Social Movements research paper

A large group of people or organizations come together to form social movements in order to achieve a specific purpose. These groups, which function informally by examining social issues, then implement, resist, or overturn social change. These movements experience four different stages of development: emergence, coalescence, bureaucratization, and decline. When a societal issue that has to be resolved is identified, the movement enters the emerging stage, where people's dissatisfaction is the primary motivator (Tilly et al., 42). The coalescence stage comprises of social unrest, where members of the community complain to each other about a social injustice and bring the issue to the attention of the public. The stage involves the social movement recruiting their members, holding protest marches, forms networks and seeks for resources. The bureaucratization stage pushes the movement to acquire paid leaders and staff who replace volunteers, while maintaining the leadership of the group. The movement leadership structure is well defined, and they largely focus on fundraising to run their operations. In America, the practical evolution of social movement addresses mobilization of grievances, contextual conditions, dynamics, participation, resources, levels of interactions, result of the interactions and the consequences thereafter.

The Collective Behavior Theory

The Convergence theory anchors on the premise that behaviors of crowds are not a product of the crowd itself but originates from particular individuals within the leadership; therefore, a crowd functions as a convergence of like- minded people. Presence of people within the crowd offers them an opportunity to express their real selves, which according to an earlier crude version of the theory; are their savage and brutal instincts. The American Temperance movement consisted of ideas brought by individuals. Participants converged together in a coalition of like-minded people, where they got an opportunity to express their genuine thoughts and ideas on alcoholism. They spearheaded a vigorous campaign and their unity enabled them submit their petitions to the relevant authorities for action.

Mobilization of Grievances

The Temperance movement became operational during the nineteenth century and its goal was to limit the consumption and production of alcoholic products in America. During this time, most Americans felt that many people were leading immoral lives and their could prevent God from blessing them on top of posing a threat to the political system. The people began discussing among themselves about these negative effects and started advocating for virtuous citizens. Temperance movement campaigned for Americans to reduce their alcohol indulgence and the American Temperance society mobilized an average of 200,000 people by mid 1830.

The leadership of the movement mostly comprised of women, as it was the belief that women were best suited at home and, therefore it was their responsibility to raise virtuous children. The women saw it as their responsibility to correct the behavior as part of their efforts in raising virtuous children who shunned alcoholism and immorality. Mobilization of members capitalized on specific geographic locations of people; nonetheless, the emergence of radio and television in the late 1920s played a major role. Leaders of the social movement made appearances in radios and televisions, therefore getting a platform to connect with the masses, and out of this, the movements took a national aspect (Richard, et al., 171).

Contextual Conditions that facilitated or constrained Emergence

The American Temperance Movement emerged the period after American Revolution and it kicked off by solving the problem of alcoholism. Apparently, people in this period drank excessively leading to numerous social and economic problems. Widespread drinking had become a culture in America, and individuals doing physical jobs drank as a motivation to work. Ceremonies and events consecrated on alcohol from the perception that the drink was healthier as compared to water. The first goal of the movement was to encourage temperate alcoholism, but by the 1820s, they had started to advocate for absolute abstinence by lobbying Americans to stop the habit in totality. The movement took the responsibility of overseeing the passing of critical laws that prohibited the trading of alcohol in several states. Further, the movement connected to other reform movements that sprang between the American Revolution and the Civil War. The Second Great awakening boosted the movements by preaching energetic and emotional summons that inspired the people.

These movements took a religious angle and exercised not just in worshipping houses but also open-air locations and tents in the famous revivals (Case, 284). Temperance was at the core of these movements as calls for change dominated the scene. Nonetheless, many reformers advocated for abstinence and their early association with temperance societies inspired them to identify ways to improve other aspects of the society. The American Civil War weakened the movement’s operations, as the tense political environment was not conducive for holding marching protests. The movement faced opposition in some states for causing public disturbances, for example in areas of Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Those city governments’ enacted regulations that forbade the marches claiming that they impeded traffic. Other quarters like the church banned women who participated in the marches. For example, ministers of some churches chastised the women for not behaving in a manner that befitted the gender.

