À la fin de cette section, vous serez en mesure de :
- Évaluer un ensemble de plusieurs facteurs expliquant l'émergence et le succès d'un mouvement social
- Reconnaître l'impact de facteurs supplémentaires tels que les influences internationales et les tactiques non violentes
Les mouvements sociaux incarnent souvent de grandes ambitions qui ne peuvent être réalisées sans action collective. Le XXIe siècle a vu la naissance d'une myriade de mouvements sociaux, du Sunrise Movement pour stopper le changement climatique au mouvement #metoo pour les droits des femmes et Black Lives Matter pour la justice raciale. Les mouvements sociaux conservateurs incluent la Nouvelle droite chrétienne et le mouvement mondial de la Nouvelle droite. Bien que les causes et les participants varient considérablement, les chercheurs ont cherché à identifier les facteurs communs aux mouvements sociaux et à expliquer les conditions dans lesquelles un mouvement social peut atteindre ses objectifs.
L'étude des mouvements sociaux est une entreprise interdisciplinaire. Les spécialistes des sciences sociales ont utilisé les outils de leurs disciplines pour comprendre l'émergence complexe de la mobilisation collective. Les psychologues se concentrent sur le niveau individuel de l'analyse, tandis que les sociologues et les politologues se concentrent sur la dynamique de groupe et les facteurs institutionnels qui permettent ou cautérisent un mouvement social. Un cadre permettant de comprendre les mouvements sociaux se concentre sur trois facteurs principaux : les opportunités, l'organisation et le cadrage.
Le romancier et poète français Victor Hugo est crédité de l'observation suivante : « Rien n'est aussi puissant qu'une idée arrivée à point nommé ». Lorsque l'on applique cette vision pleine d'espoir à un mouvement social défendant une cause, le contexte est important. Un moment d'éveil idéationnel ne peut mener à un changement concret que lorsque certaines étoiles s'alignent. Les chercheurs ont découvert qu'un mouvement social a plus de chances d'émerger et de prévaloir lorsque le contexte politique plus large est réceptif aux idées promues par ce mouvement social. Le plaidoyer pour le changement climatique a pris de l'ampleur dans les rues des démocraties riches lorsque les élites politiques ont débattu de ce problème ; le mouvement américain pour les droits des homosexuels a pris le plus d'ampleur lorsque les élus ont indiqué qu'ils étaient prêts à modifier les politiques relatives aux lois de longue date contre les relations sexuelles minorités.
L'opportunité politique est donc un facteur structurel qui détermine si un mouvement social se forme et peut prévaloir dans ses objectifs. La structure fait ici référence à des forces sociales plus importantes qui entrent en jeu à un moment donné : les institutions et les normes, ou les croyances et pratiques largement partagées, qui limitent l'action individuelle. La structure peut comprendre si les institutions politiques et les élites sont réceptives à des changements spécifiques, si la société accepte le message et les tactiques promus par un mouvement social. Comme l'a suggéré David Meyer, il doit y avoir un « espace de tolérance [au sein] d'un régime » (2004, p. 128) pour que les militants puissent se mobiliser. Et que la société ne doit pas réprimer les militants au point qu'ils n'aient ni le vocabulaire ni les moyens nécessaires pour porter plainte. La structure est le contexte dans lequel un mouvement social peut se former et faire pression pour le changement. Au sein de cette structure, les militants peuvent choisir parmi une gamme de tactiques concernant la manière d'organiser, de mobiliser et de définir leurs objectifs (voir la figure ci-dessous).
In the case of the US Civil Rights Movement that unfolded during the mid-twentieth century, markers of political opportunity can be identified in hindsight. These include the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the US Supreme Court, which declared unconstitutional the segregation of schools by race. Political leaders also signaled an opening, evident in public addresses such as President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 Report to the People on American Civil Rights, in which he declared, “It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color.” Such events signaled that powerful formal institutions were willing to change, and the time was ripe for a social movement to activate and accelerate that change.
Organization and mobilization
While the emergence of a political opening is key, a social moment cannot be sustained without strong organizational structures in place. As Lenin observed, a revolution will succeed when carried out by a vanguard party that offers an “organizational weapon” by which revolutionaries may strike down existing institutions. Successful communist party movements, such as those in Russia, China, and Cuba, relied on disciplined, hierarchical party organizations that reached down to cells of activists at the grassroots level.
More contemporary social movements need not have such extreme organization, but organizational strength is a direct correlate of mobilizational power and momentum. Douglas McAdam has studied several key organizations that facilitated the successes of the US Civil Rights Movement of the mid-twentieth century. These backbone organizations included Black churches, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Black churches contained multigenerational communities united by bonds of faith and trust; HBCUs offered spaces for student organizing; the NAACP provided organizational and political resources to advance civil rights through mass protests, coordinated activities, and legal action. All of these organizations had proven capacity for carrying out complex community actions under adverse circumstances; they were also spaces for pooling resources and communicating initiatives to a relatively large audience of proven and potential activists (McAdam 1999).
