Comparisons between Two Social Movements


(Instructors’ name)



Comparisons between Two Social Movements

Scholars and researchers have treated the study of social movements and collective behavior as a central subject and discipline in sociology since the 1970s. This is so especially because of a number of reasons, first because collective behavior is an extremely essential progress in sociology, and second because the 19760s through to the 1970s witnessed social movements that are particularly critical in the US and other parts of the globe. The civil rights movement, for instance, in the US, the movements against the Vietnam war, and a number of other movements against certain struggles in Africa, Asia and Latin America made social movements especially relevant to sociologists in the years between 1970 and 1980 (Buechler 295- 319).

There are several, different types of research questions that researchers can pose about the issue of social movement, one question can come in the form of ethnographic and description, in which case sociologists could familiarize themselves with the comprehensive details of certain social movements, discovering some of the specific processes and characteristics that are associated with specific social movements. Another question that can arise in the study of social movements is the study of some of the causes of certain social movements, given the immense interest social scientists have in explaining social processes. Another possible approach to studying social movements would make use of the above two approaches. This approach agrees with the fact that all social events encompasses a great deal of contingency and particularity, therefore, requiring a significant level of descriptive research (Buechler 295- 319).

Another indispensable aspect of social movements is the role that the theory on resource mobilization plays in the study of these social movements. Researchers regard this concept as one of the key theories of social movements. Its key competitor back in the 1980s was the theory on the political process. Resource mobilization theory tries to explain and describe social movement by seeing people as actors who are rational that are participating in actions that are instrumental that make use of formal organizations to foster mobilization and secure resources. Sociologists categorize this theory under two sections; first, it uses a rational actor theory to explain people joining social movements. Second, the theory tries to describe social movement organizations’ actions that these actors create by viewing the organizations as an organization that functions solely to market its products and for self- preservation (McCarthy and Zald 149- 72).

This paper will compare two examples of social movements. The first social movement that the paper will look at is the January 25th youth movement in Egypt. The second social movement that the paper will discuss is the occupy Wall Street movement in the United States. In trying to compare these two social movements, the paper will discuss two elements of these movements, compare, and contrast them. The two elements that will form the basis of this contrast and comparison are the collective action/ behavior theory and the resource mobilization theory. The paper will answer two questions. The first question is whether these two social movements have any elements in common. The second question will be whether these elements have anything to do with the resources mobilization theory on social movements and the collective behavior or collective actions of social movements. The main argument of the paper, therefore, will be that the two social movements used resource mobilization theory and collective behavior and action. In answering these questions, and developing this argument, the paper will first describe the two social movements, and then it will describe how social mobilization theory and collective behavior is demonstrated in the two social movements.

The January 25 social revolution in Egypt took place, as a result, of an uprising that began earlier in the day. The uprising was majorly a campaign of civil resistance that was supposed to avoid violence, and it featured numerous individuals and groups who upstaged demonstrations, acts of civil disobedience, marches and labor strikes. Millions of protestors from different religious and socio- economic backgrounds participated in the social movement demanding the overthrow of the regime of President Mubarak. Despite the fact that the movement was peaceful in nature, there were several counts of violence, which resulted as protestors clashed with the security forces. Reports indicated that up to 6, 000 people were injured, and about 846 of the protestors and spectators lost their lives (AFP 1). The uprising begun in one of the cities in Egypt, Alexandria, and rapidly spread to other cities in the nation. On 11 February, the relentless pressure and popular protest forced the president to step down (AFP 1).

Some of the central focuses of the Egyptian protestors were to express their grievances about certain political and legal issues, which included state of emergency laws, police brutality, lack of freedom of speech and freedom to vote, economic issues like inflation, employment, increased corruption, low minimum wages, and increasing food inflation. Central to the demand of the organizers of the social movement were the end of the regime of Hosni Mubarak, and the end of injustice, lack of freedom, state of emergency, a responsive government that was non- military and a say in the management of the resources of the country. Strikes that followed the social movement added to the pressure of the movement placed on the president to resign (Siddique, Owen, Haynes, and Gabbatt 1).