Dynamics of the Social Movement

During the antebellum age, the temperance gospel reached people through printed word. The group produced weekly and monthly journals that propelled temperance while religious periodicals carried news of the reform movement. The cultural landscape comprised of stories, poems, songs, tracts and sermons, which found their way into print and temperance literature. For example, in 1854 Timothy Shay Arthur did two publications known as, “Ten Nights in a Bar Room” as well as “What I saw.” The two literatures displayed the shame and pain experienced by drunkards and their families as well as the benefit and happiness experienced by those redeemed from the demon habit. The American Temperance Movement was among the first group to admit women during the antebellum era. Women possessed superior moral influence and the most affected by alcoholism in form of domestic violence and economic deprivation (Melega, et al., 2017).

The movement shifted from moral persuasion to a legal one in late 1830s, whereby temperance workers distributed petitions that asked state legislatures to alter license laws regulating liquor traffic. Some of these petitions requested prohibition of alcohol sales in less than specified quantities ranging between one and twenty gallons. The temperance movement blended into the political arena in early 1850s; the idea of alcohol prohibition colored most political campaigns. For example, the Maine alcohol prohibitory statute of 1851 outlawing productions and retail of intoxicants surfaced as a model for campaigns throughout America (McAdam, 1942).


Women took an active role in the emergence of the movement and generation of ideas. For example, they formed the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union group in 1874. The WTCU was majorly a group of protestant women who targeted the closure of saloons through marching in multitudes on the streets. The movement communicated the moral symbols represented by women in the community and their responsibility in spearheading the campaign (Ohio History Central, 1). The American Temperance Movement operated under a moral subject, which received support from a big percentage of the population.

Social movements face both direct and indirect risks, whereby the nature of the risk determines the success or failure of a social movement. Lack of a clear purpose may lead to failure of a movement. For example, organizers and participants need to understand that the movement is built gradually with every stage having its achievement communicated to their followers. Lack of a Genome of shared values poses a direct risk; unclear doctrine in a social movement creates a vague scenario without an adaptable action plan (Greg, et al., 1). Organizers must appreciate the importance of indoctrination through recruitment of representatives from different parts in the district, county, state or country of the movement. Indirect risks are beyond the control of social movement organizers. For example, there might be loss of lives or destruction of properties during the mass protests. These indirect risks arise from factors that are hard to mitigate fully. For example in a crash between the police and protestors, the movement cannot be in a position to determine the outcome.

Resources and Leadership

Frances Willard steered the leadership of WTCU organization for two decades. She embraced several reforms including women suffrage with a belief that empowered women could help in eradicating alcohol. Resource mobilization theory boosts the understanding of a social movement’s success. For example, the ability of the American Temperance movement to mobilize resources and individuals greatly influenced their success. The team was able to achieve goals against alcohol consumption and took advantage of political opportunities. Evangelical Protestantism mobilized for the temperance crusade, whereby clergymen preached sermons warning of the dangers of intemperance to a republic dominated by Christians. The reformers sensed the divine need to deploy missionaries to spread the message of abstinence on distilled spirits. Reformers used an effective system of state, county and local auxiliaries, which enabled voluntary contributions to assist temperance agents working in the whole country (Andrews, et al., 490).

During this period, America was shifting from a rural to an urban culture and therefore the drinking patterns had transformed from whisky to beer. The beer was more accessible in towns, and it was readily available courtesy of technological advancements in pasteurization and refrigeration. Saloons became popular joints for selling alcohol and transformed into a symbol of alcohol and immorality, according to the temperance workers. Protestant men formed the Anti-Saloon League whose strategy was to attack the saloon with an aim of having a dry society (Gould, 1902). The League operated via evangelical denominations, winning statewide victories for 20 years of their operations. Consequently, the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment of 1919 marked the peak of their success. The prohibition ran between 1920 –1933.

The American Temperance Movement capitalized on several morals of the society, such as excessive use of alcohol, which eroded certain morals in the society. Drank people could engage in promiscuous behaviors that shamed the society in general. The cases of fornications and domestic violence increased because of the alcohol. The movement was able to wipe emotions across the country and won a significant following within a short time. The political class was not ready to antagonize the movement as they advocated for the common good of the society, and nobody would want to be on the wrong side of the community. The effects of the social issue were evident throughout the society especially through economic constraint and domestic violence.

