Category Archives: History of social movements

Motivations to participate in social movement organisations, and how they shift

Element Descriptor

People participate in social movements, at differing levels of intensity and lengths of time, for a variety of motives – the Cause, the desire to use skills, make friends, feel recognised, keep despair at bay, “etc”. Understanding their motivations and providing – as far as possible – for them, is key for keeping them involved for the long haul. And without long-haul involvement, we are toast. Not understanding motivations will virtually guarantee repeated ‘up like a rocket, down like a stick’ patterns…

Level descriptors

NovicePractitionerExpertNinja
You can spot people who fit into one or two of the ‘basic’ categories after chatting to them for a while, seeing how they interact with others. You are able to understand what will motivate and demotivate them (and yourself)You can quickly spot how people, mostly like you, fit into the various categories of motivation, and how these motivations might shift (wax and wane) over time, and the triggers for further or lessened involvement might occur (and, gasp, be interrupted).You are able to categorise – and explain the gaps in the categories and uncertainties- the motivations of people in your group and others, with compassion and wit, explaining the likely courses their involvement will take, and offering ways that this engagement can become something more sustainable and sustaining. Without coming off as a prick.From someone’s shoe size and someone else’s haircut you can diagnose the personal activist trajectories of all the people in a meeting, where they have ‘come from’, where they are now, where things are heading for them, and the causes, consequences and possible interrupters of the various de-motivators and abeyance-mongers that will afflict them in the coming months

Element Overview Essay

This is a draft. If something doesn’t make sense, or you see typos, or if you have further ideas, please email us on contact@activecitizenshiptoolkit.net

So the first thing we need to do is get outside of our own heads and not assume that everyone else is exactly like “us” and so may have different motivations. 

For some of us, it will be being able to look ourselves in the mirror. Some of us are projecting 20 years into the future, and worrying about what our kids will say to us. Some of us don’t have kids. Other people will be doing it because of strongly held political or religious – not that the two are necessarily separate – convictions. And it’s just become part of their identity, part of who they are. Part of what they do to find meaning. Those people are not terribly numerous other people, what their different modes. Crucially, one person can have different motives for getting involved in different stages of their life. And even within a set period motivations can shift. 

Also, you do get people who – I remember one person, who was incredibly, obviously, instrumentalist. They wanted to have a “sustainability thing” on their CV and  got involved with this achingly, reformist NGO, and even it couldn’t cope and told him to piss off. Those sorts of obvious “users” are fairly infrequent, fairly easy to spot, but you know, maybe they can shift once the scales fall from their eyes. Yeah, good luck with that. 

You have other people who just want to stop something. Initially, it’s all about stopping a development on a patch of land that they care about, one that has emotional biographical resonance for them. And from that they get more and more drawn into the bigger and bigger issues as they start to see how the pieces of the puzzle fit, and how merely winning a planning application is pointless. Resisting planning applications is often pointless when the entire game is rigged against you. 

Other people, and this is probably a lot of them are drawn in because friends are involved. And then they decide to get involved to just hang out with their friends and have a good time. 

Other people are lonely. And that’s fine. 

Other people are looking for thrills and adventure and seeing themselves in the newspaper and seeing themselves may be reflected in the approving eyes of other people.

And then of course, you’ve got people who are doing it because they’re paid to do it as spies, either full time with the police or corporate or part time or people who have been blackmailed into doing it. “We want you to get involved in Group X, otherwise we’re going to bring charges against you for those drugs you were selling or for that thing that you did.” This is probably far more common than we’d like to admit. Okay, so those last ones were some bad reasons for getting involved in a social movement organisation!

The general point is this; different individuals will have different motives. The motives don’t necessarily stay the same. It may be that what brings them to a social movement is not what keeps them. And this is crucial, because you come looking for excitement, adrenaline, attention in the media, a sense of yourself as righteous. You’re only gonna get six months or a year of that, because the media will get bored of your group’s tactics, your group will start to fracture anyway. And you’ll be left high and dry. 

So if turning this round, you are someone who’s interested as much in retaining members into social movement organisations as recruiting them. I would argue that your three main ways of retaining people. And clearly we could talk about this as a separate element. 

And number one, there’s a really good, healthy friendship network.