During the period of the protests, the authorities declared several cities like Cairo war zones, and several cities were scenes of constant violent confrontations between the authorities and the protestors. The demonstrators defied and broke the curfew that the government set. Mubarak later dissolved his cabinet and appointed a leader, who was a military figure as his vice president in an attempt to calm the protests. In the mounting pressure, the president tried more tactics to calm the crowd like proclaiming that he would not request reelection in the following year. The international court charged the president with a number of charges including predetermined murder after stepping down. The military junta took over and on 13 February, it announced that it would suspend the constitution for a while, in addition to dissolving the parliament. The military indicated that it would rule the country until it held the next elections (Korotayev and Zinkina 139- 169).

The occupy Wall Street social movement, on the other hand, is a term used to describe an ongoing series of protests and demonstrations that was initiated by Adbusters, a Canadian activist group. The activist group started the demonstrations on 17 September 2011 in Zuccotti Park located in Wall Street financial district in New York. The demonstrations are majorly against economic and social inequality, high rates of unemployment, corruption, greed and the unnecessary influence of large corporations- especially those in the financial services segment- on the methods of governance and government. The protestors formulated a slogan; we are the 99 percent, to highlight the growing difference in wealth between the 1 percent wealthy individuals and the rest of the people in the nation (Schneider 1).

In 13 July of 2011, a blog post posted by the Adbusters foundation based in Canada, famous for its anti- consumerist magazine Adbusters, advertisement- free, proposed that protestors peacefully occupy the Wall Street to demonstrate against corporate influence on governance and democracy, a growing difference in wealth, and the lack of legal implications for the perpetrators of the recent global crisis. The protestors sought to combine and utilize the symbolic location if the Tahrir Square protests with the 2011 Spanish protests. The editor of Adbusters indicated that they had suggested ideas for the movement using an email list, and that individuals from all over the world spontaneously took it up (Fleming 1).

In addition to the Adbusters group, another internet group called the Anonymous also played a large part in furthering this protest by persuading its associates to participate in the demonstrations, calling upon demonstrators to flood such areas as Manhattan and occupy Wall Street. Eventually, other groups started joining the protests including the NYC General Assembly, US Day of Rage, and the governing bodies of the group for occupy Wall Street. The demonstrations started in the park because it is owned privately and the authorities could not legally make them leave without the property owner requesting them to live the park (Schneider 1).

The two movements are extremely similar to each other with a few disparities. The two movements clearly expressed a shared desire for change, which supposedly offset differences in circumstance and place and galvanized large groups of discontented citizens from Egypt to the US. These social movements mark a rare moment of coalescence in the world that seems to be taking root impulsively. Most of this is true about the two movements, but the remarkable speed with which the demonstrations spread, their similarities in organizational strategies and form emphasized by the deliberate planning and work of tech- savvy groups led by young people (Siddique, Owen, Haynes, and Gabbatt 1).

From the start, the likeness and the connection between the Egyptian social movement, and the Arab spring that followed and the occupy Wall Street social movement was made clearly. The poster that appeared in the Adbusters in 13 July asked protestors clearly, whether they were ready for a moment like that one in Tahrir. What followed were the instructions to go occupy Wall Street and other cities like Manhattan. The invitations kept on coming in through the Internet, Facebook and twitter (Schneider 1). The result of this social movement was the culmination of days of performed planning with more than just a simple or symbolic connection between the youths in Wall Street and their counterparts in Egypt (AFP 1). It is clear that there numerous similarities between the two, but the paper will concentrate more on the collective action and resource mobilization theory aspects of these two movements.

Two of the major aspects there were increasingly similar between the two social movements in the US and in Egypt were the fact that the protestors were highly influenced by collective behavior/ actions and the resource mobilization theory. Collective behavior or actions is a term that is commonly used to describe the social events and processes that usually do not reflect the existing or dominant social structures like institutions, laws and conventions, but that emerge in a spontaneous manner. Collective actions or behavior can also mean actions or behaviors that are neither deviant nor conforming. Collective behavior results when norms are unclear or absent, or when these contradict with each other (Blumer 21- 112). There are different examples of collective actions or behavior. Some of them include a sudden widespread liking of a clothing item or website like twitter, a collective social movement protesting for a number of things or a rapid spread of rumors. There are a number of traits that define a social movement governed by collective actions or behavior and one can clearly pinpoint or identify them in the two social movements in question. One trait of collective behavior is that there are no clear social boundaries; anyone is allowed to participate as a member of the whole group (Blumer 21- 112).

