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Social Movements Examples & Types

Katherine Williams, Valerie Houghton, Ph.D.
  • Author
    Katherine Williams

    Katherine Williams has an Mth in Theological Ethics and Philosophy from The University of Aberdeen and a BA in Theatre Arts from Oral Roberts University. Katherine has 10+ years of experience teaching literacy, essay composition, philosophy, and world languages. Katherine is also a TEFL-Certified ESL teacher. She has 3 years of experience teaching and developing curriculum for ESL students.

  • Instructor
    Valerie Houghton, Ph.D.

    Valerie holds a Ph.D. in Health Psychology.

Understand what a social movement is. Learn social movement definition, and see the important characteristics, types of the social movements and real-life examples. Updated: 12/03/2021

What is A Social Movement?

The social movement definition is an organized effort to promote different types of change. Essentially, a social movement aims to create change in society, politics, or economics by campaigning, protesting, or advocating. Social movements are groups of people who share the same ideas about what they believe is important, campaigning for change by protesting, advocating, or making speeches. Often these changes happen in society (e.g., civil rights), politics (e.g., workers' rights), or the economy (e.g., anti-austerity).

Characteristics of Social Movements

Social movements are a tool of resistance that can bring about social change and often a form of nonviolent protest that challenges the status quo and creates a better society. Researcher Douglass McAdam has identified three primary characteristics of social movements, which include:

  • Reactive: A social movement responds to an external crisis or event.
  • Protective: When a social movement responds to an ongoing injustice in society and the people who make up the movement hope for change.
  • Constructive: When a social movement seeks to build on the status quo but with changes that benefit everyone in society.

Other characteristics of social movements include, but are not limited to:

  • Social movements are a form of collective action
  • There is usually a common cause or an agenda
  • Movements can be triggered by various events, including economic conditions, cultural norms, and changes in the social environment
  • Social movements often have a horizontal leadership structure, with some leaders being more prominent than others
  • These movements are social groupings that may include political, cultural, economic, or intellectual content
  • These movements are distinct from political parties; they may be less formal and unpredictable than political parties


Black Lives Matter protest from 2020

redemptive social movement, social movements examples, social protest definition

Social Protest Definition

Social protests are public demonstrations of discontent and can be defined as demonstrations and public gatherings to draw attention to social injustice. Some social movements can be defined as a series of organized and sustained social actions that include demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, and other forms of activism. These protests can be about various topics, including politics, social issues, and war. Examples of past social protests include the Women's March and the American Civil Rights Movement. Types of social movements include:

  • Peaceful protests: These occur when people believe they need to protest against a particular injustice or demand a change in public policy.
  • Violent protests: This type of protest happens when there is no other way to get their voices heard and justice enforced.
  • Social revolutions: A protest that occurs when there is a dramatic change in society, such as overthrowing an authoritarian regime.

Social movements and protests are linked with each other because they both require people to band together in order to create change. They also both have the same goal: to ensure that future generations do not have to face the same injustice as those before them. However, there are differences between these two concepts; social movements intend for their actions to result in significant changes such as new laws or policies, while protests exist for shorter periods with specific goals like stopping legislation or making particular demands.


London Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest

alternative social movement, reformative social movement, characteristics of social movements, revolutionary social movement

Social Movements Examples

There have been many social movements throughout history. Some of the most famous ones include the following:

  • Civil Rights Movement: This movement was a series of protests led by civil rights activists to end segregation and discrimination against Black people in America.
    • The movement lasted from 1954 to 1968, which ended with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Women's Suffrage Movement: In 1848, women started protesting for their rights to vote in government elections. The first country to give women this right was New Zealand who passed the Electoral Act in 1893.
    • It took almost 50 years before other countries followed suit, with Australia granting this right in 1902 and Finland finally granting it to all its citizens regardless of gender in 1906.
  • American Revolution: The revolution was a series of battles and other military engagements fought on the North American continent from 1775 to 1783.
    • It had as its object the establishment of an independent federal republic in place of an absolute British monarchy.

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.

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Types of Social Movements

For a social movement to be successful, there should be a change in the relations of the public and authorities. There should also be a change in the relations of one public to another. Social movements are often characterized by a consensus that they represent a particular belief, interest, or cause. These movements differ because they have different objectives and diverse opinions. The group's collective power can help it achieve social change in society. The power of the movement depends on the number of people behind it and their ability to mobilize.

The causes of social movements vary widely. Some are for local issues, while others are for global ones. They can be about racial or sexual discrimination, poverty, or anything else. The people involved in social movements also vary widely. Only a few people get involved in some social movements, while for others, thousands do so without any individual knowing about it beforehand. Social movements can also be on various scales, focusing on one issue while others try to change an entire system at once. Finally, there are many different strategies used to achieve their goals. Social movements have three main characteristics:

  • Collective action: This movement refers to when people come together to take political action like boycotting goods or services from an organization they disagree with or voting for politicians whom they think will make policies more favorable for their group.
  • Disruptive protest: Disruptive protest refers to when people use stunts or other unconventional protesting methods like disrupting traffic to get their message heard and pressure an organization.
  • Shared consciousness: Shared consciousness is the idea that everybody, or at least a large portion of the population, can know what is happening and what needs to be done.

Alternative Social Movement

The terms alternative social movement and "new social movement" were used to describe a type of collective political action that was not based on a shared ideology but rather a common goal or set of values that seeks limited societal change. They are often considered an alternative to the traditional hierarchical organization in political parties. Some common characteristics of these movements include radical and revolutionary change and anti-authoritarianism.

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

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Video Transcript

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

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is meant by social movement?

A social movement is a collective action by a large group of people, either through protest or activism. It is usually achieved through coordinated social media campaigns, the use of hashtags, and online petitions.

Social movements are often categorized based on their goals or ideology. For example, an environmentalist movement may rely more on public protests and rallies to put pressure on policymakers while another might focus on reforms in legislation or corporate activities.

What are social movements and why are they important?

Social movements are an important aspect of the modern age. These movements are social in that they encompass all aspects of society, political, economic, social, and cultural. They are important because they have the power to shift the consciousness of the public to create big changes in society.

What are the various types of social movements?

In addition to being a general term for a type of activity, the word "social movement" is also used specifically to describe a collective group of people who share a common political or social agenda and use coordinated action to bring about social change. The different types of social movements include:

  • Alternative social movement
  • Reformative social movement
  • Redemptive social movement
  • Revolutionary social movement


Examples of these types include:

  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Women's Suffrage Movement
  • Abolitionist Movement
  • LGBTQ+ Rights Movement

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