Moving targets: notes on social movements

Published by the Civil Society Building Knowledge Programme of the Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries (HIVOS), this working paper seeks to better understand the various dynamics inherent within social movements. The study described is based on a literature review on social movements and writings of activist-practioners, presenting a framework for social movement analysis. It also identifies knowledge gaps, and suggests some policy implications for social movement support.

The structure of the paper, representing the analytical framework, is as follows: section two provides an overview of paradigms that explain social movements; three and four address movement structure and resource mobilisation; five discusses the concept of framing, both in terms of unifying ideas and values, and in media perception; six explores interaction patterns, for example symbiotic, formal versus informal, paternalistic, etc; and seven and eight focus on evaluation, i.e. the meaning of success, and identifying knowledge gaps respectively.
The report concludes with four suggestions for policy guidance to support social movements:

· As power migrates to the supra-national level, social movements, commonly a domestic entity, social movements are challenged to engage on multiple levels. Capacities to see and grasp opportunities, including alliance forming, are of increasing importance.

· The most lasting contributions of social movements are found in a transformed climate of ideas rather than changed policies. It is difficult to quantify or monitor such change, since the focus is on intangible developments in diverse and competitive arenas, through unclear and complex processes.

· The practices and preferences of some donors can be disabling for social movements. The report argues that in bypassing the state through the development of independent aid chains, many NGOs have contributed to a crippling of countries’ public finance, increased privatisation and deregulation, and ultimately weakening incentives and protections for emancipatory social movements.

- Direct support for social movement requires careful consideration, under the principle of ‘first do no harm’. Sophistication is required for outside actors who wish to provide direct support; and it is often better to promote a more enabling environment, such as stronger political and legal mechanisms and independent public-media. Whilst cooperation with local authorities has been shown to work in some cases, there are risks.
Source: Eldis