Resource mobilization is a major sociological theory in the study of social movements which emerged in the 1970s. It emphasizes the ability of a movement's members to 1) acquire resources and to 2) mobilize people towards accomplishing the movement's goals. In contrast to the traditional collective behaviour theory that views social movements as deviant and irrational, resource mobilization sees them as rational social institutions, created and populated by social actors with a goal of taking a political action.
The theory and its theorists
According to resource mobilization theory, a core, professional group in a social movement organization works towards bringing money, supporters, attention of the media, alliances with those in power, and refining the organizational structure. Social movements need the above resources to be effective, because dissent and grievances alone will not generate social change.
This theory assumes that individuals are rational: individuals weigh the costs and benefits of movement participation and act only if benefits outweigh costs. When movement goals take the form of public goods, the free rider dilemma has to be taken into consideration.
Social movements are goal-oriented, but organization is more important than resources. Organization means the interactions and relations between social movement organizations (SMOs) and other organizations (other SMOs, businesses, governments, etc.). Efficiency of the organization infrastructure is a key resource in itself.
Resource mobilization theory can be divided into two camps:
- John D. McCarthy and Mayer Zald are the originators and major advocates of the classic entrepreneurial (economic) version of this theory, while
- Charles Tilly and Doug McAdam are proponents of the political version of resource mobilization.
The entrepreneurial model explains collective action as a result of economics factors and organization theory. It argues that grievances are not sufficient to explain creation of social movements. Instead access to and control over resources is the crucial factor. The laws of supply and demand explain the flow of resources to and from the movements, and that individual actions (or lack thereof) is accounted for by rational choice theory.
Critics point out that resource mobilization theory fails to explain social movement communities, which are large networks of individuals and other groups surrounding social movement organizations, and providing them with various services. Critics also argue that it fails to explain how groups with limited resources can succeed in bringing social change and that it does not assign sufficient weight to grievances, identity and culture as well as many macro-sociological issues.
MoveOn.org is a social movement organization to which resource mobilization theory can apply because it is a platform for people to either sign a petition or start a new petition. Coupled with political process theory, a social movement theory which posits that social movements either succeed or fail due to political opportunities, MoveOn.org has been a successful tool because of its accessibility, which would make people more likely to start a petition and move toward a common goal. In other words, resource mobilization applies to MoveOn.org because 1) the website itself is an existing resource that is accessible to consumers of the Internet which helps mobilize the goals of the organization and 2) that mobilization is essential to MoveOn.org's success. Also, resource mobilization applies because of the fact that the people who founded the organization knew how to utilize the resources available, which implies that anyone who uses the website to sign a petition or start a petition are rational social actors who act as utility maximizers, who weigh the costs and benefits before deciding to be a part of a social movement.
- Kendall 2006
- Buechler 1999
- "MoveOn.Org | Democracy In Action". MoveOn.Org | Democracy In Action. Retrieved 2016-04-27.
- "What is Resource Mobilization and Why is it so Important? - Health Communication Capacity Collaborative - Social and Behavior Change Communication". Health Communication Capacity Collaborative - Social and Behavior Change Communication. 2014-10-20. Retrieved 2016-04-27.
- "What is utility maximization? definition and meaning". BusinessDictionary.com. Retrieved 2016-04-27.
- John D. McCarthy and Mayer N. Zald, The Enduring Vitality of the Resource Mobilization Theory of Social Movements in Jonathan H. Turner (ed.), Handbook of Sociological Theory, 2001, p. 533-65
- Diana Kendall, Sociology In Our Times, Thomson Wadsworth, 2005, ISBN 0-534-64629-8 Google Books, p.531
- Steven M. Buechler, Social Movements in Advanced Capitalism, Oxford University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-19-512604-1, Google Books, p.34