Number two, that the group is just continuing functioning and continues being useful. 

And number three, that the individuals are learning lots of new skills and lots of new knowledge in a more explicit more or less explicit way. 

So that’s precisely where the Active Citizenship Toolkit comes in. That you can ask individuals to become better at things they’re already okay at, or to learn new skills all together. And I think most humans, like learning new stuff, as distinct from cramming their heads full of facts from the National Curriculum and then squeezing the sponge out. On the appointed day in an exam, that’s not education that’s training. 

So I think that a lot of people do want to learn new skills. And that’s really the gamble here with the Toolkit is that people will be attracted to social movements for a bunch of reasons. But they will stay, at least some, and how the groups that use the toolkit because there are opportunities to get better at stuff..

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History of social movements

Element Descriptor

If you know your history, you will know where you are coming from. Said someone. Same is true of social movements Without an understanding – based in reading, watching, thinking – of what went before, how ya gonna have any useful thoughts on what might – and needs to – come next?

Level descriptors

NovicePractitionerExpertNinja
You can do a basic post-war Eurocentric history of social movements, charting a path through the Black |Civil Rights Movement to Feminism, Gay Rights, Environmentalism “et cetera” without excessive hagiography, elisions or unreflective stupidity. You know how much you don’t know, and you’ve done some thinking about which bits of this history are particularly relevant for you and yours.You can give a cross-country comparative history, based around one or more “issues” of how social movements came into being, did what they did and either maintained the rage, went institutional or went into abeyance. You can fling the terminology around with gay abandon, and have it mean something to you and others. You have multiple anecdotes, factual ones, that can be used to get people thinking in the here and now about what their choices are about what to do next. You are a bit of a bore, to be honest.You have a detailed understanding across various political systems, of how social movements have come to challenge hegemony and how that challenge has been coped with, dealt with and then written out of the history books. You can compare and contrast examples of tactics and counter-tactics around the world, across the decades. The academic literature is of some interest, but the biographies are more to your taste…You have an encyclopedic, cross -cultural, cross-issue longitudinal understanding of social movements, and can explain to anyone foolish enough to ask the comparative political economy of their rise, the various state and corporate responses (co-optation, repression, kill them all let god sort them out) that were attempted, the social movement responses, trajectories etc. And you’re fundamentally depressed because you know we are all doomed and that we are not the ones we have been waiting for, because most of the time “we” suck.

Element Overview Essay

This is a draft. If something doesn’t make sense, or you see typos, or if you have further ideas, please email us on contact@activecitizenshiptoolkit.net

The reasons that the history of social movements not well understood is that this is a relatively new relatively arcane field of academic sociology. And you’re not taught it in school or probably in university. And the other problem is that it is often reduced to a few heroic people, whether it’s Gandhi did X on his own, or Martin Luther King, or Rosa Parks, the so called star system. And here we could include the quote from Chomsky that I use all the time.

The consequences of not understanding the history of social movements is you can sit around waiting for a star, a saviuor  to turn up.  And we have Bulworth dialogue, Warren Beatty and Halle Berry here,

Sen. Jay Billington Bulworth : Why do you think there are no more black leaders?

Nina : Some people think it’s because they all got killed. But I happen to think it’s because of the decimation of the manufacturing base in the urban centers. An energized optimistíc population throws up energized, optimistic leaders. And when you shift manufacturing to the Sun Belt in the Third World, you destroy the blue collar core of the black activist population. Higher domestic employment means jobs for African Americans. World War meant lots of jobs tor black folks: That is what energized the community for the Civil Rights movement of the 50s the 60s. An energized, hopeful community will not only produce leaders but more importantly it’ll produce leaders they’ll respond to. Now what do you think, Senator?

and that you can be surprised when movements split or fall apart, or when state repression works, because let’s face it, state repression very often does work or at least gives time for the forces of reaction to regroup and react.

So, we could also probably put on the play The Designated Mourner here.  And that Chomsky line about social movements and leadership.
So the fixes are to make a good, proper study of social movements to read widely, and not to be hung up on Western ones, even though the US civil rights movement is crucial for your understanding, to think also about strategies, repertoires and movement cycles, initiating movements and spin off movements. All of this is doable. I think a beginner’s guide to social movements is something that CEM could usefully do.

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