics). To be considered antiinstitutional, it is suf-
ficient that the movement engage in or envision acts that when successful bring it into an inevitable
confrontation with the existing order.
The implicit notion that social movements coalesce around social conflicts involving parties
with widely varying coercive potential suggests a further qualification of our use of the term
antiinstitutional. In certain stages of their development, particularly the early, formative phases
or those following up a test of forces where the social movement collectivity finds itself hope-
lessly outmatched, the characteristic orientation is more correctly described as extrainstitutional.
The movement adopts an institutional orientation which, if not passive, at least avoids the sort
of overt defiance that might provoke a hostile reaction from the forces of social control. It seeks
to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the constituted authorities or to offer indirect and veiled
Such a response is particularly frequent among millennial sects though not because passivity is
an inherent attribute of a religious orientation. These sects are a form of social movement typical
of societies at the stage of material and cultural development that places such religious groups

at a severe disadvantage relative to their opponents, often a centralized state or an externally

imposed set of colonial institutions. This institutional orientation can also be observed among
more frankly political movements forced underground by intense repression. Melanesian cargo
cults, for example, have evolved syncretic doctrines sometimes including other-wordly elements,
but also counseling the withholding of taxes and the refusal to work in the commercial sector
of the economy. These movements arose early in the twentieth century after the futility of open
rebellion had been brutally demonstrated. They have been correctly perceived by colonial
officials as a challenge to authority, but have managed to resist eradication through the skillful
exploitation of a facade of submissiveness to disarm the repressive apparatus. Observers who
point to the "irrationality" of cargo doctrines overlook the latent content and unanticipated con-
sequences of a belief system permitting the movement to survive in hostile circumstances.
Such observers ignore how outwardly millennial cult activity can serve also as a "vehicle of
nationalism" (Worsely, 1968). They fail to apprehend the inherent rationality of an extrainstitu-
tional strategy where more direct avenues are blocked or have produced disaster, and where
only a seeming passivity can insure the survival of the movement organization until the equation
of forces proves more favorable and overt protest can be resumed.
Using the criterion of antiinstitutionality permits the analyst of social movements to dis-
criminate among superficially related phenomena. Collective behavior would become a separate
subdiscipline concentrating on the temporary suspension of institutional constraints and direct-
ing attention to interpersonal processes. Purely reformist social action, operating entirely within
the existing institutional framework, would similarly be excluded, becoming the province of other
fields, already having compatible assumptions, notably political sociology and the sociology of
organizations. What we have termed extrainstitutional behavior would constitute a subcategory
focusing upon the formative or transitional phases in social movement development. Social
movements proper would be identified by a frankly antiinstitutional orientation setting them
apart from other forms of social behavior. The resulting field would concentrate its efforts upon
social change accomplished by solidary groups outside institutional channels.

Use of the two distinguishing criteria-positive solidarity and an antiinstitutional orientation-
would define a field of study concerned exclusively with social movements. It would insure the
essentially sociological nature of that field's subject matter and approach and also fix its focus
upon the resolution of social conflict. But it is not enough simply to clarify the field's object of
study and its orientation. What are some of the more specific theoretical and practical gains this
reconceptualization makes possible?
One immediate benefit of using the first criterion, that of positive solidarity, would be to
resolve the ambiguous use of the concept of rationality. In sociological terms, rationality refers
to the appropriateness of the choice of specific means for the attainment of given ends (Weber,
1968). Behavior is irrational if it will not lead to the desired goal or if it is a less than optimal alterna-
tive for the goal's achievement. But both solidary groups and the individuals who comprise them
may define objectives in their own terms; there is no necessary contradiction if this process yields
discrepant results. Rationality and its obverse may actually have either collective or individual
referents. Discrepancies should merely raise the question of what conditions cause one or the
other level of goal definition to predominate in observed behavior.
Confusion results, however, when the terms of the means-ends relationship are seen as existing
at different levels of generality. As previously noted, panics appear irrational only because dif-
ferent units of analysis are being lumped together. The judgment that action is irrational
(because, let's say, more individuals are trampled to death than would probably have died in the
flames) presumes a group perspective, a calculation of aggregate outcome, when in fact no
Social Movements

