Portal:Social movements

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Social movements

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Social movements are a type of group action. They are large informal groupings of individuals and/or organizations focused on specific political or social issues, in other words, on carrying out, resisting or undoing a social change.

Modern Western social movements became possible through education (the wider dissemination of literature), and increased mobility of labor due to the industrialization and urbanization of 19th century societies. It is sometimes argued that the freedom of expression, education and relative economic independence prevalent in the modern Western culture is responsible for the unprecedented number and scope of various contemporary social movements. However others point out that many of the social movements of the last hundred years grew up, like the Mau Mau in Kenya, to oppose Western colonialism. Either way, social movements have been and continued to be closely connected with democratic political systems. Occasionally social movements have been involved in democratizing nations, but more often they have flourished after democratization. Over the past 200 years, they have become part of a popular and global expression of dissent.

Modern movements often utilize technology and the internet to mobilize people globally. Adapting to communication trends is a common theme among successful movements.

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President Jimmy Carter at the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

The anti-nuclear movement in the United States consists of more than 70 anti-nuclear groups which have acted to oppose nuclear power or nuclear weapons, or both, in the U.S. The movement has delayed construction or halted commitments to build some new nuclear plants, and has pressured the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to enforce and strengthen the safety regulations for nuclear power plants.

Anti-nuclear campaigns that captured national public attention in the 1970s and 1980s involved the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant, Diablo Canyon Power Plant, Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, and Three Mile Island. The protests reached a peak in the second half of the 1970s and grew out of the environmental movement. Though campaigning has declined since the end of the Cold War, efforts continue and have been in response to proposed new nuclear power plants, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the transportation of nuclear waste.

Some scientists and engineers have expressed reservations about nuclear power, including: Barry Commoner, S. David Freeman, John Gofman, Mark Z. Jacobson, Amory Lovins, Arjun Makhijani, Gregory Minor, and Joseph Romm. Scientists who have opposed nuclear weapons include Linus Pauling and Eugene Rabinowitch.

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Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) was a German historian, sociologist, and revolutionary, whose ideas played a significant role in the development of modern communism and socialism. Marx summarized his approach in the first line of chapter one of The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles."

Marx argued that capitalism, like previous socioeconomic systems, would inevitably produce internal tensions which would lead to its destruction. Just as capitalism replaced feudalism, he believed socialism would, in its turn, replace capitalism, and lead to a stateless, classless society called pure communism. He argued that capitalism will end through the organized actions of an international working class.

While Marx remained a relatively obscure figure in his own lifetime, his ideas and the ideology of Marxism began to exert a major influence on workers' movements shortly after his death. This influence gained added impetus with the victory of the Bolsheviks in the Russian October Revolution in 1917, and few parts of the world remained significantly untouched by Marxian ideas in the course of the twentieth century. Marx is typically cited, with Émile Durkheim and Max Weber, as one of the three principal architects of modern social science.

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Frances Crowe, speaking in 2006 at a peace rally in Brattleboro, Vermont (photo ©2006 by Charles Jenks).

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Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming is a 2007 New York Times bestseller by Paul Hawken. The book is about the many non-profit groups and community organizations, dedicated to many different causes, which Hawken calls the “environmental and social justice movement”. Hawken explains that this is a diverse movement with no charismatic leader; that follows no unifying ideology; and which politicians, the public and the media don’t recognise. But, Hawken argues, it has the potential to benefit the planet.

A New York Times reviewer states that Blessed Unrest is "about a movement that no one has noticed, not even the people involved". For this reviewer, the "high point of the book is Hawken’s excellent critique of the chemical industry’s attack on Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962", at a time when she was fighting cancer. Hawken also tells the stories of other people who have endured hardship and difficulty as they stood up to large corporations.

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