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social movementany broad social alliance of people who are associated in seeking to effect or to block an aspect of SOCIAL CHANGE within a society. Unlike POLITICAL PARTIES or some more highly organized interest or PRESSURE GROUPS, such movements may be only informally organized, although they may have links with political parties and more institutionalized groups, and in time they may lead to the formation of political parties.
Four distinct areas in which social movements operate in modern societies have been identified by GIDDENS (1985):
- democratic movements, concerned with establishing or maintaining political rights;
- labour movements, concerned with defensive control of the workplace and with contesting and transforming the more general distribution of economic power;
- ecological movements, concerned to limit the environmental and social damage resulting from transformation of the natural world by social action;
- peace movements, concerned with challenging the pervasive influence of military power and aggressive forms of nationalism.
Other social movements of importance in recent decades include women's movements and consumer movements. Although in part these types of social movement may act in complementary ways in modern societies, they may also be in conflict, e.g. a demand for work in conflict with ecological considerations. Such movements have also tended to generate contrary social movements concerned to oppose them, including conservative nationalist movements and movements aimed at blocking or reversing moral reforms.
Research on social movements, like research on political parties and interest groups generally, has focused on the social and psychological characteristics of those attracted to participate, the relations between leaders and led, and the social and political outcomes of such activity. One thing is clear: social movements are a fluid element within political and social systems, from which more formal political organizations arise and which may bring radical change. See also URBAN SOCIAL MOVEMENTS, COLLECTIVE BEHAVIOUR, ANOMIE, REVOLUTION, FASCISM, PEACE MOVEMENT.