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A Theoretical Explanation for the Development of Social Protest and Collective Action

  • 09 Pages
  • Published On: 29-11-2023

The world today is characterized by social protest and collective action. Social protest refers to political expression meant to bring about political or social change by influencing the public's attitude, knowledge, and behaviors. One of the most popular social groups in the world is Black Lives Matter (BLM). This group is an international social movement created in the United States in 2013 (Updegrove et al., 2020). It is dedicated to fighting racism and anti-Black violence against people of color. Other social protest groups or movement which have emerged globally includes truth movement, the abolitionist movement, anti-capitalism, and anti-apartheid movement. However, the biggest question is why social protest and collective action appear. These questions have been addressed by theories such as the deprivation Theory. Based on this theory, social protest arises when individuals feel deprived of a specific good, resources, and service (Sen & Avci, 2016). The theory divide deprivation into absolute deprivation and relative deprivation. Absolute deprivation is isolation due to the group's position in the community, while relative deprivation is due to being disadvantaged compared to other groups in the community (Sen & Avci, 2016). For instance, the black lives matter movement was developed to advocate for anti-racism and change how Black people were criminalized for whom they are (Olteanu et al., 2016). Another theory is the Resource Mobilization model, which suggests that social protest groups result when individuals who share grievances can take action and mobilize resources. For instance, BLM gathers resources to fight against discrimination against people of color (Olteanu et al., 2016). Another theory that explains social movement is the mass society theory, which argues that people are becoming alienated and isolated (Lee, 2021). Therefore, based on the theory, social movement emerge when individual feel socially detached or insignificant; thus the movement offers a sense of belonging and empowerment. Therefore, this essay will explain the development and need for social protest and collective action as depicted in the Black Lives Matter movement using the deprivation model, Resource Mobilization model, and mass society approach.


The Deprivation Model

Deprivation Theory suggests that individual who is deprived of things that are perceived to be critical in society, justice, money, social status or privilege often have shared discontent and join social movements with the hope of redressing their grievances (Power et al., 2020). The theory was first defined by Robert Merton, who suggested that social movement develops when people feel deprived. In this case, people compare themselves to others and think that they are at a disadvantage, thus joining the social movement or creating one with the hope of ending or addressing their grievances. For example, Black Lives Matter is a movement developed to protest against occurrences of police brutality and racial violence against the black community (Clayton, 2018). The injustice among the black people was observed after an increased incidence of black people facing brutality compared to their white counterparts. This sense of having less than other people (justice) is known as deprivation as per the theory and forms the basis for the social movement (Lee, 2021). Besides, the approach reveals that this comparison results in the sense of injustice, thus leading to the development of a social movement. Moreover, the theory demonstrates that, regardless of the condition, when individuals are dissatisfied and are shared among a group of people, there is always a rise to social protest. This discontent develops since individuals feel deprived relative to some other group (Lee, 2021). Similarly, another grievance by the black lives matter movement is economic justice for all and economic reconstruction to promote collective ownership, not just access (Banks, 2018). The United States economy is constructed on black people's exploitation and occupational segregation- people of color. Most of the policies in the past have created an economy where black people have been discriminated against and given unequal opportunities compared to their white counterparts (Solomon et al., 2019). Among such policies includes Jim Crow, which advocated for segregating public schools, transport, and public places. Another policy is the legacies of slavery, the New Deal, and the limited funding of the anti-discrimination agencies. Besides, workers of color in the United States have been chronically undervalued, and there are significant institutionalized racial disparities in benefits and wages. Therefore the economy is characterized by persistent racial inequality in wages, jobs, and other measures of economic well-being. For example, activists in black lives matter often demand a shift from funding police agencies and using the resources channeled to police service to fund other public services and non-policing community programs to ensure the economic wellbeing of all people (Banks, 2018). Similarly, the movement reveals that for an equitable profession, a more equitable society needs to think about how diversity in the economics profession will ultimately lead to better economic development. Therefore based on the disparity theory, it is evident that the color lines create comparison on the advantages given to certain races over the other. Moreover, the unfair advantage to minorities, especially in the justice system and the economic platforms, lead to the development and need for a social movement like the black lives matter. This black lives matter confirms the deprivation theory where the deprived group protest creates collective violence and other social movement activities aimed at addressing people's grievances.

