To suggest that
the Abortion Rights Campaign, the White Aryan Resistance, Right2Water, and the
anti-vaccination movement are all similar, is to expect little less than a
dubious reaction from those to which the statement is being made. Such a
statement is likely to be deemed erroneous, however, it is not at all so.
Regardless of their distances from each other on the political spectrum, their
wildly varying radical or conservative views, and regardless of their
organisation or lack thereof, a commonality remains; each can be legitimately
categorised as a social movement. A unanimous conceptual definition of such
movements remains elusive, though society tends to accept them as “sustained
and intentional efforts to foster or retard social changes, primarily outside
the normal institutional channels encouraged by authorities” (Jasper, 2007).
Numerous scholars have sought explanations as to precisely how social movements
engender, and maintain, a committed and cohesive membership.

Most
frequently, they settle for the notion of ‘collective identity’. An infamously
abstruse concept, perhaps the most straightforward definition is that proposed
by Taylor and Whittier (1992) – “the shared definition of a group that derives
from members’ common interests, experiences and solidarity” (p.105). Before the
questions of how and why social movements seek to develop such identities can
be answered, however, it is first necessary to delve into the concept’s past,
as only then can one understand its present.

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BACKGROUND

A phenomenon
that is both cerebral and invoking of emotion, collective identity is rooted
most deeply in the fundamental human need to belong, as argued by Baumeister
and Leary (1995).  In order to understand
the foundations upon which such contemporary collective identities are built,
one need only look toward sociology’s founding fathers; that is, Karl Marx, and
Max Weber. The Marxist concepts of class consciousness and revolution can be considered
integral building blocks of the collective identity social movements seek to
develop today (Bottomore, 2006). One can feasibly view collective identity as a
prerequisite for successful contemporary social movements. A movement of
alienated and unbonded members would, of course, be entirely non-viable. The
same can be said for a revolution without class consciousness (Marx and Engels,
1970). Engels and Marx shared the belief that it was necessary to identify a
collectivity, for example a class. This in turn would then have to have, as
Poletta and Jasper put it, “cognitive, moral, and emotional connections with a broader
community, category, practice or institution” (Poletta and Jasper, 2001). Put
simply, a consciousness. Weber, though he mirrored many of Marx’s areas of studies,
also found certain aspects of it contentious, a fact often broached in older
sociological texts, such as those referenced below. Weber was of the opinion
that Marx shone too much of a light on production, and should have focused
instead on the other foundations of what we came to call collective identity
and social movements. e.g. (Bo?ckler and Weiss, 1987)
(Morrison, 1995). One need only look at Weber’s analysis of class, e.g. (Breen,
2005) to see his contrasting opinion on how collective action arises. It was
necessary, he maintained, for group members to identify mutually on party,
status, and class. Weber did not deem it imperative that the concept of
collective conscious be a part of the development of a collective identity.
And though he came somewhat later than Marx and Weber, as a classic
theorist, Georg Simmel placed great importance on the development of social
groups, and how certain facets of said development remain relevant in the
context of contemporary social movements. Such facets would include, for
example, the fact that a collective identity is often formed in reaction to a
threat from an adversary. (Simmel, 1955)

Classical views
such as those mentioned above, provide foundations upon which we can build
analyses of the development of collective identity in contemporary social
movements. As one moves further, and into the twenty-first century, the extent
to which contemporary theorists were influenced by their classical counterparts
becomes clear. The 1963 work of one Joseph Gusfield hinges upon Weberian
notions, and utilises them in an effort to understand those social movements
which arise after the construction of a collective identity, and not before
(Gusfield, 1963). Furthermore, the work carried out by Orrin Klapp on social
movements displays characteristics that can lead one to deduct a reliance on
the aforementioned classical roots quite feasibly (Klapp, 1969). He applied the
Marxist concepts of alienation and estrangement to his own American society,
and alluded to the fact that social movements are compromised when they do not
possess a collective identity. Perhaps the most notable shift when considering
the transition from classical to contemporary is thus; the diminishing reliance
on class consciousness as a means of explaining the various aspects of social
movements, i.e. levels of activity and participation. Instead, the concept of
collective identity itself is now used to explain such. In other words, and as
broached by Johnston et al, it is simply not possible to understand the
formation of contemporary social movements without said concept. Klandermans
maintains that there exists “overwhelming support” for the existence of a
relationship between the partaking of members in a social movement, and the
development of a collective identity. Said relationship is then widely
considered to be an uncomplicated one.

However, degree
of simplicity aside, the relationship between collective identity and social movements,
be it classical or contemporary, is one that still raises many questions. How
do movements develop such an identity? Why have they continually sought to do
so? And what, if any, dilemmas arise from this developmental process?

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