Social Movements and Development

  • Richard Pais (St. Aloysius College)


Social movements are of critical importance in bringing about social change nay development. Social movements are large groupings of individuals or organizations that focus on specific political or social issues. Deprived groups consisting of peasants, tribals, Dalits, backward classes, youth, and women have been organizing themselves to fight against inequalities, discrimination, and deprivation. The United States has a long tradition of social movements that have sparked major changes in bringing about social change and development. The movements have been of various types as labor, civil rights, Black nationalism, anti-globalization, environmental, etc. The French Revolution in the 18th century can be termed as a radical movement which brought about social change and development not only in France but also in Europe and in other nations. In the 19th century Europe, labor movements were based on Marxism, that is, based on the class struggle. Unification of Germany in 1990 and the collapse of Soviet Union are the two important events in Europe which brought about development in Europe. India too has witnessed several movements as Backward Classes, Nationalist, Dalits, Caste, Youth, Tribal, Farmers’, Environmental, and Women’s movements. The social movements as collectivities attempting to change the social order cannot be analyzed simply in terms of success or failure. Some have succeeded to reach the desired goals and others have failed. Failure may come as a result of ruthless suppression of the movement or through widespread apathy. A movement may wither away because very few take it seriously, and it does not develop enough power to force its program on society. Success is most apparent when a movement manages to have its power legitimized as authority.

Keywords: social movements, social change, development, collective behavior, Marxism, industrial revolution, new social movements

How to Cite:

Pais, R., (2023) “Social Movements and Development”, Social Development Issues 44(3): 5. doi:



Published on
20 Jan 2023
Peer Reviewed


Social movements are of critical importance in bringing about social change nay development. In sociology, especially in the study of critical sociology, the study of social movements occupies an important place. Social movements are large groupings of individuals or organizations that focus on specific political or social issues. In fact, they carry out, resist, or initiate social change. The term “social movement” is used to denote a variety of collective attempts to bring about a change in the existing social and political structure through institutional and non-institutional means. Development is basically an economic concept that has positive connotations; it involves the application of certain economic and technical measures to utilize available resources to initiate economic growth and improve people’s quality of life. Sociologically, development refers to social change in the desired direction. Deprived groups consisting of peasants, tribals, Dalits, backward classes, youth, and women have been organizing themselves to fight against inequalities, discrimination, and deprivation. They have agitated for economic advancement, educational privileges, and political power. Widespread collective mobilization has led to organized social movements with definite ideologies and leadership. The present article tries to study the concepts of social movements and development, and examines the process of social movements leading to development.

Social Movements

Basically, most movements are a collective behavior. That is, they result from the more or less spontaneous coming together of people whose relationships are not defined by rules and procedures but who merely share a common outlook on society. Collective action takes the shape of a movement only when it is sustained and organized. Compared to other forms of collective behavior, movements have a high degree of organization and are of longer duration. A movement is not merely a perpetuated crowd because a crowd does not possess organization and leadership. A movement includes both organization and spontaneity.

According to Wilkinson (1971), a social movement is a deliberate collective endeavor to promote change in any direction and by any means, not excluding violence, illegality, revolution, or withdrawal into a “utopian community.” Objectives, ideology, programs, leadership, and organization are important components of social movements. Non-institutionalized collective action takes several forms such as protests, agitations, strikes, and riots. But, mere agitations and protests are not strictly social movements.

A variety of approaches have been propounded to analyze and classify movements. While Marxism views from the conflict perspective, Durkheim gives importance to social control and normative norms. Max Weber analyzes it in terms of leadership and authority, especially through charismatic leadership or authority. Marxist approach focuses mainly on the class character, social status, and outcome of the movement. According to this approach, conflict is the core of social movements. Karl Marx was primarily interested in the causes and dynamics of revolutionary movements aimed at dismantling the capitalist system. He argued that movements grow out of basic social and economic relations which establish the bases of power in society (Chhaparia, 2022, p. 62). Though the nonclass conflict can be resolved through negotiations and institutional conflict, class conflict is resolved through conflict and movement.