Organizational forms may be more decentralized and less hierarchical by design. The “leaderless” Black Lives Matter movement in the US is an example of this: there is no singular set of charismatic leading figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton or Bobby Seale to set the tone and agenda. Local actions are organized and executed without direction from an organizational headquarters. One strength of this evolution in the organization of a social movement is more cellular organization, with new protest repertoires and messages emerging to suit local conditions and audiences. A disadvantage is the potential for the movement to lose momentum without clearly articulated and unifying goals.
New information and communication technologies (ICT) have changed the ways a social movement might organize and mobilize. By the dawn of the twenty-first century, there was optimism regarding the possibilities for uniting activists via social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter (Diamond and Plattner 2012). So-called “liberation technologies” were heralded as a means to organize a social movement in defiance of geographical constraints and even repressive governments. However, this initial optimism has been followed by critiques of these new technologies as leading to “armchair activism” by individuals unwilling to invest real resources into a social movement. Social media platforms have also proven unruly spaces for organizing due to the challenges of misinformation, government interference, and weak bonds of trust between participants. The impact of ICT on the emergence and success of a social movement has thus yielded mixed results.
Political opportunity, organization, and mobilizational capacity are complemented by the framing of an issue. Framing refers to the ways in which a social problem is defined by, presented to and resonates with members of a social movement and society more broadly. Framing is a key strategic move because the chosen frames must be culturally appropriate and meaningful.
The concept of frames explicitly brings a psychological and emotional element into our understanding of social movements: individuals join because of an affinity for the cause rather than merely out of rational self-interest (Goodwin, Jasper, and Polletta 2001). They must actively engage in “sense making” and determine for themselves, as well as fellow activists, their purpose and goals. Framing can incite emotions such as anger over a perceived injustice but also psychological safety in the belief that one is part of a larger community with shared beliefs.
Framing takes place at the inception of a social movement. It can sustain the movement and attract additional adherents from society. Framing is critical when we consider how the modern environmental movement in the US was galvanized by publications such as Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring, which offered an evocative and powerful vision (a lifeless natural landscape) for understanding ecological disaster through the concrete example of overuse of chemical pesticides. This book helped to frame the problem and invoke the shock, anger, and anxieties that are part of the modern environmental justice movement.
Many of the causes embraced by social movements span countries, regions and the globe. Given the advent of globalization since the end of the Cold War in 1991, seemingly faraway events may resonate with global audiences: deforestation in Indonesia sparks protests in European cities over unsustainable practices in the supply chains of furniture companies that source wood from Borneo. Environmental activists in Indonesia thus find common cause with counterparts in the Netherlands. Social movements may diffuse across borders, with activists sharing tactics, resources, and providing moral support to one another in their common cause. Diffusion is defined as the spread of an idea, movement, tactics, strategies, and other resources across international borders. One prominent example of international diffusion is the spread of liberal democracy around the globe in the decades spanning the 1990s to the 2000s.
International "democracy promotion" efforts are one driver of this worldwide increase in democracy since the 1990s, whereby international resources are directed toward pro-democracy domestic social movements. These have been led by wealthy democracies (such as those of North America, the Antipodes, the EU, and Japan) to strengthen younger democracies worldwide. Democracy promotion can include a wide range of activities such as government-supported grants to pro-democracy activists in other countries, nonprofit exchanges of information and expertise, and more horizontal exchanges of knowledge and resources between democracy activists worldwide. Pro-democracy movements in countries as varied as Ukraine and Nicaragua receive support from international donors and advisors.
The role of nonviolence
There are consequences to the tactics chosen by social movement leaders and participants. The range of tactics that a social movement may employ is vast, and social movements are constantly innovating and creating new repertoires based on changing contexts, cultural symbols, and new technologies. New strategies emerge with each social movement. Pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters, as part of their movement to secure democratic rights and autonomy within the People’s Republic of China’s “One Country, Two Systems” framework, created new forms of protest in 2019. One notable tactic was occupying terminals of Hong Kong International Airport. This served to disrupt the business of a global city reliant on the flow of businesspeople and tourists by air and draw global attention to their plight.
These protestors and others opted for nonviolent strategies of protest, a tradition which has deep roots in various faith traditions dating back millennia. More recently, social movement leaders ranging from Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., have made significant philosophical contributions and practical applications of nonviolence to movements for social change.
Empirical research comparing nonviolent and violent resistance campaigns has found that nonviolent campaigns are twice as successful as their violent counterparts (53 percent compared with 26 percent) (Stephan and Chenoweth 2008). Note that campaigns are defined by Stephan and Chenoweth as “major nonstate rebellions … [which include] a series of repetitive, durable, organized, and observable events directed at a certain target to achieve a goal,” (2008, p. 8).
The success of nonviolent social movements is attributed to various factors. It is due to higher public perceptions of the legitimacy of nonviolent movements as well as greater public sympathy for movements committed to principles of nonviolence. Nonviolent movements also constrain government responses, as suppressing a nonviolent movement with force can drive public support -- domestic and international -- even more toward the aims of the social movement.