Herbert W. Simons
Emeritus Professor of Communication, Temple University

Types of Social Movements

The goals movements seek to realize vary considerably, and so too is there great variation in their means for achieving them. Reformist movements generally seek passage of particular laws, better enforcement of particular laws, replacement of corrupt or incompetent officials, etc. The gun control and civil rights movements are examples. Revolutionary movements go even further by seeking to replace guiding ideologies, institutions, sometimes entire regimes, based on new governing principles. They are also associated with the threat or use of force (e.g., American Revolution), but there have been largely peaceful revolutions (e.g., Poland, 1989).

Resistance movements, rather than advocating change, seek to hold it back and keep the status quo. E.g., the anti-gun control movement. Given the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe vs. Wade, the pro-life movement is generally reformist while pro-choice is a resistance movement. But pro-choice seeks federal funding of abortions for the poor, while pro-life resists such funding. In this respect pro-choice is reformist, pro-life a resistance movement. Restorative movements seek a return to an older and supposedly better way of life. The cause of today's "Christian Identity" movement echoes the rhetoric of hate toward minorities in the United States, preached in earlier days by White Citizens Councils and by the John Birch Society. Marcus Garvey's "Back to Africa" was also a restorative movement.

Finally, expressivist movements try to change individuals, rather than directly trying to change institutions or laws. Evangelical groups such as the Promise Keepers offer examples. Expressivists believe that, just as institutions are people-created, so they can only be changed by changes in people. Common to expressivist movements are themes of personal responsibility.

It is not always easy to classify movements based on this or any other typology because of internal disputes over goals and methods within the movement as well as changes in goals and strategies. For example, 60s-style Marxist activists hit on a decidedly expressivist note in a conference report when they concluded that feminism and environmentalism had demonstrated that large-scale social change is accomplished in face-to-face relations, at the level of personal identity and consciousness, whether or not such change is enunciated in public policy.


Rhetorical Perspectives on Social Movements

Types of Social Movements

Tactics of Social Movements

Social Protests and Mass Media

Leading Social Movements: The "Requirements-Problems-Strategies" (RPS) Approach

Moderates and Militants

The Fate of Social Movements

"Open" and "Closed-Minded" Movements

A Dilemma-Centered Analysis of Clinton's August 17th Apologia: Implications for Rhetorical Theory and Method

Judging A Policy Proposal By the Company It Keeps: The Gore-Perot NAFTA Debate

Rhetoric of Inquiry as an Intellectual Movement

Arguing About the Ethos of Past Actions: An Analysis of a Taped Conversation About a Taped Conversation

Burke, Marx, and Warrantable Outrage

Rhetorical Hermeneutics and the Project of Globalization

Media & Politics

The Rhetorical Construction of Institutional Fact: An Analysis of Social Problems Discourse

Temple Issues Forum: Innovations in Pedagogy

The Rhetoric of Philosophical Incommensurability

Rhetoric of the Classroom Teacher

Going Meta

The RPS Approach

Social Movements