Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 15 x 1 hour lectures
Seminars / Tutorials 7 x 1 hour seminars


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Seminar Performance  10%
Semester Assessment 2,500 word essay  40%
Semester Exam 2 Hours   Exam  50%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Evaluate the theoretical and conceptual difficulties of studying social movements.
2. Understand and critique the main theoretical strands within social movement theory.
3. Critically discuss different theoretical accounts of the creation and evolution of social movements.
4. Critically evaluate the applicability of social movement theory to secular, peaceful protest movements operating in `the North' (the theory's original focus)
5. Critically evaluate the applicability of the various strands of social movement theory to studying social movements operating in `the South', to religious social movements and to violent, underground organisations.
6. Situate social movement theory within the broader fields of political studies and international relations.
7. Demonstrate, through written work and in seminars, an ability to apply these theoretical perspectives to specific selected case studies and contemporary social movements more broadly.
8. Explain and compare different examples of social movement mobilisation in different geographical settings.
9. Identify and discuss the main challenges and opportunities arising from globalisation for both social movements and social movement theory.

Brief description

This module aims to provide students with an understanding of the key theoretical debates in the field of social movement theory and how they relate to developments in the social sciences more generally. It will discuss different conceptual accounts of the formation, evolution and function of social movement organisations in contemporary politics, and apply these theoretical perspectives to a series of geographically differentiated case studies. It will explore the field's usefulness in explaining secular, peaceful social movements in 'the North' (the field's original focus) and then evaluate the field's usefulness for studying social movements operating in 'the South'; religious social movements; and violent, underground organisations. The module will also consider the implications of globalisation and changes in state, societal and economic structures on both social movements and social movement theory.


- Difficulties of conceptualising and theorising 'social movements' and differentiating them from other forms of political or social organisation.
- Brief overview of history of social movement theory and how its trajectory relates to significant historical changes and paradigm changes in mainstream intellectual traditions.
- Consideration of different explanations of why and how social movement organisations emerge, including a discussion and critique of resource mobilisation, political opportunity structure and framing perspectives.
- Discussion of the various attempts at synthesising the different strands within social movement theory and how these relate to developments in the social science and International Relations Theory more generally.
- Consideration of the transferability of social movement theory beyond its original remit (secular, peaceful protest movements in Europe and the USA) to other forms of social movement (those operating in 'the South'; religiously-motivated movements and violent organisations).
- Application of the different theoretical models to selected social movements in different geographical contexts (including examples from both `the North' and `the South') and representing different types of social movement (e.g. secular, peaceful protest organisations; religious movements; violent organisations; global protest organisations).
- The implications of globalisation and changes in state structures, civil society and the economy for social movements and social movement theory.

Lecture 1 Introduction: Themes, definitions, controversies
Lecture 2 History of Social Movement Theory (SMT)
Lecture 3 Mobilising structures and Resource Mobilisation Theory (RMT)
Lecture 4 Political process and Political Opportunity Structure (POS)
Lecture 5 New Social Movements (NSM), Framing, Identity and Culture
Lecture 6 Towards a synthesis
Lecture 7 US Civil Rights Movement
Lecture 8 Italian Left and the Red Brigades
Lecture 9 Lebanese Shi'a and Hizballah
Lecture 10 Applying SMT to movements from 'the global South'
Lecture 11 Applying SMT to religious social movements
Lecture 12 Applying SMT to violent organisations
Lecture 13 Transnational organisations and globalisation
Lecture 14 Anti-Globalisation Movement
Lecture 15 Revision

Seminar 1 Explaining Social Movements
Seminar 2 Synthesising the different approaches
Seminar 3 US Civil Rights Movement
Seminar 4 Italian Left and the Red Brigades
Seminar 5 Lebanese Shi'a and Hizballah
Seminar 6 SMT & '(global) Southern', religious or violent movements
Seminar 7 Anti-Globalisation Movement


This module combines theoretical approaches to studying social movements with empirical examples from different geographical contexts. It allows interested students to gain specialist knowledge of contemporary debates in the study of social movements so as to enhance their existing understanding of related themes and issues.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Communication Students will learn how to present their ideas both verbally and in writing and how to assert themselves to advantage. They will understand the importance of information and clear communication and how to exploit these. They will know how to use the many sources of information available and how to use the most appropriate form of communication to the best advantage. They will learn to be clear and direct about aims and objectives. They will learn to consider only that which is relevant to the topic, focus and objectives of their argument or discussion. Seminars will be run in groups where oral discussion and presentations will form the main medium of teaching and the emphasis throughout the module will be on student participation and communication.
Improving own Learning and Performance The module aims to promote self-management but within a context of assistance from both the convenor and fellow students alike. Students will be expected to improve their own learning and performance by undertaking their own research and to exercise their own initiative, including searching for sources, compiling reading lists, and deciding (under guidance) the direction of their essay and presentation topics. The need to conduct a seminar presentation and to meet an essay deadline will focus students' attention on the need to manage their time and opportunity resources well.
Information Technology Students will be expected to submit their work in word-processed format. Also, students will be encouraged to search for sources of information on the web, as well as seeking sources through electronic information sources (such as Web of Science and OCLC).
Personal Development and Career planning The discussions in particular will help to develop students' verbal and presentation skills. Learning about the process of planning an essay and a presentation, framing the parameters of the projects, honing and developing the projects and seeing through to completion will contribute towards their portfolio of transferable skills.
Problem solving Independent project work and problem solving will be one of the central goals of the module; the submission of an essay will require that the student develops independent research skills as well as problem solving skills. The need to research and prepare seminar presentations will also enable the student to develop independent project skills. The ability of students to solve problems will be developed and assessed by asking them to: adopt differing points of view; organize data and estimate an answer to the problem; consider extreme cases; reason logically; construct theoretical models; consider similar cases; look for patterns; divide issues into smaller problems. A final examination will ensure that an assessment of the student's ability to work alone can be undertaken.
Research skills The submission of an essay will reflect the independent research skills of the student. The need to locate appropriate research resources and write up the results will also facilitate research skills. Research preparation for a seminar presentation will also enable the student to develop independent project skills. A final examination will ensure that an assessment of the student's ability to work alone can be undertaken.
Subject Specific Skills Students have the opportunity to develop, practice and test a wide range of subject specific skills that help them to understand, conceptualise and evaluate examples and ideas on the module. These subject specific skills include: - Collect and understand a wide range of data relating to the module - Ability to evaluate competing perspectives - Demonstrate subject specific research techniques - Apply a range of methodologies to complex political problems
Team work Seminars will consist in part of small-group discussion where students will be obliged to discuss as a group the core issues related to seminar topics. Such class room debates and discussions are a vital component of the module.


This module is at CQFW Level 6