Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Social Movements and World Politics
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture Combined lecture/Seminar: 10 x 2 hour sessions


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 1 x 1,500 word book review  20%
Semester Assessment 1 x 2,500 word essay  40%
Semester Assessment 1 x 2,500 word case study report  40%
Supplementary Assessment 1 x 1,500 word book review, if book review element failed  20%
Supplementary Assessment 1 x 2,500 word essay, if essay element failed  40%
Supplementary Assessment 1 x 2,500 word case study report if case study report failed  40%

Learning Outcomes

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

1. Define a social movement and locate differing theoretical traditions of studying movements.
2. Explain how particular social movements have had an impact on world politics.
3. Critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of materialist explanations of social movements.
4. Critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of political opportunity and resource mobilization explanations of social movements.
5. Critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of identity-based and framing explanations of social movements
6. Analyze changes over time in the forms, tactics and social role of movements.
7. Link social movement studies to broader theoretical debates within IR and political theory.

Brief description

The module combines in-depth case studies of specific movements, documents and cases - such as the Labour movement, the feminist movement, and environmentalism - with theoretical engagements with a range of traditions and perspectives on popular politics. These include materialist accounts of the Marxist tradition, the resource mobilisation and political opportunity schools of American social movement theory, through to the more identity-focused European social movements literature. The course begins and ends, however, by explicitly considering how social movements relate to more mainstream International Relations literature, firstly through historical perspectives on state formation and norm evolution (anti-slavery), before returning in the final sessions to address questions of power and resistance, and globalisation and world society.

The course is taught primarily through two-hour whole class sessions, which will involve a range of teaching methods including lecture-style presentations, small group debates, and various class exercises designed to engage students with central issues and problems in organizing groups of people, collective decision-making, and various forms of political and social leadership.


Social movements have historically been important forces in world politics in many different ways. From religious movements, anti-slavery campaigns, and the labour, peace, civil rights and women's movement, to more recent 'new social movements' mobilizing around ecological and identity-based issues, social movements have often been a fundamental driver of political revolutions, cultural changes, ideological norm-shifts and economic transformations. Yet they continue to be marginalised in much International Relations scholarship, where they are frequently portrayed as peripheral forces or 'mosquitoes on the evening breeze' (Walker, 1994: 669). This module seeks to draw attention to the many ways in which the world we live in is a product of groups of people getting together in movements and campaigning for change.


Class 1: Introduction
Class 2: Social movements and world politics: A historical perspective
Class 3: Social movements and world politics: Some theoretical traditions
Class 4: Marx and the Labour movement
Class 5: Gramsci and civil society
Class 6: Cultural critique and the feminist movement
Class 7: Identity politics and 'new social movements'
Class 8: Anti-colonialism and 'third world' movements
Class 9: Environmentalism from the 1960s to the 2010s
Class 10: Theorising resistance and policing dissent
Class 11: Social movements and globalisation
Class 12: Conclusion

Classes 1 and 12 are 30 minute introductory and concluding sessions. Classes 2-11 are each two hour sessions which will involve a 50 minute lecture and an hour of small group exercises. The lecturer and any teaching support will circulate between groups for this hour, and specific exercises, debates and tasks will be set.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number Some statistical data on social movements will be part of the course reading material.
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 in their writing and speaking and to be 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. Seminar exercises 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. Fellow students will be encouraged to question others, to critique their approach or to suggest areas for the development of the chosen topic.
Improving own Learning and Performance The module aims to promote self-management but within a context of assistance from both the convenor and the 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 complete three pieces of coursework will focus students' attention on the need to manage their time and 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). Students will also be expected to make use of the resources that will be available on the Blackboard VLE.
Personal Development and Career planning The discussions in particular will help to develop students' verbal and presentation and team-working 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 students’ 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 the essay and case study will require that the student develops independent research skills as well as problem solving skills. The case study will include an element of (directed) research design. The need to research and prepare for seminar tasks 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.
Research skills The submission of the book review, essay and case study will reflect the independent research skills of the student. The case study will include an element of (directed) research design. The need to locate appropriate research resources and write up the results will also facilitate research skills. Research preparation for seminar tasks will also enable the student to develop independent project skills.
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 - Ability to synthesize knowledge from more than one academic discipline
Team work Seminars will consist in part of small group role-playing activities where students will be obliged to prepare, present and discuss as a group the core issues related to seminar topics. Such class room debates and discussions are a vital component of the module learning experience.


This module is at CQFW Level 6