Week 11


Based on the learning gathered from Kurtzman’s “Structural Opportunity and Perceived Opportunity in Social-Movement Theory: The Iranian Revolution of 1979” and Snow’s “Social Networks and Social Movements: A Microstructural Approach to Differential Recruitment,” I assert many people join and support movements in order to feel a deep sense of belonging and community without being thoroughly aware of the meaning of the movement.  This leads to a critique of the true effectiveness of the movement, beyond simply the strategy.


Kurtzman analyzes important factors that play a role in the success of a movement, specifically dissecting  the Iranian government in 1978.   Factors of movement success noted by Kurtzman include the vulnerability of a state and the public awareness of the possibility of a successful protest, or public perception of their opportunities in the face of vulnerabilities.  Kurtzman then goes on to discuss why people participate in protests, citing the critical mass theory and the bandwagon effect.  Critical mass theory states that people calculate opportunities partially based on the strength of the opposition.  In other words, when there is a perception that the power of the state is insignificant in the face of such a strong revolutionary moment, this brings about the bandwagon effect.  People join the revolutionary movement because they feel it is too strong to fail, or they feel comfortable joining due to the sheer volume of fellow supporters, not necessarily because they understand or support the movement.


Snow, et al, examines the various facets that one evaluates when deciding whether to join a movement.  He concludes that there are two primary driving forces, preexisting / emerging relationships and the absence of countervailing networks.  Preexisting / emerging relationships mean that an individual, who is recruited to a social movement organization by a friend or acquaintance who is already a member, is more likely to turn into an active participant and join the movement.  Also, the absence of a countervailing networks means that if there is no other network to join or someone is structurally available for participation, they are also more likely to join the movement.


Kurtzman and Snow, et al, suggest that, to a certain extent, involvement in a political movement is due to a bandwagon effect, or a desire for partnership and connection even without a clear understanding of the purpose of the movement.  Karpf may argue that strategically these methods to drive involvement are sound because people are taking action and getting involved.  However, the fundamental question is:  how effective can a movement possibly be with a good, sound strategy, but poor understanding by the participants of the meaning of the movement?

Layne Steele Paddon

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