Resource mobilization and social movements: A partial theory

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Citation: John D. McCarthy, Mayer N. Zald (1977) Resource mobilization and social movements: A partial theory. The American Journal of Sociology (RSS)
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Resource mobilization and social movements: A partial theory
Tagged: Sociology (RSS) social movements (RSS), resource mobilization (RSS)


McCarthy and Zald 1997 is one of the most highly cited articles in the literature on social movements. The article describes the previous literature on social movements as coming from a "grievance" perspective where social movements were seen as succeeding or failing based in large part by the number of people who were being angered by a problem in society. McCarthy and Zald attempt to send the literature in toward a more organizational perspective by framing social movements in terms of resources which organizations are essentially competing for.

Their argument is built around a set of terms they introducing including social movement sector, social movement organization, and social movement industry. Resources are mostly people and their interests and they break the concept of social movements very methodological into different types of people (i.e., potential beneficiaries, conscience adherants, etc.).

The piece is a theoretical attempt to change a framing. The paper introduces terms and framing and then spends the bulk of its time using the new theoretical approach to create a series of 11 hypotheses. For example, hypothesis 10 is, "more a SMO is funded by isolated constituents the more likely that beneficiary constituent workers are recruited for strategic purposes rather than for organizational work."

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

McCarthy and Zald open the door to approaches to movement that use rational actor and organization theory. They provide a bridge to understanding movements that continues to be important in the literature today.