Social movements: GSDRC Professional Development Reading Pack No. 50

This reading pack provide an introduction to the main issues and debates


Social movements are large, often informal groupings of people who come together against power holders around a common cause, in response to situations of perceived inequality, oppression and/or unmet social, political, economic or cultural demands. At their core, social movements are not about “polite debate” or “invited spaces” of interaction between state and society. Social actors coordinate their actions in sustained sequences of opposition and contestation intended to transform existing power structures and dynamics. Social movements are often one of the few (peaceful) options that people, who lack regular access to institutions or who act in the name of new or unaccepted claims, possess to challenge established rules of the game – and this is what gives them their contentious character.

Social movements are not new. Throughout history, individuals have come together peacefully to demand change from dominant elites. Examples include the movement to end the transatlantic slave trade dating back to the sixteenth century, movements to gain women’s suffrage emerging in the late nineteenth century, and the peace, environmental, feminist and LBGT rights movements of the twentieth century.


Rocha Menocal, A. (2016). Social movements. GSDRC Professional Development Reading Pack no. 50. Birmingham, UK: University of Birmingham.5pp

Social movements: GSDRC Professional Development Reading Pack No. 50

Published 1 September 2016