Social Movements and Collective Action

Module code: SY3092

Module co-ordinator: Dr Pierre Monforte

Please note that from 2016 this will be a second-year module.

Recent waves of protest such as the Arab Spring or the Occupy movement have shown that social movements are central social and political actors in contemporary societies. To understand the significance and the role of social movements in our societies, it is necessary to gain an in-depth knowledge on the emergence of protest and the dynamics of collective action.

This module will provide an analysis of social movements from a sociological and interdisciplinary perspective. We will explore the theories and empirical developments related to the construction of protest, the contextual and internal dimensions of social movements, the evolution of collective action, and the impact of social movements in society. Comparisons will be made between different types of movements and different contexts.

We will be looking at theories and examples which include:

  • The use of social networks and resources such as social media to mobilise protesters
  • The role of political institutions in shaping the 'repertoires of collective action'
  • The construction of ideas and emotions in the course of protest
  • The emergence of cycles of protest such as the movements of the 1960s or the Arab Spring
  • The emergence of new causes such as the animal rights movements, the movements for the rights of marginalised groups, or the anti-austerity movements

You will gain the skills necessary to formulate a rigorous sociological argument on the basis of diverse sources. You will learn how to present a sociological reflection in the course of oral discussions or through group exercises. You will learn how to write a clearly structured essay in order to relate and compare different theories and to develop a critical understanding of the questions related with social movements and collective action.

Topics covered

  • Classical and modern theories on the emergence of protest and the organisation of collective action
  • 'Old' and 'new' social movements
  • The role of political institutions and policing strategies
  • The construction of ideas and the deliberation processes in social movements
  • The emotional dimension of protest
  • The role of social media and new communication technologies
  • The definition of 'repertoires of collective action' and the processes of radicalisation


  • Eighteen one-hour lectures
  • Eight one-hour seminars


  • One essay of 2,500 words (50%)
  • One exam, two hours (50%)