Resource Mobilization Theory

Looking at the three articles we could clearly see the shift of perspectives on understanding the social movements. Le Bon’s approach of social psychology to define the rise of collective actions was replaced by the theories of resource mobilization, political processes and political opportunity structures in the 1970s. In the article by McCarthy and Zald, we are directed to the area of social movement sector, where individuals, organizations and structures are carefully defined. For them the rise and fall of movements are no longer simply determined by the shared grievances and generalized beliefs, but rather largely influenced by the social resources of organizations, interactions among different players and structured opportunities. Then in Sampedro’s work, he presents us a mixed model using a case of anti-military draft campaigns in Spain to frame the social movement between models of the elite dominated media and media with plural voices.

The three studies reside in different level of studies and they are not necessarily in conflict with each other. If we think of movements generated by social emotions we could always find cases such as riots in which ordinary people turn into evils ignited by hatred. At the same time the institutionalized movements in democratic western countries are good examples of the resource mobilization theory. Then if we set the model of resource mobilization in motion, which means to examine the movements across a long period of time, we could come up with new insights to challenge the hypotheses made by the resource mobilization model. However, actually I only appreciate Sampedro’s approach to counter the static model by introducing historical perspective, and it is still doubtful to what extent his mixed model could apply to more various societies that are not experiencing a larger social change such as democratic transition or with the media environment where mass media is not practiced based on the rules of sensation.

In McCarthy and Zald’s article, they pointed out their limitations of their hypotheses, “The propositions are heavily based upon the American case, so that the impact of societal differences in development and political structure on social movements is unexplored, as are differences in levels and types of mass communication.”(p.1213). As a student from China, I often bear the assumption that the political context is a strong counter-argument to respond to any theories developed based on western societies. But this assumption could be also problematic that I might be blind to the shared factors.

If I break the assumption for a moment, I find the resource mobilization theory could be powerful to explain the emerging nonprofit sector in China. The area of charity and voluntary sector have a higher level of institutionalization than some social movements that directly challenge the official ideologies in this authoritarian country. Their practices such as providing social services to the underprivileged groups are mostly routinized, and within this field large number of professionals work for registered organizations and rightfully resist structured inequalities. If we take a closer look, the rules to succeed in the nonprofit sector are as competitive as other commercial industries such as seeking resources and promoting themselves in media.

Too many times when we think of democracy in China, the first impression always falls to the spontaneous events of conflicts repetitively reported in the media and it is mixed with people’s ideal expectation of a radical transition. What is neglected here is to share part of our attention to the routinized actions that might enable social movement industries to emerge and eventually challenge the society where only dominant values could reproduce.


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