Key Factors

Imig began by distinguishing between protest politics and social movements. Protest politics can bring different people together to pursue a cause. The actors in a social movement are connected through dense social networks, they draw on widely shared cultural values and norms, they act collectively for change, and they sustain their campaigns over time. In so doing, Imig explained, social movements can “challenge powerful opponents and dominant ways of thinking.”

Historically, collective identification of concerns and collective action have emerged through the workplace, churches, neighborhoods, and other settings that provide lines of communication and organization. Today, said Imig, the contexts in which individuals come to realize that their concerns are shared tend to be self-reflective, such as along the sidelines of their children’s soccer games or in the pickup line at school. As a result, opportunities for collective engagement increasingly reflect pre-existing patterns of economic and racial segregation.

Some people are looking to the promise of new technologies, such as Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging, to build social movements. The problem, said Imig, is that electronic means of connection and communication are “hollow at the core.” Research indicates that they have been unable to create the rich bonds of horizontal engagement that inspire people to act together (Kraut et al., 1998; Putnam, 2001).

Strategic and Structural Factors

Scholars have identified several distinct strategic and structural factors that affect the emergence of social movements (McAdam et al., 2001; Tarrow, 2011; Tilly, 1978). In a sense, said Imig, these factors act as boundary conditions for the structuring of effective movements.

The first factor Imig discussed is the triggering of events that illustrate underlying social trends. For example, pediatric X-rays developed in the 1930s often are cited as a critical triggering event in the discovery of unreported fractures in children, which helped launch the modern movement against child abuse and led to nationwide regulations for reporting suspected abuse. Similarly, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1914, in which 146 women and children died, made the country aware of the conditions faced by women and children working in industrial facilities. World War I was critical to the nursery school movement because of the perceived need to Americanize the children of immigrants. And World War II was a critical determinant in the child care movement in America because of the perceived need for women to work. Triggering events “give form and expression to

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement