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Resource Mobilization[edit]

Resource mobilization is a social theory related to the study of social movements. It focuses on the ability of the members of the movement to acquire resources and mobilize people in order to advance their goals. [Kendall 2006] In contrast to the older, traditional collective behavior paradigm which views social movements as deviant aberrations, resource mobilization which emerged in 1970s views social movements as rational social institutions and social actors taking political action.[Buechler, 1999]

In resource mobilization, a core group of sophisticated strategist’s work to harness the disaffected energies attract money and supporters, capture the media’s attention, forge alliances with those in power, and create an organizational structure. This theory assumes that without such resources, the social movement cannot be effective, and that dissent alone is not enough to result in any social change. [Kendall 2006]

Understanding rational-choice theory and resource mobilization[edit]

This theory is based on the assumptions that humans are rational and views social movements as an goal-oriented activity. [Wiki] The vital assumption of this theory is that the human race is capable of maintaining a rational and lucid mind frame that will base their decisions on the purpose of accomplishing a goal in the future. In order to determine if a choice is rational, there are four basic assumptions that are reviewed.

First is the ability to recognize all the outcomes along with and besides your idealistic goal; obviously this would be the initial goal reached if your all goes well in the plan. The second aspect of the first assumption is the conscious comparison between that Goal A, B, C, etc.; comparing them individually to each other and then making decisions stating which outcome would be the most preferable. This is important as different outcomes warrant different strategies.

Second is concerning the idea of uncertainty. If there is a “question mark” involved somewhere, something called an Independence Axiom is brought in to accompany the rational preferences set in the first reviewed assumption. This concept helps us account for outlier results, or factors which we are unable to account for.

The third assumption pertains to projects where a sufficient amount of time is passing while decisions are still being made in the process. For this instance, time consistency is assumed as an integral part of a project being determined in the distance and not a day. The idea of time consistency implies that any given duration of time will inevitably change the initial goals that were desired by the decision makers.

The fourth is as simple as assuring that the item picked was the one in which the decision maker wanted to acquire. If there was a decision made on credentials other than what the decision maker prefers, it jeopardizes the ability to harness the resources, money, and supported that are critical to the process of resource mobilization.

These four assumptions help substantiate decisions made in the process of resource mobilization. Although they set a systematic means to determining rationality, the framework of rational-choice does not discard emotions as unimportant when it comes to the movement of social groups. As it does not ignore emotions, it doesn’t imply that everyone is figuring and analyzing future events (Klanermans, 1984). Rational-choice is here to give us guidelines in order to be sure of our decisions and the legitimacy of our acts. [Wiki, rational choice theory].

McCarthy and Zald's view[edit]

Resource mobilization theory may be divided into two camps. John McCarthy and Mayer Zald are the originators and major advocates of the classical entrepreneurial (economic) version of this theory, while Charles Tilly and Douglas McAdam are proponents of the political version of resource mobilization.

In the journal article Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory, McCarthy and Zald introduce concepts and related propositions that come from a resource mobilization perspective. Among the concepts presented they mainly focus on social movement (SM), specifically social movement industries (SMI) and social movement organizations (SMO). These terms entail organizational goals with preference on an action for change. According to McCarthy and Zald these goals, whether broad or narrow, are the characteristics of SMOs which link them conceptually with particular SMs and SMIs (McCarthy & Zald). Resources are essential in goal attainment and are controlled by individuals and other organizations. McCarthy and Zald present various hypotheses about the interrelations among the social structure, SMS, SMIs, and SMOs. [McCarthy & Zald]

A review written by David A. Snow at the University of Arizona conveys the perspective of how before McCarthy and Zald, collective familial movement along with other social movements were seen as an effect of endured stress. Their intuitive thought brought awareness to social migration, inspiring intrigue which in turn initiated further research into any past and present social movements we now view as the social mobilization theory. [Snow, 1988]

Snow wrote saying that their work was marked by organizing existing concepts and information and applying them to the movement of social parties. This new train of thought led researchers onto more specific causes of social movements, such as SMOs and SMIs. [Snow, 1988]

On the smaller scale, social movement organizations (SMOs) were a primary target for research later identifying their role as carriers of social movement. Large scale however, industries and sectors were considered social movement industries (SMIs) made up of the SMOs. These SMIs are known to be the factor contributing to a lot of the movement within the smaller business world. [Snow, 1988]