The structural approach to social movements brings to the forefront of analysis the institutionalized injustices and inequalities over which contested politics are fought. This approach links social movements with the rising aspirations of people. Functional approach feels that movements are dysfunctional for a civilized society. Scholars like Kornhauser (2008), Tilly and Wood (2013), and Shills (2009) have felt that mass movements are the product of mass societies which are extremist and anti-democratic. These scholars are in favor of excluding the masses from day-to-day participation in politics which hampers the efficient functioning of the government. Though Weber (1968) did not propound specifically any theory of social movements, his concepts of social action and charismatic authority provides an overview of his conception of charismatic movements. In India, credit goes to Mahatma Gandhi for creating a national movement for independence. Purity of means in social struggles and resolving conflict is the central concern of Gandhian ideology. For this, he strongly advocated ahinsa, that is, nonviolence.

There are many theories of social movements such as mass movement theory, resource mobilization theory, relative deprivation theory, reference group theory, political process theory, and cultural theory. Important theories are discussed here. Mass society theory developed by Kornhauser (2008) argues that with industrialization and subsequent social changes, people have become isolated and alienated. Mass society refers to a social system in which elites are readily open to influence by nonelites. Simultaneously, nonelites, especially people occupying marginal positions in society, are also highly available for mobilization because they lack attachments to independent groups, the local community, voluntary associations, and occupational groups.

In the theoretical perspective, the social movements can be understood through the concepts of relative deprivation in relation to reference groups and social mobility (Merton, 1968) and conflict (Marx). Relative deprivation can be understood as a negative discrepancy between legitimate expectation and actuality. The concept can be further expanded by including the aspect of perceived capabilities in addition to objective consequences. It refers to the objective conditions of a group of people in terms of rights and privileges and the perceptions of the leaders about their ability to remedy the situation to collective mobilization. In the process of acquisition of higher status, conflict is evident.

In addition to the theory of relative deprivation, there are theories of structural strain and revitalization as the factors of social movements. Smelser (1962) developed the theory of cultural strain. Structural strain may occur at different levels such as norms, values, mobilization, and situational facilities. When a generalized belief about people or situation is added to the strain, the movement starts. Revitalization indicates an adaptive process in establishing equilibrium. Social movement serves a twofold purpose. On the one hand, they express dissatisfaction, dissent, and protest against existing conditions; on the other hand, they offer a positive program of action to remedy the situations.

Powell and Robins in the book, Conflict and Consensus: A Festschrift in Honor of Lewis A. Coser (1984), are of the opinion that social movements must be understood in terms of a conflict model of collective action. Secondly, there is no fundamental difference between institutional and non-institutional collective action. Both entail conflict of interest built into institutionalized power relations. Furthermore, collective action involves the rational pursuits of interests by groups. In this process, goals and grievances are permanent products of power relations and cannot account for the formations of movements. This depends instead on change in resources, organization, and opportunities for collective action. Success is evidenced by the recognition of the group as a political actor or by increased material benefits. Mobilization involves large scale, special-purpose, bureaucratic formal organizations.

Ideology is of central importance in understanding social movements. Ideology is a set of beliefs about the social world and how it operates, containing statements about the rightness of certain social arrangements and what action would be undertaken in the light of those statements. An ideology is both a cognitive map of sets of expectations and a scale of values in which standards and imperatives are proclaimed. Ideology thus serves both as a clue to understanding and as a guide to action, developing in the mind of its adherents an image of the process by which desired changes can best be achieved (Wilson, 1973, pp. 91–92). For example, in the case of the Abolitionist movement in the United States, the ideology was ending slavery; in the Feminist movements, the ideology was equality and discrimination; and in the Backward class movement in Tamil Nadu, India, the ideology was the development of the backward groups.


Development is a broad concept. The term “development” implies expansion, maturity, and advancement. It also includes qualitative changes. It can be better referred to the growth of knowledge and human control over natural environment. While “growth” presents a change in quantitative terms, with respect to size in specific direction, development represents a change in the qualitative terms. Development is the process of the desired change. For example, we speak of economic development, technological development, and moral development. When it is desirable to specify an “upward” course of a process, we use the term development (Pais, 2012, p. 16).

