Social Movement: Characteristics, Types And Examples

A social movement is a type of group action whose main objective is to empower oppressed populations against the elites under which they are found. In general, these are large groups (which may or may not be formally organized) that are concerned with specific political or social problems.

The main objective of social movements is to create a social change, or to resist or change a previous one. It is the main way that the less favored social groups have to try to generate a change in society.

Social movement

According to various researchers, the proliferation of social movements in the western culture of the 20th and 21st centuries is due to factors such as freedom of expression, the increase in the economic well-being of the majority of the people and universal education.

Although social movements have also taken place in some developing countries, most of these arise in democratic countries. Today, thanks to the use of technologies such as the Internet and the media , the emergence of new social movements is faster than ever.

Why do social movements arise?

Social movements don’t just appear. According to the researchers, generally a social movement can appear due to three factors:

– Changes in culture.

– Mismatches in society.

– Social injustices.

Changes in culture

All cultures are constantly changing; traditions are transformed, values ​​evolve and new ideas appear. When a culture changes greatly, certain sectors of society can organize to provoke a social movement.

Some of the most important social movements produced by a change in the way of thinking have been the arrival of democracy, universal education or the rejection of traditional religious values.

Mismatches in society

When societies change, they do not change uniformly. While some parts evolve rapidly, others remain stagnant, generating situations of inequality and injustice, as well as uncertainty.

When some individuals feel that their traditional way of life no longer conforms to the demands of a modern society, they may develop the feeling that they are isolated from the rest. As a result, they will feel frustrated, confused, insecure, or even angry.

If they occur in a significant part of the population, these feelings can lead to the emergence of a social movement.

Social injustices

Sometimes a group of people with a common characteristic feels that they have been oppressed because of this characteristic. This perception provokes a feeling of injustice, which can become a great catalyst for social movements.

Contrary to what may appear at first glance, social injustices can occur in all sectors of society, not only among the poorest or most disadvantaged populations. This is because the feeling of injustice is fundamentally subjective.

Characteristics of a social movement

There is no universal consensus on the characteristics of a social movement. This is due to the large number of types that exist and the differences between their objectives, methods and historical contexts.

However, some theorists who have tried to define the most important characteristics of social movements have highlighted the following:

– Collective action.

– Temporary nature.

– Oriented to social change.

– Existence of an ideology.

– Structure and organization.

Collective action

Social movements involve a common effort by a large group of people, but for a social movement to exist, this effort must be prolonged in time and be capable of awakening the interest of a growing group of citizens.

Temporary nature

All social movements go through a series of similar phases, from their emergence until they dissolve. These phases are the following: creation, growth of the movement, results (both positive and negative) and dissolution of the movement.

Therefore, once a social movement has achieved its goals – or, on the contrary, has given up trying to achieve them – it will tend to disappear organically.

Oriented to social change

Social movements have as main objective to achieve a change in society, either in a specific part or in the whole.

Due to the nature of social changes, movements often go against an established order, which will defend itself to try to maintain the customs, traditions and ways of thinking that these movements fight.

Existence of an ideology

For a social movement to emerge as such, it must be backed by a specific ideology. Otherwise, a demonstration or protest would be just an isolated event, without any kind of future projection.

Structure and organization

This characteristic, although contested by some theorists, is an important part of most social movements in history.

In social movements, members are divided between leaders and followers, in such a way that there is a dome of power that organizes the movement and creates the ideological foundation behind it.

Types of social movement

In general, a distinction is made between six types of social movements:


They occur when a large number of people leave their place of origin and settle elsewhere. This migration is only considered a social movement if it is caused by widespread dissatisfaction with a situation in the place of origin.


They occur when a social group feels faced with an oppressive system from which they can neither escape nor change. At this time, the group tries to ignore their reality and focus on changing their perception of things.


They try to create a perfect social system, which has only existed in imagination and not in reality. Some socialist movements of the 19th century have been called utopian, such as Sarvodaya.


They try to modify some parts of society without transforming it completely. This type of social movement can only exist in a democratic society.


They try to overthrow existing social systems and replace them with totally different ones. These movements occur in societies that do not allow for peaceful change; for example, the creation of the Soviet Union was a revolutionary movement.


Unlike the rest of the types of movement, those of resistance try to stop or avoid a social change that is already taking place.

Real examples of social movement

Some real examples of current social movements are the following:

– Movement for the rights of the LGBT collective.

– Feminism.

– Environmentalism.

– Movement of the rights of men.

– “Pro – choice” movement and “pro – life” movement.

– Anti – vaccination movement.

– Movement «15 M».

– Catalan independence process.

Articles of interest

Social movements in Colombia .

Social movements in Mexico .

Demographic change .

Social changes .

Social influence .


  1. “Essay on the Characteristics of Social Movements” in: Share Your Essays. Retrieved: March 2018 from Share Your Essays:
  2. “Social Movements” in: Open Library. Retrieved on: March 6, 2018 from Open Library:
  3. “Social Movement” in: Wikipedia. Retrieved on: March 6, 2018 from Wikipedia:
  4. “Social Movements: Meaning, Causes, Types, Revolution and Role” in: Sociology Discussion. Retrieved on: March 6, 2018 from Sociology Discussion:
  5. “List of Social Movements” in: Wikipedia. Retrieved on: March 6, 2018 from Wikipedia:

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