Books, Contemp Culture, Fuller, MP520, Reading Reflections

Book Review #6 – The Social Movements Reader (Blackwell, 2003)

Author:  Jeff Goodwin is a sociology professor at NYU and both Goodwin and James Jasper are authors of several books about culture and social movements. 

Outline:  Goodwin and Jasper describe social movements as “windows” in which we can see the world and better understand the way the world works socially (p4). 

The Social Movements Reader is divided into many sections, all focusing on a different aspect of movements.  The sections I found particularly interesting were:  (1) Who Joins or Supports Movements?  (2) Who Remains in Movements, and (3) Who Drops Out?  Why do Movements Decline?  These three sections of the book seemed particularly relevant to the Western Church and commitments to following Christ. 

Studies have shown that “the best predictor of who will join [a movement] is whether a person knows someone else already in that movement” (51).  There is a lot to be said about feeling connected with the movement – either through becoming involved and passionate through a friend, or deeply resonating with the issue that the movement addresses.  People join movements because they care – either about a person or the issue, or both. 

Goodwin and Jasper speak of how movements recruit members by framing the issues in three ways:  diagnostic (show that there is a problem/need), prognostic (here’s what we’re going to do about it), and motivational (here’s why we need you to get involved) ( 52).  The last one is of particular importance, because it is easy to see a need and a solution, but not feel like you are needed to solve that problem.

Goodwin and Jasper also try to find out what causes people to either remain or disengage from a movement that they joined.  Some of the main reasons cited for people remaining within a movement is the community and energy found in that movement.  Within a movement, incredible bonds are developed between members, and over time involvement within a movement will become more a part of your life, giving you incentive to remain involved. 

Bert Klandermans says in an article that there are five things that contribute to keeping people involved in a movement: “Leadership, ideology, organization, rituals, and social relations” (117).  Combinations of these five keep members excited and devoted.  Similarly, those who leave do so for varying reasons.  Some of the main ones touched on by Klandermans in his article are decreasing gratification associated from membership within the movement, and attractive alternatives.  Degratification of a movement can either stem from an individual changing their belief system so that it is not in accordance with the movement, or from neglect from the movement itself.   

It is interesting that those who remain in movements do not always do it for the same reasons that they join, and likewise those who leave do not do it necessarily because they disagree with the movement’s goals.  Often times, the movement’s cause can become secondary to the benefits or negatives associated with membership.

Reactions:  Despite the textbook nature of the Social Movements Reader, I loved some of the insights offered by the editors and articles, and their applications to the church as a movement.  I think there are some great points of conversations that could be had by thinking about Christianity through the lens of a social movement – specifically in member behavior/retention.  It seems like so often Christianity is synonymous with social movements in that people join because of the cause or because a friend of theirs is a Christian, but stay connected moreso because the church provides a social group for them to be a part of, and the cause itself becomes secondary. 


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