Development is a process that creates growth, progress, positive change, or the addition of physical, economic, environmental, social, and demographic components. The purpose of development is a rise in the level and quality of life of the population, and the creation or expansion of local regional income and employment opportunities, without damaging the resources of the environment. Development may be understood as a progress from a lower quality of life to a higher quality of life. Through the welfare measures, the houseless can become house owners which may be treated as development. Similarly, providing for a school in a habitation where none existed so far solves the problem of illiteracy and, in the long run, improves literacy and educational levels there (Venkateswarlu, 2018, p. 99).

The international agenda began to focus on development beginning in the second half of the twentieth century. An understanding that developed economic growth did not necessarily lead to a rise in the level and quality of life for populations all over the world; there was a need to place an emphasis on specific policies that would channel resources and enable social and economic mobility for various layers of the population. Through the years, professionals and various researchers developed the concept of development. Sen (1999) developed the capability approach, which defined development as a tool enabling people to reach the highest level of their ability, through granting freedom of action, that is, freedom of economic, social and family actions, etc. This approach became the basis for the measurement of development by the Human Development Index (HDI), which was developed by the UN Development Program (UNDP) in 1990.

In contrast, professionals like Jeffrey Sachs and Paul Collier focused on mechanisms that prevent or oppress development in various countries, and cause them to linger in abject poverty for dozens of years. These are the various poverty traps, including civil wars, natural resources, and poverty itself. The identification of these traps enables relating to political, economic, and social conditions in a country in an attempt to advance development. One of the emphases in the work of Jeffrey Sacks is the promotion of sustainable development, which believes in growth and development in order to raise the standard of living for citizens of the world today, through relating to the needs of environmental resources and the coming generations of the citizens of the world (Society for International Development, 2021).

Dependency theory is one of the important theories of development. Andre Gunder Frank, a noted proponent of this theory, argues that the colonial process helped develop rich nations and also underdeveloped poor societies. It is based on the idea that the economic positions of rich and poor nations of the world are linked together by the global economy. In fact, dependency theory is a model of economic and social development that explains global inequality in terms of the historical exploitation of poor nations by the rich ones. This theory asserts that people living in poor countries were actually better off economically in the past than their descendants are now.

The world systems theory is closely associated with sociologist Immanuel Wallenstein,1 who believed that a country’s mode of incorporation into the capitalist work economy is the key feature in determining how economic development takes place in that nation. It is established on a three-level hierarchy consisting of core, periphery, and semi-periphery areas. The core countries dominate and exploit the peripheral countries for labor and raw materials. Wallenstein’s term world economy suggests that the prosperity or poverty of any country is the product of a global economic system. The world economy benefits rich societies and harms the rest of the world. The peripheral countries are dependent on core countries for capital. In fact, this dependency involves three factors, that is, narrow export-oriented economies, lack of industrial capacity, and foreign debt.

E.F. Schumacher brought out alternative development approach in his famous work, Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered (1973). The book advances the concept that small, appropriate technologies, policies, and polities as a superior alternative to the mainstream ethos of “bigger is better.” The book is divided into four parts: The Modern World, Resources, The Third World, and Organization and Ownership. The first part summarizes the economic world of the early 1970s from Schumacher’s perspective. The second part casts education as the greatest resource, and discusses land, industry, nuclear energy, and the human impact of technology. The third part discusses the gap between the center of the World System and the developing world as it existed then, with a focus on village culture and unemployment in India, and part four presents a sketch of a Theory of Large Scale Organization, takes issue with platitudes about capitalism as a social order, and discusses alternatives.