This can be seen in both the social groups in the US and Egypt. The Egyptian social movement, for instance, included a wide variety of participators. There were poor, rich, educated, illiterate, Christians, Muslims and individuals from all lifestyles who were willing to participate in the demonstrations (AFP 1). Just as well, the social movement in the US drew demonstrators and protestors from a wide range of social backgrounds. Here were protestors from different political outlooks like political independents, liberal, anarchists, libertarians, socialists, and environmentalists. Though only young people initially participated in the movements, other protestors from different age groups joined the movements as the protest grew (Gabbatt 1). As we have seen in the Egyptian movement, the US social movement also derived protestors from different religious faiths including Muslims, Christians and Jews. Numerous sources pointed out that there was a huge diversity of gender, age, and race at the Wall Street protest (Gabbatt 1).

The two social movements also expressed a number of collective behavior or action forms. These include such behavior or actions as crowd, panic, riots, mass hysteria, rumors and fads. A crowd is a gathering of individuals who share a common or similar intent or purpose and who influence or affect each other. There are four different kinds of crowds, causal, acting, conventional and expressive. Social movements can adopt the expressive or conventional forms of crowds to accomplish something (Blumer 21- 112).

Several studies have connected collective action to anger, and other emotions. According to these studies, how a group or a social group interprets or understands a social event determines emotions that are based on the group like emotions (Drury and Reicher 705- 720). Feelings of injustice or unfairness can generate anger at group events, and this anger usually is a good predictor or determinant of collective behavior or actions that follow, as the emotions influence or encourage the demonstrators to confront those that they feel are responsible for the injustice (Drury and Reicher 705- 720). One can see or witness this in both the protests in Egypt and in the protests in Wall Street, which were both incited by what the social groups felt like injustice, lack of freedom and a growing gap between the rich and the poor.

The demonstrators in Egypt felt it not right for most of the Egyptians to live in poverty even after the private sector had recently benefited from economic liberalization. Researchers and scholars are of the idea that more than forty percent of the Egyptians live under the poverty line surviving with two dollars or less each day (AFP 1). Just the same, the occupy wall street social group also felt angry that the government was not doing anything to close the gap that was still growing between the poor and the rich, and that the government had not taken any actions against the perpetrators of the recent international financial crisis (Gabbat 1).

The sense of injustice was not a new thing or experience for the Egyptian demonstrators, but this is the first time ever that the Egyptians decided that enough was enough, and participated in demonstrations and protests. They argued that they have suffered from abusive and brutal state laws and state security tools and complete absence of justice for a time (AFP 1). It is this anger that led them to result to collective actions like taking to the streets, rioting, or demonstrating peacefully in the case of the wall street demonstrations, and participating in such collective activities as camping out in areas that are non- camping, breaking the law, disobeying the authority, and so forth (Drury and Reicher 705- 720).

Scholars and social scientists have also made viable connections between collective action and empowerment (Drury, Cocking, Beale, Hanson and Rapley 309- 328). Participants and commentators alike were of the idea that the Egypt protests were highly influenced by the Tunisian uprising, which took place only a few weeks before the ones in Egypt. The same individuals argued that just the same, way the protests in Tunisia had inspired those in Egypt; the Egyptians demonstrations also influenced those in other Arab regions like in Libya, Bahrain and Arab areas that were affected the Arab spring (AFP 1). Just as well, the connection of collective action and empowerment was also cited as one of the main causes of the occupy Wall Street demonstrations. Demonstrators in Wall Street were influenced greatly by the Egyptian riots, and, in fact, many commentators and some of the participants indicated that the demonstrators wanted to replicate the same actions that went on Tahrir square, those that led to the overthrowing of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. The demonstrators felt empowered by the Egyptian demonstrators to fight for their rights (Gabbat 1). Therefore, in the social psychology language, some sociologists argued that there was not only an injustice sense and motive driving these demonstrations, but also a sense of power, or a sense of efficacy (Drury, Cocking, Beale, Hanson and Rapley 309- 328).

