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Portrait of Magnus Ring. Photo: Emma Lord.

Magnus Ring

Senior lecturer

Portrait of Magnus Ring. Photo: Emma Lord.

Social Rörelse : Begreppsbildningen kring ett mångtydigt fenomen

Social movement : A concept formation


  • Magnus Ring

Summary, in English

This thesis develops the concept formation of 'social movement'. The author stresses the importance of the inherent classical understanding of the concept as defining a collective actor involved in a struggle regarding main social and cultural trends in society. The concept of social movement is treated as having been an unclear concept. The author therefore formulates a working definition that allows him to identify a number of dimensions that are seen as being central to the meaning of the concept. The concept is also regarded as analytical, with ideal type-like characteristics. After having defined the problem and its background in empirical research and its theoretical development in the area of social movement research, the author discusses the issue of concepts in general and, in particular, what is meant by scientific concepts. A concept is seen as consisting of several important dimensions. These dimensions are understood as being differently perceived with regard to context and theoretical perspective.

To close in on this complexity, the particular concept ?social movement? is put in a contextual perspective, where the author discusses two different views on the relation between social movement and historical change: one, concerned with social movements as connected to societal eras (such as pre-industrial, industrial and post-industrial societies), and one, analyzing social movements in terms of cycles (e.g. cycles of protest). After this distinction is made, some main theoretical approaches to the concept are considered. First, different ?classical? approaches are considered, followed by an analysis of more contemporary ones. The classical approaches most stressed in this context are the traditions arising from Marx and Weber (in which conflicts are a central dimension) and in the social psychology of Le Bon and Tarde. Thereafter, the author shows how the concept of social movement came into existence in an American context. These early developments of the concept of social movement can be described as either relating to a classical understanding ?as being more or less equal to the actions of the proletariat?or to a more bourgeois understanding?equal to the irrationality of the mob. It is argued that not until social movements were thought to emanate from rational actors, do we have a shift regarding the meaning of the concept. To illustrate this development and in order to continue with the more contemporary views, the author discusses the concept formation within the resource mobilization perspective (RMP) and the identity-oriented perspective (IOP).

Up to this point, the author has stressed the importance of treating the concept as an analytical tool, and also emphasized the importance of introducing theoretical developments in the discussion. Subsequently, the author tries to mirror the dimensions that are seen as being central parts of the working definition to the discussion on conceptual and theoretical developments. It is shown how the concept is in an ambivalent position between its functions in theoretical reasoning and in signifying a certain empirical phenomena. The concept is seen as leaning, on the one hand, towards a metaphysical direction and, on the other, towards an empirical one, following the ?continuum of scientific thought?. In scrutinizing this ambivalence, some methodological and research-wise implications are discussed in order to further illustrate the problem. Finally, the author returns to a discussion regarding the working definition and its dimensions. Here, it is argued that the inherent central dimension of conflict should be taken seriously, but it is also stressed that the concept of social movement must include the dimension of organisation as well as collective identities, values, and actions etcetera. Also a social movement cannot be treated separated from the society in which it exists and with which it interacts and the concept of social movement should denote movements where actors address central conflicts regarding societal and cultural change and developments.

All in all, the author argues for a more coherent definition of the concept of social movement, an understanding that (re-) introduces the role of central actors and which also takes into account the classical dimension of central societal conflicts as well as more recent understandings of how social movements relate to societal and cultural change.


  • Sociology

Publishing year




Document type



Department of Sociology, Lund University


  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)


  • Sociology
  • Social Movement
  • Concept formation
  • Theories of social movement
  • Sociologi




  • Gunnar Andersson


  • ISBN: 91-7267-231-5

Defence date

16 March 2007

Defence time


Defence place

Paelestra, Lund


  • Abby Peterson (Professor of Sociology)