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Social Movement and Theories

Framing Theory

Framing is the process through which movements express or tend to produce an interpretation of the circumstances or events that encourage or trigger protest (Tarrow 1998). The media is an important framing method for various protest and movement groups around the world (Tarrow 1998). Because it influences a large portion of the society, the media is the most successful framing method through which individuals and groups encourage and influence people to take part in social movements or protests (Tilly 2004).

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The American-Indian protests of the 1960s and 1970s are examples of media framing that successfully influenced masses to take part in the movement. Between the late 1960s and mid-1970s, various groups of Native Americans used direct action to express their grievances, claiming that they were victims of social injustices. For instance, they seized properties in various parts of the country. In addition, they held public demonstrations and street marches. Although the Native American Social Movement Organizations (SMOs) were relatively small and lacked significant measures, they were able to attract media attention.

In particular, the television, radio and print media played a significant role during the protests. The media attempted to make the public believe that the groups, due to their small numbers and a long history of injustice, were expressing grievances based on reality (Tilly 2008). The public created legitimacy of the events and claims, which increased the SMOs’ energy and ability to influence people to take part in the protests.

Political Opportunity Theory

Also known as the political process theory, political opportunity theory attempts to explain how politics and political sociology influence social movements (Goodwin & Jasper 2009). Political opportunities are the consistent dimensions of the political efforts and struggles that encourage individuals or groups to engage in some contentious politics (Tarrow 1998). For example, the existence of a vulnerable political system gives social groups and movements the opportunity to challenge the authorities (Goodwin & Jasper 2009). They are likely to use this opportunity to make the authorities accept their views or demand for change. Thus, this vulnerability explains political opportunities.

Resource Mobilization Theory

Resource mobilization theory states that the availability of resources enhances the likelihood of collective action (Della Porta & Diani 2006). Resources play a significant role in driving the desire for change, which results in movements and protests. There are several types of resources explained in this theory, such as cultural resources (internet, media and literacy), human resources (leadership, equipment and material) and moral resources (legitimacy).

The availability of individuals or groups with common interest or grievances (human resources) within a given society is likely to trigger social movements because it creates disparities in the society (McAdam, McCarthy & Zald 1996). Secondly, the availability of the media (cultural resources) provides an opportunity for these groups to express their grievances and influence the public. The availability of money (human resources) ensures that people take part in the protests because their activities are easily facilitated.

For example, during the “Occupy Wall Street” protests in the US, the actions of the people involved in the movement were facilitated by the availability of individuals with a common interest or point of view. In this case, it was believed that the Wall Street caused the problems affecting the American economy, including the 2007-2010 credit crunch, increasing cost of living and the high rate of unemployment (legitimacy resources). The media (cultural resource) attempted to make the public believe that the Occupy Movement was legitimate because it was addressing the economic disparities in society. The presence of the people with common interests and a similar point of view about Wall Street, combined with the availability of the media, were the main types of resources that enhanced the movement.

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Della Porta, D & Diani, M 2006, Social movements: An introduction, Blackwell, Oxford.

Goodwin, G & Jasper, J 2009, The social movement reader. Cases and concepts, Blackwell, Oxford.

McAdam, D, McCarthy, D & Zald, M 1996, Comparative perspectives on social movements, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Tarrow, S 1998, Power in movements: Social movements and contentious politics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Tilly, C 2004, Social movements, 1768-2004, Paradigm, London.

Tilly, C 2008, Contentious performances, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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