Several media houses carried out interviews with demonstrators in Egypt, and thing became clear from these interviews, that the uprising in Tunisia left many people inspired and empowered. It made people believe that revolution is possible, and that social movements can take their complaints to the streets to help with political change (Siddique, Owen, Haynes, and Gabbatt 1). The subjective sense of empowerment or power is a significant predictor or determinant of collective behavior or action, as we have seen above. More importantly, it can also be a product or it can result from collective behavior or collective action. The ideology of empowerment brings about efficacy, but it also results or contains more than that. The concept of empowerment implies emotion that is positive, as well as, cognition. In addition to this, the ideology refers to a social relationship of power that is unequal, and power that feels bad, which the protestors overcome or challenge (Drury and Reicher 705- 720).

The pictures that people saw or witnessed in the media after President Mubarak announced his resignation in February were a clear picture of the emotional experiences of empowerment or sense of power in collective action or collective behavior. People were uplifted, joyful, exhilarated, and euphoric, one could see their joy and how good they felt from watching them (Siddique, Owen, Haynes, and Gabbatt 1). The elaborated social identity theory can explain this connection between emotion and empowerment by arguing that acting or behaving in a certain manner to bring changes to the world in a manner that fits our identity gives us some sense of agency. Through our own behavior and actions, we can see that we are not mere objects but real agents of change. The demonstrators in Egypt thought that, and they really were agents through which change came to Egypt (AFP 1). The demonstrators in Wall Street, as well, were not just any objects, but real agents who were determined to bring change to how things were. Agency feels good, and it felt good for these social movement members, just as alienation is aversive. Agency felt joyful and participating in collective behavior and collective action that would eventually bring about changes felt joyful and it made these people feel happy (Drury, Cocking, Beale, Hanson and Rapley 309- 328).

Generally, the mass protests in Egypt and Wall Street are classic examples of collective action and behavior. That is, many of the participants in these two protests acted spontaneously and challenged authority and social order. As we saw in the earlier paragraphs, a number of factors, some of the two social movements used, characterize collective behavior and action. These factors include clashes with the police and local authority, looting and other forms of crime, and riots and demonstration. Protestors are usually a protesting or an acting crowd. The crowd is usually motivated by defined and urgent purposes, most of which we have already described. Since a deep sense of marginalization and injustice was driving these two crowds, they were extremely excitable. Therefore, some events of mass disobedience, disorder such as riots and looting and violence were common (Turner and Killian 72- 108).

There is the question of whether these two crowds became social movements that would bring about real changes in Wall Street and in Egypt. These social movements were composed of different groups, with distinct agendas, some religious and others secular. However, they all came together under two large crowds to critique against the current social orders in each of the two distinct locations, and in their aspiration to bring about some change to that social structure (Turner and Killian 72- 108). Political sociology provides for several explanations for the establishment of such social movements, and some of them are relevant to analyze the situation in Wall Street and in Egypt. One of the explanations is social structure. Social structures that are problematic cause feelings of alienation, dissatisfaction and frustration, in Egypt and wall street, there was a considerable gap between the rich, who are the minority, and the poor, who are the majority. However, in both the two places, there was common awareness that change would not result as long as the current social institutions and structures were still present in Wall Street and Egypt (Turner and Killian 72- 108).

A powerful story or narrative is another crucial explanation of social movements. A powerful story is one basis of social movements or mobilization. In the cases of Egypt and Wall Street, the oppression of the widespread corruption, and regime, and the huge gap between the poor and the rich formed the narrative that bonded all of the demonstrators together. The Egyptians had lived under autocratic laws for decades, while the Americans had stayed quiet, as a minority of them got richer. The demonstrations, therefore, were the only ways to end this rule, and close the gap and form new social structures and a new and better political system. As the demonstrators hoped, the aspirations of the people would be addressed by these new social structures and new political systems (Turner and Killian 72- 108).

Another explanation of social movements is the capacity to mobilize. A central social issue is an excellent reason to go out to the streets and cause disturbances. However, in most cases of social movements there is the need for mechanisms for mobilization (Turner and Killian 72- 108). The two movements in Egypt and Wall Street made use of social and cellular networks to mobilize action. The two movements made particular use of the Internet as the tool of choice for communication. Emails, bogs, twitter and Facebook were extremely useful in mobilizing protestors in both of these social movements. The need for a trigger is another crucial explanation for social movements, and especially the ones in Egypt and Wall Street. In some cases, an event is required to ignite the anger of demonstrators, which, in turn, spark feelings of anger into action. The uprising in Tunisia is one of the most crucial trigger of the protests in Egypt, while the protests in Egypt and the Arab spring are the major triggers of the protests in Wall Street (Turner and Killian 72- 108).