The Gandhian perspective on development visualized economic change. Mahatma Gandhi rejected large-scale production and industrialization irrespective of whether the economic system is capitalist or socialist. According to him, the adoption of large-scale production technologies inevitably created “a soulless authority” and makes labor soul-killing. So, he emphasized the development of agro-industrial, self-sufficient village economy, an economy based on limited wants, a trusteeship economy.2

Social Movements and Social Change

Social order and social change are the two important processes in society. Social order is maintained through socialization and social control. Social change is required for the proper functioning of society. Change is universal, and it is linked with the evolutionary thought that society is a developing organism. All societies change; some slowly and some others rapidly. Social thinkers attempt to analyze change from different perspectives. According to Kettering (1961), the world hates change, yet is the only thing that has brought progress in society. Sociologists have tried to analyze change in terms of its rate and direction, units of change, types of change, causes and effects of change, predictions about change, and resistance to social change.

Social change is a complex phenomenon. It manifests differently at different times and places. Social change is a change in social structure, that is, the size of society, the composition of balance of its parts, or the type of its organization. The social structure is subject to incessant change. Fifty years hence, the government is due to make important changes. Family and religion will not remain the same during this period because these institutions are changing. Individuals may strive for stability, societies may create the illusion of permanence, the quest for certainly may continue unabated, yet the fact remains that society is an ever-changing phenomenon, growing, decaying, renewing, and accommodating itself to changing conditions and suffering vast modifications in the course of time. According to M.E. Jones, social change is a term used to describe variations in or modifications of any aspect of social processes, social patterns, social interaction, and social organization (quoted by Sequeira, 2005, p. 212).

Social movement is often understood as an organized group effort to generate socio-cultural change. But, it is not a one-way process. Not only do social movements bring about change, but social change sometimes gives birth to movements. Social change often breeds social movements, and movements, in turn, breed additional change. Here, we are concerned about social movement, leading to social change.

The functionalist perspective focusses on the way that all aspects of society are integral to the continued health and viability of the whole. A functionalist might focus on why social movements develop, why they continue to exist, and what social purposes they serve. On the one hand, social movements emerge when there is a dysfunction in the relationship between systems. On the other hand, when studying social movements themselves, functionalists observe that movements must change their goals as initial aims are met or they risk dissolution. Social movements and social change can also be studied through a conflict perspective. In this, social movements are perceived as reaction to institutionalized inequality existing in society. The symbolic interaction perspective studies the day-to-day interaction of social movements, the meanings individuals attach to involvement in such movements, and the individual experience of social change.

Social Movements and Development

The purpose of social movement is to bring about social change. The type and quantity of this social change varies in different social movements. Sociologists consider social movements to be an effort to advance or prevent change. Concepts such as evolution, progress, and development are associated with social change. While evolution refers to gradual change, progress refers to a change or movement toward a desired goal. The term, development implies expansion, maturity, and advancement. It indicates qualitative changes. For example, we speak of economic development, technological development, and moral development. So, social movements lead to social change and in turn social change leads to development. This is exemplified through various movements leading to development.

Social movements not only bring about development but also affect society in many ways. First of all, the psychology of individuals who participate in movements are profoundly affected. Secondly, not only state institutions are affected but also nonstate institutions can also be targeted and changed by social movements, as is the case for any boycott or divestment campaign. Culture often becomes a target of social movements when their demands have to do with personal action. Such was the case with the feminist movements. Finally, political change results due to social movements.

Social Movements in the USA

The United States has a long tradition of social movements that have sparked major changes in bringing about social change and development. The movements have been of various types as labor, civil rights, Black nationalism, anti-globalization, environmental, etc. The abolitionist movement of the mid-1800s sought to end slavery, an issue that contributed to the outbreak of the Civil War. One of the most enduring, indeed revered, images of the civil rights movement is of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. addressing a crowd of more than 250,000 people on the Washington Mall from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The important words of his speech are: “I have a Dream.” One of the outcomes of the movement was the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1870 which formally ended race-based limitations on voting.

Throughout much of American history, a woman, like her counterpart in traditional societies of the world, was considered to be an extension of her husband and, as such, did not need her own vote. In fact, women formed charitable institutions to fight poverty and were active in reform movements, such as protecting children working in factories and textile mills. Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were denied voting rights as delegates to a worldwide anti-slavery convention in London. This event compelled them to organize the women’s movement in the United States with the primary goal of gaining the fundamental right to vote. They lobbied Congress and state legislatures, spoke passionately in public forums, held rallies, circulated petitions, and even went to jail for their beliefs. Ultimately, the Nineteenth Amendment, ratified in 1920, granted woman suffrage.

