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Social Choice Theory on Social Movements - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 268
Social movements/Social choice theory/rational choice theory/West: recognition of the potential rationality of collective action is (...) reflected in theoretical attempts to explain social movement activity.
Resource mobilization theory: in the USA, in particular, the influential paradigm of 'rational choice theory' has applied the methods of neoclassical economics to the explanation of social behaviour, giving rise to 'resource mobilization theory' (RMT) (...). RMT treats social movements as more or less successful attempts by individuals to mobilize human and other resources for the sake of collective goals. The availability of resources, the capacity of 'political entrepreneurs' to mobilize these resources and the 'political opportunity structure' of the surrounding political system, all contribute to the distinctive trajectory of success and failure, growth and decline - or 'life cycle'
- of movements (Oberschall, 1973(1); Tilly, 1978(2); Zald and McCarthy, 1987(3)).
Problems: (...) RMT addresses the formal properties of social movements in general, rather than
the substantive characteristics of new social movements in particular. It considers general preconditions, problems and determinants of collective action. But like other rational choice theories, it has nothing to say about the particular goals, values or ideology of new social movement agents (Piven and Cloward, 1992(4)).
1) VsRational choice/West: Rational choice theories may be able to deduce theorems predicting the 'rational' choices that agents make on the basis of particular 'preferences', but they are notoriously unable to cast light on the formation of these preferences or their possible replacement by others (Hindess, 1988)(5).
2) VsRational choice: Rational choice approaches have, for example, been much engaged by the 'problem of voting' - the apparent irrationality of exerting even minimal effort when the chances of influencing the outcome of elections are infinitesimally small (Brennan and Lomasky, 1993)(6). They must surely have difficulty, then, in understanding why people expend considerable long-term effort and even undergo serious (sometimes mortal) risk for the sake of political goals.
Gaus I 269
Recently, indeed, there has been consideration of such concepts (Johnston and Klandermans, 1995)(7).


1. Oberschall, Anthony (1973) Social Conflict and Social Movements. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
2. Tilly, Charles (1978) From Mobilization to Revolution. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
3. Zald, Mayer N. and John McCarthy (1987) Social Movements in an Organizational Society. New
Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
4. Piven, F. F. and R. A. Cloward (1992) 'Normalizing collective protest'. In A. Morris and C. M. Mueller, eds, Frontiers in Social Movement Theory. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
5. Hindess, Barry (1988) Choice, Rationality and Social Theory. London: Unwin Hyman.
6. Brennan, Geoffrey and Loren Lomasky (1993) Democracy and Decision: The Pum Theory of Electoral Preference. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
7. Johnston, Hank and Bert Klandermans, eds (1995) Social Movements and Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

West, David 2004. „New Social Movements“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Social Choice Theory
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-06-18
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