Book Review: The Social Movements Reader, Edited by Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper. Blackwell Publishing, 2003.

November 6, 2006

Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper’s The Social Movements Reader provides a wide selection of essays and readings insightfully communicating the causes, organizational structures, activities and outcomes of social movements. Through a series of commonly asked questions regarding social movements and a number of case studies, Goodwin and Jasper offer a framework for their examination of the topic in The Social Movements Reader.

“When and why do social movements occur?” is the first question that Goodwin and Jasper offer in establishing the direction of their study.  In an introduction to this segment of the book, they outline how various theories seek to answer the question, differentiating the “mobilization,” “process,” “network,” and “cultural” approaches. Goodwin and Jasper offer insight into these approaches in the context of case studies of the civil rights movement, women’s movement, gay liberation movement, and Iranian revolution. For example, a poignant tale of the evolution of the women’s movement reveals the role of a crisis event in motivating groups towards collective action.  One can hardly listen to the words of the 1967 New Politics Convention chairperson, “Cool down little girl. We have more important things to talk about than women’s problems” without connecting with the rage that ignited Shulamith Firestone and other women to overcome barriers that had prevented previous attempts to organize a women’s group in Chicago. 

Other questions that Goodwin and Jasper present include “Who joins or supports movements?” and “Who remains in movements, and who drops out?” Some predictors of involvement in social movements include biographical availability, frame alignment, social networks, and “moral shock” while it appears that personality traits are less reliable indicators of recruitment potential than once thought.  Presenting work from both Eric Hirsch and Bert Klanderman, Goodwin and Jasper provide opportunity to consider various perspectives on the roles of polarization in either strengthening commitment to a movement or causing people to disengage from it.

Additional topics throughout the reader depict the multifaceted nature of a study of social movements. For example, the editors give attention to what worldviews and emotions are present in those who are a part of social movements.  Another section addresses the organizational structure of movements and highlights the differences in the degree of bureaucracy employed, and how, and if they are funded.  Further, in the segment titled, “What Do Movements Do?” Saul Alinsky’s and Aldon Morris provide insight into protest tactics, while others Mary Bernstein addresses the differences between the “movements pursuing goals in the outside world…and identity-oriented movements that realize their goals, at least partly, in their activities” (p235).  Also within The Social Movements Reader, a compelling argument is made for the role of the media and the state in a movement’s success. The remaining sections provide answers, some being fairly obvious, to the questions of “Why Movements Decline?” and “What Changes Do Movements Bring About?”

I found The Social Movements Reader largely to be inspiring.  I became aware of how I take for granted the freedoms and opportunities that others courageously and diligently rallied together to achieve in social movements of the past. Also, the complexity of and the skill needed for a social movement deepened my respect for those who have led the way in bringing about change in our world’s systems and practices. On another note, I felt that the reader’s research was somewhat dated and found this as a surprise since the book was published in 2003.  For example, it seems as if the developing role of the Internet in social movements received limited attention since the book includes few studies from the 90s and beyond. 

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