the term originated around 1850 by German sociologist Lorenz von Stein, in its contemporary usage, commonly refers to collective action, involving an informal grouping of individuals and organizations focused on common political or social goals and manifesting a visible and recognizable force in the public arena.
A social movement is a major vehicle for ordinary people’s participation in public politics through a series of contentious performances, displays and campaigns by which ordinary people make collective claims on others. Charles Tilly ascribes social movements as having any of three major elements:
- Campaigns: a sustained, organized public effort making collective claims on target authorities;
- Social movement repertoire: employment of combinations from among the following forms of political action: creation of special-purpose associations and coalitions, public meetings, solemn processions, vigils, rallies, demonstrations, petition drives, statements to and in public media, and pamphleteering; and
- Participants’ concerted public representation displays worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitments on the part of themselves and/or their constituencies.
Sydney Tarrow distinguishes social movements from political parties and interest groups, describing a social movement as collective challenges [to elites, authorities, other groups or cultural codes] by people with common purposes and solidarity in sustained interactions with elites, opponents and authorities.
Lorenz von Stein, Geschichte der sozialen Bewegung in Frankreich von 1789 bis auf unsre Tage, 3 vols. (Leipzig: 1850); History of the French Social Movement from 1789 to 1850 (transl. by Kaethe Mengelberg) (New York: Bedminster Press, 1964).
Charles Tilly, Social Movements, 1768–2004 (Boulder CO, Paradigm Publishers, 2004).
Sidney Tarrow, Power in Movement: Collective Action, Social Movements and Politics (Cambridge and London: Cambridge University Press, 1994).