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Social Movements Essay

1193 words - 5 pages

Social Movements

Social movements require a fairly complex and multi-dimensional paradigm in order to adequately explain the multiplicity of factors that contribute to their development and sustenance. Like both McAdam and Costain, I believe that the political process model is a much more appropriate theory for social movements than either the classical model (with its emphasis on psychology) or the resource mobilization model (with its ultra-capitalistic approach to all socio-political interactions). Indeed, unlike the classical and resource mobilization theories, the political process model incorporates a number of different factors, making it significantly more realistic and versatile. Both McAdam and Costain analyze a set of empirical evidence in order to judge the credibility of the political process model as a comprehensive paradigm for social movements. While I except the political process model as the most accurate theoretical description of social movements, I do not agree with Costain's reformulation of 'political process.' Indeed, I believe that Costain succumbs to a subtle regression into elitist theory.
In Social Movements as Interest Groups, Costain begins by stating that "traditional measures of interest group influence frequently fail to capture the impact social movements have on legislation" (p. 285). From this opening, we can assume that she intends to reveal the actual impact of social movements on legislation through a non-traditional method of measurement. In this context, Costain searches for a theory that captures the influential dynamics of social movement success. Her answer is the political process theory, which "suggests that the presence of leadership and resources (particularly those provided by external groups) is less important in determining movement success than the structure of political opportunity faced by the movement" (p. 288). But what exactly constitutes this structure of political opportunity?
Costain argues that movements only emerge when the federal government becomes more favorable and supportive towards the members and goals of the movement. Thus, according to Costain, the mild support of the government was instrumental in the psychological preparation of the movement's members; a favorable government encouraged women to realize that there was a possible political solution to their discontent. In this way, at the base of every successful social movement, Costain establishes a prerequisite of an increasingly favorable government (that spurs the psychological state necessary for a large-scale social movement). Thus, the government indirectly influences the formation of the social movement, and the social movement then pressures its (oftentimes reluctant) supporter to pass legislative or protective action. In Costain's model, the government is the key figure in both the formation and the success of the social movement.
While the government clearly plays an important role in...

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