Sunday, November 05, 2006

Book Review: Jeff Goodwin, and James M. Jasper, Eds. "The Social Movements Reader" (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 2003)

The Authors/Editors
Jeff Goodwin is Associate Professor of Sociology at NYU. His other books include No Other Way Out (2001) and Passionate Politics (2001) (author and co-editor, respectively).

James M. Jasper’s books include The Art of Moral Protest (1997), and Restless Nation (2000) and The Animal Rights Crusade (1992) (co-author) (taken from back of book).

What It's About
The main purpose of this book is to contribute to the ongoing study of social movements: “collective, organized, sustained, and noninstitutional challenge[s] to authorities, powerholders, or cultural beliefs and practices” (3).

This book (or textbook, really) is a collection of essays put together to explore nine major questions concerning social movements that “scholars and activists have themselves asked” (7): How and when do social movements form? Who joins and supports them? Who stays in them and who drops out? What kinds of things do participants think, want, and feel? How are movements organized? What do they do? How are they affected by media and elites? How do they end? And what changes do they bring? (7).

So throughout the course of this volume, these essays explore not only the historical, economic, political, macro-level factors associated with social movements, but also the emotions, symbols, morals, and other micro-level factors which help to determine what they are. For instance, along side essays on the rise of the civil rights movement or the women’s movement are essays concerning the ideas and emotions behind those same movements (see Jasper’s essay, “The Emotions of Protest” for example). This book tries for a complete, or holistic view of social movements based upon contemporary trends in studying these movements, but without neglecting historical development. Also important to note is that this book deals solely with the major movements within the United States, so for information on movements in different countries one must look elsewhere.

Graduating with a degree in Sociology from USC, this reader did not conjure up good memories of classes in social theory. However, it was interesting to read once again just how important these movements have been, and are still, for the shaping of cultures and societies, at every level. But as with most sociological research the underlying spiritual dimensions of these movements fail to receive mention. For instance, in Blumberg’s essay “The Civil Rights Movement” not much is said about religion’s role within the rise of the movement except for the fact that churches helped to provide a place for African Americans to gather collectively (17). The fact that faith has been overlooked or dismissed when studying social movements has been my critique of sociological study for a while now. It has been my experience that a separate category—i.e. the “sociology of religion”—has been created to deal with religion and its effects on society, but I hardly think that faith can be divided out of the equation. Nevertheless I think that this book, in terms of the nine questions it asks of social movements can be helpful for our purposes: if we see Christianity as a social movement that has ultimately affected the ways in which we view the world, and our impact upon and within it.


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