In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Movements

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Edited Volumes
  • Film and Video
  • National Politics and the Politics of Nationalism
  • Everyday Forms of Resistance
  • Neoliberalism and the Politics of Development
  • Indigeneity, Identity, and Territory
  • The Politics of Democracy, Transition, and Apathy
  • The Alterglobalization Movement
  • Media, Technology, and Digital Activism

Anthropology Social Movements
Yarimar Bonilla
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 August 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0024


Within anthropology the literature on social movements has examined a wide arrange of processes and practices of collective action. One of the key contributions anthropologists have made to the study of social movements has been to expand the definition of collective resistance beyond the scope of formalized protest to encompass everyday forms of resistance and intermediary forms of dissent. Anthropologists have also foregrounded the affective and subjective effects of political participation by examining the lived experience (rather than simply the strategic outcomes) of collective action. In years past anthropologists were mostly concerned with the politics of “subaltern” groups such as indigenous organizations, movements focused around gender and sexuality, and other identity-based forms of mobilization. There has also been great interest in how populations have struggled against the effects of economic globalization and neoliberal reform, with increasing attention to protests against transnational corporations and global financial organizations (such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization). More recently anthropologists have become interested in digital activism and in how digital technologies are redefining political participation and democratic politics.

General Overviews

Nicholas 1973 offers an early analysis of social movement research as an emerging field within anthropology. Edelman 2001 and Salman and Assies 2009 provide more recent surveys of the development of social movement research within the field of anthropology in the last several decades.

  • Edelman, Marc. 2001. Social movements: Changing paradigms and forms of politics. Annual Review of Anthropology 30.1: 285–317.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.30.1.285

    Examines shifts in social movement research from the attention to “resource mobilization” to an interest in identity politics and the rise of transnational activists networks. Argues that anthropologists need to pay greater attention to right-wing and conservative movements and to movements that they are not necessarily in solidarity with.

  • Nicholas, Ralph. 1973. Social and political movements. Annual Review of Anthropology 2.1: 63–84.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    Early introduction to the study of social movements in anthropology. Outlines the rise of the word “movement,” and characterizes the phenomena as either disruptive (of stable social order) or adaptive (to changing social order.) Questions definitions of politics, time and process, discontent, ideology, and charismatic authority.

  • Salman, Ton, and Willem Assies. 2009. Anthropology and the study of social movements. In Handbook of social movements across disciplines. Edited by Bert Klandermans and Conny Roggeband, 205–265. New York: Springer.

    Examines the particular contributions of anthropology to the interdisciplinary field of social movements. Focuses on three aspects: the politics of culture, the theoretical tension between structuralist and agentive approaches, and the importance of anthropology’s focus on emic perspectives.

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