Levels of Social Movement Interactions

Peers within the American Temperance Movement worked to solidify commitment, pull more people into the movement and assisted them in acquiring a large framework of understanding. Growth of the movement affected individual experiences as well as efforts to bring solidarity and style into the organization. For example, solidarity decreased as the ATM expanded to other regions. Increased membership further led to decreased unity, intensified factionalization, infighting as well as less welcoming and inclusive style (Tarrow, 4). Two external interactions influence the internal dynamics and the career of a movement. These interactions include media coverage and the intensity of repression. A big coverage by the media acted as a strength to the movement, as many people become aware of their existence and the agenda they are driving home. The American Temperance movement featured in weekly and monthly journals, and people read about their activities extensively. Nonetheless, the church incorporated this information in their periodicals.

The degree of repression also influences the internal dynamics of the movement. If the government or any other interested parties are not comfortable with the movement the resistance offered might cripple the group. The ATM did not experience much opposition, as would the political movements; however, some cities banned their activities with the claim of causing public disturbance through their mass protests. The movement began as a community initiative but later acquired partners from the church (Protestants and Catholics). Later, other partners like the farmers joined the bandwagon; 200 farmers from Connecticut formed a temperance movement to ban Whiskey making.

The external and internal interactions led to the significant success of one of the greatest social movement in America; the temperance movement oversaw a great campaign to encourage abstinence from alcohol and received immense support from many groups. The support accorded to the group clearly demonstrates that the whole society could relate to the problem. For the people who did not experience the effects of the alcohol directly in their homes, the society was full of such characters. Therefore, majority of the people could understand the positive objectives of the group and the desire to correct the lost morality in the society. Without the rectification, state of the society would worsen, divorces would rise and family breakage would be the norm of the day. However, the ATM changed the course of history by fighting for the right course despite the challenges encountered at the beginning.


The American Temperance Movement was significantly successful as evident from their achievements. The movement emerged as a community initiative and evolved to one of the greatest movement across America. Drawing grievances from economically and morally deprived societies, the ATM managed to organize itself around morality, a strategy that enabled them advance their agenda to people of all walks in the society. The movement underwent several hurdles such as the Civil War and some restrictions by local authorities. However, they managed to pick up themselves and continued with their mission. During the period, the church played a critical role in advancing the movement through sermons that communicated the same message as the primary objective of the groups. Apart from the church, political parties started aligning themselves with the ideologies of the movement and political campaigns colored with calls for temperance. The participation of women was higher than that of men since the social effects affected them the most. More so, women represented the social values of the society and acted as custodians of morality. The different stakeholders pooled their resources to make alcohol abstinence a reality. For example, the church used missionaries to spread the gospel, organizations such as the Anti-Saloon movement attacked selling joints while the political class used their authority to make prohibitive laws. The movement successfully advocated for the enactment of various prohibitive statutes that limited production and sale of alcohol. In the end, the consumption of alcohol reduced, the financial ability of the families’ stabilized and domestic violence ceased. Based on the collective behavior theory the society is more likely to form groupings when faced with social problems, whereby they take the advantage of the associations to express themselves in ways not possible as individuals. Human beings are social creatures that relate with other people at the face of adversity, which affects their interests. Neighbors next door will join hands to fix an impassable road, and people in a country will form a social movement to fix a social injustice.

Works Cited

Andrews, Kenneth T., and Charles Seguin. "Group threat and policy change: The spatial dynamics of prohibition politics, 1890–1919." American Journal of Sociology 121.2 (2015): 475-510.

Case, Jay Riley. An unpredictable gospel: American evangelicals and world Christianity, 1812- 1920. OUP USA, 2012.

Gould, Lewis L. America in the Progressive Era, 1890-1914. Routledge, 2014.

Harris, Richard A., and Daniel J. Tichenor, eds. A History of the US Political System: Ideas, Interests, and Institutions [3 Volumes]: Ideas, Interests, and Institutions. ABC-CLIO, 2009.

McAdam, Doug. Political process and the development of black insurgency, 1930-1970. University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Melega, Daniel C. From Suasion to Coercion: Temperance Reform and Prohibition in Antebellum Maine. Diss. Miami University, 2017.

Satell, Greg. “Why Some Movements Succeed and Others Fail.” Digital Tonto RSS, 2015.

Tarrow, Sidney G. Power in movement: Social movements and contentious politics. Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Temperance Movement.” Edited by Ohio History Central, Temperance Movement - Ohio History Central, 2012,

Tilly, Charles, and Lesley J. Wood. Social Movements 1768-2012. Routledge, 2015.

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