Following in the footsteps of the civil rights movement and the women’s movement, other movements have formed in reaction to policies that disadvantage particular segments of society. The gay rights movement has succeeded in having policies enacted to fight discrimination in the workplace, increase access to medical benefits, and stop bullying in schools. Disabled Americans formed a movement that resulted in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 guaranteeing that no individual will be excluded from the benefits of any program or activity receiving public funding because of a handicap (Social Movements).

In the 21st century too there were many protests in the United States. The massive 2006 immigrant rights protests in the United States broke records in dozens of towns and cities as the largest street demonstrations ever taking place. The 2017 Women’s March organizers incorporated several perceived harms to existing protections, rights, health, and safety in relation to the arrival of the Trump administration in their mission statement. The Women’s March successfully converted these intersectional mobilization appeals into the largest synchronized rallies and marches in U.S. history with a reported 4 to 5 million participants. Perhaps, the most ominous issue of all comes with planetary warming and climate change. Global warming has also produced the most extensive transnational movement in human history by promoting climate justice and a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gases. Environmental activists and scientists now coordinate the international climate justice movement in nearly every nation and have effectively mobilized millions of people in annual campaigns to pressure their respective governments and political leaders to act (Almeida, 2022).

Social movements have had a powerful impact on America’s polity and society. Political parties, civil rights activists, courts, and media have their own share of success in these movements. Most of the American social movements have brought about tangible results not only in the American society but also the world over. Movements like labor, civil rights, and women’s rights have inspired movements in other countries.

Social Movements in Europe

The French Revolution in the 18th century can be termed as a radical movement. It is a revolutionary movement that shook France between 1787 and 1799 and reached its first climax there in 1789. The French revolution is the result of social inequality due to estate system;3 tax burden on the commoners; the rise of the Bourgeoisie; ideas put forward by Enlightenment philosophers; financial crisis caused due to costly wars; the rise in the cost of bread; ban on freedom of speech, writing, and publication; and the extravagant lifestyle of the French monarchy. Ultimately, the poor people stormed “Bastille,” the king’s fortress in Paris, and ended the monarchy. Participation of women in large numbers was another unique feature of the French Revolution. The French Revolution eventually saw the execution of King Louis XVI. The French Revolution had far reaching changes not only in Europe but also the world over. As a result of the revolution, the feudal system of France came to an end. The privileges of the elite ended. Many movements in America took inspiration from the revolt. The practice of French colonial slavery in America was abolished. It also influenced Belgium, Poland, Venezuela, etc., to gain independence from Holland. Along with Europe, the idea of equality inspired other countries as well.

In the 19th century Europe, labor movements were based on Marxism, that is, based on class struggle. Industrialization had given rise to a new class, the working class. This class had no rights guaranteed by law, such as working hours, wages, or job security. They also had no right to demonstrate or strike. The gap created between the capitalist bourgeois and the workers led to the class struggle and the organization of the workers through the workers’ movement. The proletariat, over time, grew stronger and gained class consciousness, formed workers’ associations, and later unions, and with them the planned strikes emerged.

The 20th century movements are termed as “New Social Movements”4 because the demands were no longer centered on labor movements and their struggle for economic and political transformation but were based on other value systems as affirming rights and ways of life. So, the conflicts became social and cultural. In the case of the feminist movement, it is the rights of women, legal and citizenship, which lead to collective action for them to be recognized with contractual, property and voting rights. The ecological movement fights for a new form of rational and sustainable development, changing forms of production, exploiting resources with environmental counterparts, and irrational and inconsequential consumerism. Pacifist movements fight for ideals of peace, in a nonviolent way through resistance, boycotts, diplomacy (Silva, 2020). So, these new protagonists, young people, students, women, professionals, focus their struggle no longer on living conditions or redistribution of resources but on the quality of life and the diversity of styles of living it.