Political resource mobilization [edit]

Resource mobilization theory may be divided into two camps. John McCarthy and Mayer Zald are the originators and major advocates of the classic entrepreneurial (economic) version of this theory, while Charles Tilly and Douglas McAdam are proponents of the political version of resource mobilization. [Kendall 2006] Political version of the resource mobilization concentrates on the political struggle instead of economic factors. [Kendall 2006]

From a political side of view came Charles Tilly, and Douglas McAdam. Marwan Khawaja’s research for the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics enlightened us with Tilly and McAdams view of the resource mobilization theory. They believed that a variance in resources, business strength, and opportunities implies that a social movement is in progress. Their research taught us that the level of each of these characters was decided by the structural social change. Tilly noticed that the socioeconomic changes indirectly affect the social change by the difference in interests of the group, availability of resources, or its patterns. [Khawaja, 1994]

They both believed that the key to a successful movement was the level of strength that lied in their ability to organize and also their ability to acquire and control resources. Their work redefined resource mobilization and enlightened many with answers to decades of questions. [Khawja, 1994]

Organizational resource mobilization [edit]

Organization is more important then acquisition of the resources, or the resources themselves. It focuses on interactions between social movement organizations (SMOs) and other organizations (other SMOs, businesses, governments, etc). organization infrastructure is another aspect of study in this approach. [Kendall 2006]

The entrepreneurial model blends economics and organization theory in order to explain the phenomena of the collective action. It argues that grievances are not enough to lead to the creation of the movement, and it is the access and control over the resources that is the most important factor. This model notes that the flow or resources from and towards the group can be explain by the laws of supply and demand, and the involvement (or lack of it) of the individuals and groups is explained by the rational choice theory (calculations of cost and benefits). The critics of this theory note that it is not very efficient in explaining social movement communities. [Kendall 2006]

Critiques of resource mobilization [edit]

Critiques note that this theory fails to account for social change brought by the groups with limited resources and marginalizes the role of grievances, identity and culture and many macro-sociological issues. [Kendall 2006]

One critique of resource mobilization is that all organized societies have inequalities and class conflict, therefore the deprivation theory does not need to be the principle to expand the understanding of social movements. There is seen to be a problem if rejection of inequalities is negated in the thought of a subordinate, however class consciousness may also be influenced by various situations such as times of political or economic “crisis.” [Kerbo, 1982]

Many social movements have developed in these “crisis” times such as those of the 60’s. With the materialization of these movements involving participants who did not experience a great deal of deprivation, the conditions of affluence, as Kerbo described, is the main focus of the resource mobilization theory. Those who participate in movements of affluence do personally experience injustice however more likely at a lesser degree than those who experience a personal crisis. Given this conception, supplementary movement resources and encouragement to motive social movement activity is necessary. Because personal crisis may cause injustice to be greater it takes fewer resources to initiate social movements. [Kerbo 1982]

In the 1980’s two new theories of social movements [Buechler 1999] challenged resource mobilization framework:

Social Constructionism

New Social Movement Theory


1 Kerbo, Harold R. (December 1982). Movement of “Crisis” and Movements of “Affluence:” A critique of Deprivation and Resource Mobilization Theories. Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 26 No. 4. (645-663) (JSTOR)

2 McCarthy, John D. & Zald, Mayer N. (May 1977). Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory American Journal of Sociology. Volume 82. Number 6. (pp. 1212-1241) (JSTOR)

3 Klanderman, Bert. (October 1984). Mobilization and Participation: Social-Psychological Expansions of Resource Mobilization Theory* American Sociological Review. Vol. 49 (583-600) (JSTOR)

4 Snow, David A. (Author of Review) Reviewed Work: Social Movements in an Organizational Society: Collected Essays. by Mayer N. Zald; John D. McCarthy Contemporary Sociology > Vol. 17, No. 5 (Sep., 1988), pp. 603-604 (JSTOR)

5 Khawaja, Marwan. (Sep. 1994). Resource Mobilization, Hardship, and Popular Collective Action in the West Bank Social Forces > Vol. 73, No. 1, pp. 191-220 (JSTOR)

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6 Diana Kendall, Sociology In Our Times, Thomson Wadsworth, 2005, ISBN 0-534-64629-8 Google Print, p.531

7 Steven M. Buechler, Social Movements in Advanced Capitalism, Oxford University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-19-512604-1, Google Print, p.34

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