Mass Society Theory

According to the mass society theory, social movements are created by people in large societies who are minorities or who are socially detached. Therefore, the social movement often creates a sense of belonging and empowerment that is a privilege to the movement members (Zurcher & Snow, 2017). Consequently, based on Emile Durkheim, society is characterized by increasing individualism. Besides, with the increasing complexity and size of the community, communal integration is becoming problematic (Zurcher & Snow, 2017). Some of how the community is becoming problematic include the insufficient regulation of behavior and egoism, which involves increased individuation of individuals in the society. Therefore, there are loosened social controls and weakened social integration, thus creating dysfunctional outcomes and unconventional behavior. Consequently, some individuals feel insignificant or socially detached due to community complexity, thus creating a social movement to create empowerment and create a sense of belonging. For example, the black lives matter movement was formed to address the causes of black people being criminalized, caged, and harmed. Also, it addresses the lack of government to provide equal rights in health, education, and safety (Kelly et al., 2020). The movement was created in 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted of the charges of shooting to death seventeen old Trayvon Martin, who was a black American. Since 2013, there have been demonstrations against the deaths of many people of the black community (Kelly et al., 2020). The movement affirms the lives of Black queer and Trans folks along the gender spectrum, and its main focus is on the marginalized Black community's liberation. Besides, the movement is working on creating a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise (Kilgo et al., 2019). Therefore the movement is created by people of color who exist in a white community and feel insignificant and socially detached. Like the Mass Society Theory, the movement is constructed to provide a sense of empowerment and belonging to the black community who are caged, harmed, criminalized, and discriminated against in the justice system. According to the Mass society theory, the elites influence the non-elites who occupy marginal positions in society (Grant, 2017). The non-elite are always readily available for mobilization since they lack attachments to independent groups and occupational groups. For instance, the black lives matter movement began as a hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Therefore, it is evident that an elite recognized the discrimination and humiliation of the black people in the justice system, especially after George Zimmerman was acquitted of his charges of killing a black teen. According to Olteanu et al. (2016), after the start of the movement, it became nationally recognized due to its street protest after the killing of two black Americans in 2014. In 2020, 26 million people took part in 2020 BLM protests in the United States, thus making the protest one of the biggest protests in history (Skoy, 2021). It is also distributed worldwide in countries like France, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Japan, Brazil, Canada, and Denmark. Therefore, the movement conforms to the Mass Society Theory, where the elite enlightens non-elite who are always available for mobilization. Thus, the movement reveals the need to be associated with a group after incidents of social discrimination and alienation as the significant reason for the start of the black lives matter.

Resource Mobilization Theory

According to the resource mobilization approach, social protest and movements arise when individuals who share grievances can mobilize resources. The model suggests that resources are the primary factor in the emergence and success of social protests and movements (Edwards & Gillham, 2013). The model highlights the role of resources in the birth of a social movement. Therefore, when some people in the community have particular grievances, they can quickly mobilize resources to alleviate injustice and grievances. Moreover, resources in this context refer to aspects such as labor, money, social status knowledge, and political elites (Edwards & Gillham, 2013). This theory effectively explains the origin of the social movements since it offers a convincing description as to why some grievances create social protest and movement in some occurrences. For example, the black lives matter movement has six grievances. They include ending the war on the black community, reparations for past harms, divestment from the agencies that criminalize black people, social control of the laws and economic justice (Clayton, 2018). As stated, the black lives matter movement began as a hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. However, its development was catalyzed by the availability of resources. Today some numerous organizations and individuals fund the movement. Among such movements includes New York City Commission on Human Rights, Association of Black Anthropologists, and Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Black Lives Matter, the National Action Network, the National Urban League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Racial Equity Tools (Vogel & Wheaton, 2015; Kraeger, 2021). The funding acquired from these donors is used in a project such as the ActBlue project which provides bail funds, the Bail Project which also provide black people with bail, and the Emergency Relief Fund which work to keep the Trans people out of jail (Kraeger, 2021). Similarly, the funding is channeled to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF), which fights for racial justice for black people, the Equal Justice Initiative, which offers legal representation to black people who have been illegally convicted or abused in state jails. Lastly, the Innocence Project is funded by donors of black lives matter, whose objective is to free the increasing number of innocent individuals who remain incarcerated (Rickford, 2016). Therefore, it is evident that just like the resource mobilization theory, black lives matter has grievances, thus mobilizing resources and take action to protect the black people who are being discriminated against in the community and justice system. It is also evident that the resources from the various donors are at the center of the emergence and success of the black lives matter movement. Moreover, the availability of resources enables the movement to print and display banners, making the movement demands to be heard.

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Today social protests are on the increase. Social protests are described as a political expression created to bring social change by influencing people's attitudes. Among the most popular social movement school includes Black Lives Matter (BLM). This movement was created in 2013 to fight for black people's crimination and harm. One of the theories which explain the origin and development of the theory is the deprivation theory. Based on this theory, when individuals feel deprived of a specific good or resources, they form social groups to address their grievances. For example, black lives matter is a group deprived of justice; thus, it is created to address justice among the black community. Similarly, the Resource Mobilization model explains the development of black lives matter. The theory reveals that the availability of resources makes the social protest movement successful. For instance, various organizations such as Black Lives Matter, the National Action Network, and the National Urban League fund the BLM. The resources are used to advocate for justice among the black community. Therefore, it is evident that the movement developed due to the availability of resources. Moreover, the social movement suggests that people form social movements when they feel alienated and isolated. These movements, therefore, creates a sense of belonging and empowerment. For example, the black lives matter originates from instances that indicate alienation of the black community in various sectors, including the justice and economic sectors. Therefore, social movement and protest develop when people are deprived of resources, alienated, and can gather resources.


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