Unification of Germany in 1990 and the collapse of Soviet Union are the two important events in Europe. After the fall of Nazi Germany in 1945, Germany was divided into West Germany (under the control of United States, France, and England) and East Germany (under the control of USSR). The unification was possible by the decay of the other communist regimes in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and the liberalizing reforms of President Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was the process of internal disintegration within the Soviet Union (USSR) which resulted in the end of the country’s and its federal government’s existence as a sovereign state, thereby resulting in its constituent republics gaining full sovereignty on 26 December 1991. Both of these events can be termed as movements as a lot of people desired it.

The movements in the 21st century are termed as “Inorganic Movements.” In these movements, individuals, as citizens, intervened in the public sphere and spoke about issues that related to them, such as the crisis, unemployment, exploitation, as people belonging to a collective. Here, the challenge was launched on social media, and thousands of Europeans took to the streets to protest the precariousness of work, the austerity measures imposed by governments, the reduction of taxes, the lack of dignity in which citizens lived as a result of decisions and policies. In fact, these movements claimed to be nonpartisan, without affiliation to parties and unions, secular, peaceful, and without formal organization.

Social Movements in India

India too has witnessed several movements as Backward Classes, Nationalist, Dalits, Caste, Youth, Tribal, Farmers’, Environmental, and Women’s movements. Right from the beginning of the 20th century, the backward classes, especially from the South, have been clamoring for their rightful place and dignity in society. Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) movement, started by E.V, Ramaswamy Naicker in Tamil Nadu has turned into political parties that is, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) founded by C.N. Annadurai and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) founded by the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, M. G. Ramachandran (MGR). These two political parties dominate Tamil Nadu politics. As a result of this movement, Tamil Nadu has become a progressive state in India. Among the bigger states of India, it is the most urbanized state.5

Movement for independence is another important movement in India. Mohandas K. Gandhi launched and directed three major campaigns in the Indian Independence Movement: noncooperation in 1919–1922, the civil disobedience movement and the Salt Satyagraha of 1930–1931, and the Quit India movement from about 1940 to 1942. The movement was peaceful and consisted of social, economic, and political noncooperation. Despite remarkable cultural, religious, and linguistic diversity, overwhelming poverty, and many other social problems, people of all hues have taken part in the freedom movement. As a result, India became a free country on August 15, 1947. Today, India is the world’s largest democracy with civil liberties and an independent judiciary as well as a free press.

The Dalit6 movement in India is a struggle that tries to counterattack the socio-cultural hegemony of the upper castes. It is a movement to establish a society based on social equality. The Dalit movement has taken different forms as Sanskritization,7 Adi-Hindu movement, and conversions to other religions. Dalits followed the route of conversion with a purpose of getting rid of untouchability and to develop their moral and financial conditions. Dr Ambedkar converted to Buddhism along with his millions of followers at Nagpur in 1956. But sociologists have observed that converted Dalits have become another caste. In 1971, Kansiram established the SCs, STs, OBCs, and Minorities Employees Welfare Association. In 1981, he founded the Dalit Soshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti (DS4) to fight against the attacks on the workers who were spreading awareness on the caste system, and in 1984, he established a full-fledged political party known as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which ruled the state of Uttar Pradesh from June 1995 with Mayawati as the Chief Minister. She became the Chief Minister three more times till March 2012.

India has seen many social movements as Save Silent Valley Movement (1973), Chipko Movement (1973), JP Movement (1974), Namantar Andolan (1978), Jungle Bachao Andolan (1980s), Narmada Bachao Andolan (1985), and Jan Lokpal Bill – Anti Corruption Movement by Anna Hazare (2011). The JP movement also known as Bihar Movement was a political movement initiated by students in the Indian state of Bihar in 1974 and led by the veteran Gandhian socialist Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), popularly known as JP, against misrule and corruption in the state government. Later, it became a movement against emergency. In June 1975, the then Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, declared an internal emergency across the country. JP bitterly opposed the emergency and as a result emergency was withdrawn in March 1977 and general election was declared. In this election, the Congress lost badly and Janata Party came to power.

