On the Issue of Social Movement Definition


  • Gayane Harutyunyan National Center of Educational Technologies




social movement, collective behavior, social conflict, mass movement, crowd, social order, social network, social identity


The paper is a theoretical review of “social movement” term definitions. Aiming to show differences among definitions within different paradigms and scientific evolution of the term the main approaches of defining social movements are discussed. Initially, social movements were studied by psychologists, who were examining different forms of collective behavior, such as mobs, crowds, protests and etc. Most of them considered social movements as an irrational and destructive form of collective action driven by the instincts of people. During the next decades, the theory of social movements was developed mostly by sociologists who, on the contrary, started to seek social reasons inducing this type of collective action. Different theoretical schools proposed various concepts of explaining the origin of social movements, but all of them agreed on the main characteristics: rational and organized collective action driven by unfulfilled social needs. Different authors linked social movement definitions with other important social phenomena such as norms and values, social conflict, social identity, and social network. Political scientists have also contributed to the study of social movements but in terms of power and state, terrorism and violence. Discussing psychological, sociological, and political science approaches to term definition we came to the conclusion that the most inclusive sociological definition is viewing social movement as a social network through which collective action is performed to achieve total or partial social change. Such kind of definition makes it possible to reveal the main criteria necessary to distinguish social movement as a separate social phenomenon from other types of collective action.

Author Biography

Gayane Harutyunyan, National Center of Educational Technologies



Blumer, H. (1951) Collective Behavior: Principles of Sociology. Barnes & Noble.

Castells, M. (1997) The Power of Identity (The information age: Economy, Society, and Culture). 2nd ed., A John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Della Porta, D.; Diani, M. (2006) An introduction: Social movements. Second Edition, Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Diani, M. (1992) The concept of Social movement. The Sociological Review, Vol. 40, 1-25, DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-954X.1992.tb02943.x

Diani, M. (2019) Unions as social movements or unions in social movements? In J. R. Grote, C. Wagemann (Eds.). Social movements and organized labour, (1st ed., pp. 23-27). Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9781315609553-3

Hunt, S.; Benford, R. (2004) Collective Identity, Solidarity, and Commitment. In: D. A. Snow, S. A. Soule, H. Kriesi (Eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements (pp. 433-457). Blackwell Publishing Ltd. DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631226697.2003.00020.x

Horn, J. (2013) Gender and social movements: Overview report. Brighton.

Lamas, A.T., Wolfson, T., Funke, P. (2017) The Great Refusal: Herbert Marcuse and Contemporary Social Movements. Temple University Press. Doi: 10.2307/j.ctvrdf2df

Latour, B.; Milstein, D.; Marrero-Guillamón, I. (2018) Down to earth social movements: an interview with Bruno Latour. Social Movement Studies, 1-9. DOI: 10.1080/14742837.2018.1459298

Martin, G. (2015) Understanding social movements. Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9780203837092

McAdam, D., McCarthy, J.D., Zald, M. N., (1988) Social movements in N.J. Smelser. (Eds. 695-737) Handbook of Sociology. Beverly Hills.

McVeigh, R. (2009) The rise of the Ku Klux Klan: Right-wing movements and national politics. University of Minnesota Press.

Millward, P., Takhar, Sh. (2019) Social movements, collective action and activism. Sociology Vol.53 (3), 1-12. DOI: 10.1177/0038038518817287

Melucci, A. (1988). "Getting Involved: Identity and Mobilization in Social Movements". International Social Movements Research, Vol. 1, Jai Press Inc., 329-347.

Meyer, D. S., Tarrow, S. (1998) Movement society: Contentious politics for a new century. Rowman and Littelfield Publishers.

Nicholas, R. W. (1973) Social and Political Movements. Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol 2, 63-84. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.an.02.100173.000431

Obregon, R., Tufte, T. (2006) Communication, Social Movements, and Collective Action: Toward a New Research Agenda in Communication for Development and Social Change. Journal of Communication, Volume 67, Issue 5, 635-645. DOI: 10.1111/jcom.12332

Touraine, A. (1985) An Introduction to the Study of Social Movements. Sociological Research, Vol. 52, № 4, 749-787.

Turner, R., Killian, L. (1987) Collective Behavior. Prentice Hall.

Walder, A. G. (2009) "Political Sociology and Social Movements". Annual Review of Sociology, 393-412. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-soc-070308-120035

Wilkinson, P. (1971) Social movement: Key concepts in a political science. Macmillan. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-349-01093-6

Zimmerman, B. (2021) The four stages of antiwar movement. The New York Press, https://parg.co/byrK

Giddens, E. (2005) Sotsiologiya. Yeditorial URSS.

Moskovichi, S. (2011) Vek tolp. Akademicheskiy proyekt, URL: https://parg.co/bqt po 26.03.2021

Ortega i Gasset, KH. (2020) Vosstaniye Mass. AST.

Smelzer, N. (1998) Sotsiologiya. Feniks.

Khoffer, E. (2004) Istinnoveruyushchiy: mysli o prirode massovykh dvizheniy. Al'pina Biznes Buks.

Shtompka, P. (1996) Sotsiologiya sotsial'nykh izmeneniy. Aspekt Press.




How to Cite

Harutyunyan, G. (2021). On the Issue of Social Movement Definition. Journal of Sociology: Bulletin of Yerevan University, 12(2 (34), 62–75. https://doi.org/10.46991/BYSU:F/2021.12.2.062



Theory of Sociology