Government response is another explanation relevant to the Wall Street and Egyptian protests (Turner and Killian 72- 108). The brutal behavior and actions of the authorities in New York and in Egypt that tried to crackdown the protests and demonstrations with gunfire, tear gas canisters and arrests served only to lead to the opposite outcomes. The speech president Mubarak gave and other individuals in the US were they mainly repeated tired promises and slogans, which were not seen as promises for change also increased the anger of the protestors. Additionally, the fact the police Egypt refrained from enforcing laws and curfews did not stop the protests, instead they only increased the actions of the protestors, and even intensified their behavior. These explanations indicate that the two social movements had the collective behavior/ action element in common (Turner and Killian 72- 108).

Resource mobilization is another element that the two had in common. Theories in resource mobilization argue that the main, professional group in a social movement group is usually present to work towards bringing in supporters, funding, alliances, and attention to the social movement. According to the theory, social movements have to have the above resources to be effective (McCarthy and Zald 149- 172). In the cases of the two social movements in Egypt and Wall Street, the arguments of the theory are evident. This is because the two social movements had the support of parent social movement organizations that worked to bring to the protests attention from the media, supports, and funding. The protests in Egypt were supported by the social movement organization called the 6 of April movement for change while those in Wall Street were supported by the social movement organization called Adbusters with the support of another organization called Anonymous. These groups ensured that the protests had enough supporters by sending pledges through emails, twitter, Facebook and blogs (McCarthy and Zald 149- 172).


Though the social movements in Egypt and in Wall Street took place in two different continents, they had a lot in common. The paper was supposed to answer two specific questions, whether the two movements had any elements in common, and whether these elements had anything to do with collective action and behavior and resource mobilization theory. The research also pointed out that the two movements had many things in common and that these similarities had a lot to do with resource mobilization theory and collective action and behavior. The paper reported that the collective action witnessed in the two movements resulted from several things such as triggers, government response, narrative, social structure, and capacity to mobilize. The paper reported that the resource mobilization theory applied to both movements in that they both had social movement organizations working to support the protests through providing for them supporters, funding and attention from the media.

Work cited

AFP. “Egypt braces for nationwide protests”. France24. 25 January 2011. Web. 24 November 2011.

Blumer, Herbert. “Collective Behavior,” in A. M. Lee, ed., Principles of Sociology. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1951. Print. 67-121.Buechler, S. M. ‘New social movement theories’. In: Social Movements: Perspectives and Issues. Ed. S. M. Buechler and F. K. Cylke. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1997.print. Pp. 295 – 319.

Drury, J. and Cocking, C., Beale, J., Hanson, C., & Rapley, F. The phenomenology of empowerment in collective action. British Journal of Social Psychology, 44 (2005):309-328.

Drury, J. and Reicher, S. ‘Collective psychological empowerment as a model of a social change: Researching crowds and power’. Journal of Social Issues, 65 (2009):707-725. Print.

Fleming, Andrew. “Adbusters sparks Wall Street protest Vancouver-based activists behind street actions in the U.S”. The Vancouver Courier. 27 September 2011. Web. 24 November 2011.

Gabbatt, Adam. “Occupy Wall Street: protests and reaction Thursday 6 October”.  Guardian. 6 October 2011. Web. 24 November 2011.

Korotayev, A. and Zinkina, J. Egyptian Revolution: A Demographic Structural Analysis.  Entelequia. Revista Interdisciplinar 13 (2011): 139–169. Print.

McCarthy, J. D. and M. N. Zald. ‘Resource mobilization and social movements: A partial theory’. In: Social Movements: Perspectives and Issues. Ed. S. M. Buechler and F. K. Cylke. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1997. Print. 149 – 172. 

Schneider, Nathan. “Occupy Wall Street: FAQ”. The Nation. 29 September 2011. Web. 24 November 2011.

 Siddique, Haroon, Owen, Paul, Haynes, Jonathan, Gabbatt. “Protests in Egypt – As It Happened (Live Blog)”. The Guardian (UK). 26 January 2011. Web. 24 November 2011.

Turner, R. and Killian, L. Collective Behavior. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1972. Print.