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Social Movement Definitions: Alternative, Redemptive, Reformative & Revolutionary

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  • 0:05 Social Movement
  • 0:53 Alternative Social Movement
  • 1:57 Redemptive Social Movement
  • 3:00 Reformative Social Movement
  • 4:20 Revolutionary Social Movement
  • 5:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Valerie Houghton, Ph.D.

Valerie holds a Ph.D. in Health Psychology.

Social movements can occur at the individual level or the societal level and can advocate for either minor or radical changes. This lesson will cover four kinds of social movements: alternative, redemptive, reformative, and revolutionary.

Social Movement

A social movement is a large group of people who are organized to promote or resist some social change. A social movement is typically based upon two factors - first, whom the movement is trying to change, and second, how much change a movement is advocating. Social movements can occur at the individual level or at the societal level, and they can advocate for either minor or radical changes.

In 1966, cultural anthropologist David F. Aberle identified four kinds of social movements: alternative, redemptive, reformative, and revolutionary. In this lesson, we will discuss these social movements in terms of promoting social change.

Alternative Social Movements

Alternative movements are do-it-yourself efforts that seek to change some aspects of an individual's behavior.

The It Can Wait campaign is an example of an alternative social movement.
Alternative Social Movement

AT&T's 'It Can Wait' public awareness campaign is an example of an alternative social movement. It is focused on a simple message: no text is worth dying for. This is a nationwide movement that has tremendous support. For example, AT&T, its employees, National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS), Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and government agencies, such as the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), are all calling on all drivers to go to www.itcanwait.com to take the no-texting-and-driving pledge and then share their promise with others via Twitter (#itcanwait) and Facebook. The pledge effort is part of the company's public awareness campaign aimed directly at stopping the dangerous practice of texting while driving.

Redemptive Social Movement

A redemptive social movement is one that seeks total personal transformation and is typically religious in nature. The spread of Christianity is a prime example of a redemptive social movement.

Missionaries have spread Christianity since the days of the Roman Empire. By the time Rome fell in 476 CE, much of Europe was Christian. Missionaries from the Byzantine Empire brought Orthodox Christianity to Russia. In Asia, medieval missionaries made converts as far away as India and China. With the founding of America, Christianity began to spread beyond Europe and Asia. Among the early missionaries were Catholics who journeyed to Central and South America seeking to convert native peoples.

During the period between about 1500 and 1750, Christianity became the first religion to spread around the world, and by the 1900s, Christianity had spread to every continent on the globe. Today, the Christian missionary work continues.

Reformative Social Movement

Reformative social movement is a social movement that seeks to change only some specific aspects of how society functions.

The movement for marriage equality is a reformative social movement.
Reformative Social Movement

The movement to obtain marriage rights and benefits for same-sex couples is an example of a reformative social movement. This movement began in the 1970s but became more prominent in American politics in 1993 when the Hawaiian Supreme Court declared the state's prohibition to be unconstitutional in Baehr v. Lewin. During the 21st century, public support for legalizing same-sex marriage has grown considerably, and various national polls conducted since 2011 show that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage.

More recently, on May 9, 2012, President Obama publicly declared support for the legalization of same-sex marriage. In addition, as of January 2013, nine states - Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington - and three Native American tribes have legalized same-sex marriage, representing 15.7% of the U.S. population.

Revolutionary Social Movement

Revolutionary social movements seek to replace the existing social order through radical change.

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