group in the sociological sense exists because there is no solidarity. Were such a group to exist,
panic behavior would be at least less likely, perhaps precluded, and a "rational" outcome would
prevail. In the absence of solidarity, panic behavior is explicable-even "rational"-when
viewed as individualistic efforts to achieve the individual goal of escape from danger. The
allegation of irrationality enters the picture only because levels are mixed, that is, because
individualistic means (panic behavior) are judged as failures to achieve an imputed collective
end (minimizing casualities in the aggregate). The implication of this perception is not that all
social action is rational. It is rather that we can reasonably expect the rationality of social
behavior to emerge only when the appropriate collective unit of analysis is applied.
Though it is possible to eliminate the initially confusing case of panics, the general problem
remains. In the study of social movements, the opposite error is even more common:
behavior aimed at collective ends is often assessed in individualistic terms. The personal sacrifices
endured by social movement adherents must appear irrational if viewed outside the collective
context. Within the social movement the risk of injury or death is justified by one's commitment
to group ideals and one's sense of common destiny with those linked in the collective struggle.
Psychologically oriented observers invoke the label of irrationality and seek to explain (or
explain away) the power of social movements as pathology or the surfacing of unconscious
impulses. The sociologist sees the same behavior as grounded in a realistic perception of the
qualitatively increased potential for change that social movements create. Certainly, what is
rational for the group may well be irrational for the individual (and vice versa): it is imperative to
separate these levels.
To return to an earlier example, cargo cultists acquire a reputation for irrationality by squander-
ing their accumulated wealth in non-stop feasting or by engaging in ritualistic attempts to make
contact with ancestors, which the Western observer '.'knows" are doomed to failure. Yet,
viewed from a group perspective, the consequences of this behavior-whether the recruitment
and mobilization of new members or the strengthening of bonds of solidarity across social units
previously isolated or antagonistic-represent progress toward the collective goal of economic
and political liberation. Similarly, the frame-smashing or machine-wrecking of Luddites may
appear irrational, first because it seems so hopelessly reactionary, but also because it appears to
harm the interests of the very individuals who practice it, destroying their means of livelihood.
But by adopting a group unit of analysis, Hobsbawm (1952) has shown such actions can be
appropriate paths to the collective goal of regulating growth in a volatile sector of the economy.
In fact, he is so impressed by its rational basis that he dubs the process "collective bargaining by
Of course, the systematic application of a group unit of analysis will do nothing to mitigate the
improper imputation of irrationality based on cultural bias or lack of a sense of historical
relativity. It will, however, eliminate the many cases of apparent irrationality actually pro-
duced by the observer's own compounding of two distinct levels of generalization. Careful
scrutiny of theories assuming a priori the irrationality of such behavior has discredited their
conclusions with such regularity that it seems wiser to shift the burden- of proof. When we
observe people willingly subjecting themselves to sacrifice in the name of a collective ideal, sociolo-
gists at least ought to start looking for explanations rational for the group involved.
Use of our second criterion, the antiinstitutional orientation of social movements, could also
increase our understanding of movement dynamics in several specific ways. For example, it
directs attention to the process of creating salient social movements from that complex fund of
diffuse tensions or latent social problems so common in complex societies. For it is when strain
is perceived as the product of systemic forces that an antiinstitutional orientation emerges.
Social movements, and the potential for change they create, are the organizational manifesta-
tions of this process.

Use of this perspective would also illuminate the strengths, limitations, and dynamic quality of
social movement action. Like the charismatic phenomena with which they are frequently asso-
ciated, social movements offer an invaluable alternative to existing institutional modes of action
when the latter are perceived as incapable of dealing with a crisis. But social movements are also
like episodes of charismatic intervention in that most quickly fail. Unfortunately, we know little
of the dynamics of failure, since these negative cases seldom arouse the interest of sociological
"Successful" movements, on the other hand, may last for years or decades before, by the
very act of achieving their objectives, they lose their status as social movements proper. Whether
they are absorbed by or replace the preexisting structures, they undergo a series of adjustments
in their constituency, tactics and the degree of pragmatisn of objectives. Members find them-
selves not only in the novel position of being arbiters of policy but often becoming the object
of countermovements generated by their very success.
Because social movements, unlike the ephemeral forms of collective behavior, are capable of
enduring, they may also induce a sort of societal exhaustion and reaction, the most obvious
example of which is the Napoleonic solution to the vagaries of the French Revolution. They
may place exorbitant demands on human and material resources, diverted from "productive"
pursuits into social control activity by constituted authorities and insurgency by their opponents.
The proposed focus on institutional orientation leads naturally to heightened interest in develop-
mental patterns and the process of social movement institutionalization.,
In short, the criterion of antiinstitutionality allows us to trade the evolution and to assess the
consequences of social movements in the only context suited to their nature, one involving
the existence of social conflict between an organized collectivity and the institutional structure.
When used in combination, our two criteria can help redress the balance between structure
and process as variables used to explain social movements. Both variables quite evidently help
determine actual outcomes. The collective behavior theorists have shown already how valuable
use of a group process perspective can be in understanding such issues as mobilization and the
-generation of ideology. Requiring the presence of positive solidarity for a phenomenon to be
analyzed as a social movement would encourage the sociological treatment of such specific
problems as consciousness formation, patterns of recruitment, growth and decay, and the role
of leadership. Concern with process will remain an important aspect of social movement theory.
A companion type of concentration on the collectivity's institutional orientation could temper
the neglect-in some cases the outright denial of the efficacy-of the structural determinants
of social movement behavior. It could give greater weight to the consideration of cultural and
historical conditions and clearly pose the question of how the characteristics of specific institu-
tional frameworks both elicit definite types of social movement behavior and determine the
institutions' ability to respond to challenge. It could lead students of social movements to ask
why this form of collective action arises when and where it does, why it attracts adherents from
certain social strata, what relation its choice of organizational form and tactics bears to the environ-
ing social conditions, and how these factors influence its probability of success.
If used together in ways possible only to outline here, the properties of positive solidarity
and an antiinstitutional orientation could become clear standards for including or excluding
phenomena from what is now the very vague field of social movement analysis. An independent

I An important advance in this direction is the article by Zald and Ash (1965). It constitutes -a
response to the Weber and Michels hypothesis of bureaucratization or oligarchization as it applies to
social movements. The authors suggest that the hypothesis is generaliy but not universally valid, and
specify the conditions under which institutionalization is more or less likely to occur. Much of the
power of their analysis derives from adopting a group unit of analysis and posing the problem as a
struggle between social movement organizations and the institutional order they confront.
Social Movements

subdiscipline could emerge from the larger body of sociology, and its relation to other areas of
sociological inquiry become further clarified. The study of social movements would be distinct
from the field of collective behavior, with which it has too long been locked in superficial and
sterile association. These two specializations would still have some family resemblance but be
free to pursue their separate paths to mutual advantage. Most important here, the sociology of
social movements would regain its proper focus: the analysis of large scale social change outside
institutional channels.

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