Another important environmental movement was Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) spearheaded by native tribals, farmers, environmentalists, and human rights activists against a large dam project across the Narmada River in 1985. Noted environmentalist, Medha Patkar was the leader of the agitation. Another movement against corruption was the Indian anti-corruption movement, popularly known as Anna Andolan, which involved a series of demonstrations and protests across India that began in 2011 and was intended to establish strong legislation and enforcement against perceived endemic political corruption. It was led by Anna Hazare, an Indian social activist. The movement aimed to alleviate corruption in the Indian government through introduction of the Jan Lokpal Bill. Another aim, which was led by Ramdev, Kiran Bedi, Arvind Kejriwal, and others, was the repatriation of black money from foreign banks.

Several peasant movements in India arose during the colonial era, when economic policies by various British colonial administrations led to the decline of agriculture and traditional handicraft industries. These policies lead to change of ownership in lands, land overcrowding, and increased debt among the peasant classes of India. Recently, Indian farmers protested against three farm laws that were passed by the Parliament of India in September 2020. Soon after the acts were introduced, unions began holding local protests, mostly in Punjab. After 2 months of protests, farmer unions, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, began a movement named Dili Chalo (Let’s go to Delhi), in which tens of thousands of farming union members marched toward the nation’s capital. The Indian government ordered the police and law enforcement of various states to attack the protesters using water cannons, batons, and tear gas to prevent the farmer unions from entering Haryana first and then Delhi. The movement came to an end with the Union government repealing the bills in November 2021.


The social movements as collectivities attempting to change the social order cannot be analyzed simply in terms of success or failure. Some have succeeded to reach the desired goals and the others have failed. Failure may come as a result of ruthless suppression of the movement or through widespread apathy. A movement may wither away because too few take it seriously and it does not develop enough power to force its program on society. Success is most apparent when a movement manages to have its power legitimized as authority. In a successful revolution, the social movement becomes the new source of authority and respectability. As we have examined the social movements in the United States, Europe, and India, these movements have brought about wide-ranging changes in society and in most instances, they have brought about development. Sometimes, this development is restricted to a section of society and in other instances, the entire society has benefitted.


  1. Immanuel Wallerstein brought out the World systems theory in a paper, The Rise and Future Demise of the World Capitalist System: Concepts for Comparative Analysis in 1974.
  2. Trusteeship economy is a socio-economic philosophy that was propounded by Mahatma Gandhi. It provides a means by which the wealthy people would be the trustees of trusts that looked after the welfare of the people in general.
  3. The estate system is the type of stratification system found in medieval Europe which divided society into a three-tiered system composed of the nobility, the clergy, and the commoners. Members of the nobility had great inherited wealth which was spent on leisure pursuits. Clergy consisted of priests and the religious of the Roman Catholic Church. Commoners are the masses referring to ordinary people who are members of neither the nobility nor the clergy.
  4. The term new social movements (NSMs) is a theory of social movements that attempts to explain the plethora of new movements that have come up in various western societies roughly since the mid-1960s (i.e., in a post-industrial economy) which are claimed to depart significantly from the conventional social movement in terms of methods used, ideology, and leadership.
  5. At present, the rate of urbanization of India is 34%, whereas the urbanization rate of Tamil Nadu is 48.45%.
  6. The term Dalit had its inspiration from Black Panther Party, a revolutionary movement amongst African-Americans, which emerged in the United States in 1960s. Following this, Namdev Dhasal founded Dalit Panthers organization in April 1972 in Mumbai. Gradually only the term Dalit remained. Dalit means broken or oppressed.
  7. Sanskritization refers to the process by which castes or tribes placed lower in the caste hierarchy seek “upward” mobility by emulating the rituals and practices of the dominant castes or upper castes. This term was coined by famous Indian sociologist, M. N. Srinivas in the 1950s.


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Richard Pais, Professor and Head (retired.), Department of Sociology, St. Aloysius College (Autonomous), Affiliated to Mangalore University, Mangalore 575003, India. He can be contacted at