Book Review > Goodwin & Jasper, Social Movements Reader, 2006, Blackwell

The first sentence of introduction to the thick and intimidating 400 page The Social Movements Reader, edited by Jeff Goodwin and James M. Jasper caught me off guard:

“Throughout history, humans have complained about things they disliked. Sometimes they do more than complain; they ban together with others to change things.”

This straightforward introductory quote is especially potent before the editors, both authors and Goodwin, a Professor of Sociology, consider so many diverse facets of social movements. Whether in the form of a revolution (Iranian Revolution), an organization (NAACP to promote civil rights), informal networks (women’s movement), or specific actions and riots (vandalizing testing labs in animal activism), “Social movements are a conscious, concerted, and sustained effort by ordinary people to change some aspect of their society by using extra-institutional means (3).”

Goodwin and Jasper go much deeper and further into understanding specifics of movements as they begin, organize, maintain, engage, change, and end. This collection of articles is organized into nine sections with their introductions addressing the nine questions such as: When and why do social Movements Occur? Who remains in Movements? What do movement participants think and feel?

The seventh chapter covers the question, How do the state and mass media influence Movements? I was surprised how the State and media are wedded together. “Politicians affect social movements not only in their official structural roles, but also via their influence on the news media (258).”

The media it self has come to play an expected role within movements, and is seen as a necessary evil to amplify the movement’s message to a mass audience. Yet there are severe drawbacks to the mass platform including a finicky audience with a short attention span and needing to time the message with a crisis or accident (257). Also, carefully planning events to gain media attention poses the threat of loosing the core of the message in such extreme methods of attracting attention in the first place. For example, when a “…small groups of draft-card burners could leap to national prominence (302)…” during the Vietnam war. Movements actually have little control how they appear in the media (259).

I don’t feel like I’ve touched the depths that Goodwin and Jasper dive with this collection of articles. It’s an overwhelming read, which is why I appreciated Goodwin and Jasper giving reasons to study social movements in the first place. To have an interest in social change itself, and be able to interpret the moral basis and sensibilities of a society through its movements were a few (4).

I feel this is good content to examine as Christ followers coming into the social movement conversation. As we seek to find where God is already at work in these areas past and present, it will give helpful tools to engage our society and with the life-giving attitudes of the Kingdom. Perhaps there are methods to learn, or mistakes to avoid, etc.


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