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

  • Introduction

Management Social Movement Theory
Forrest Briscoe, Alexandra Rheinhardt
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0195


This article offers an annotated bibliography of selected research linking social movements to the study of organizations and management. Social activists frequently target organizations, like corporations and universities, in an attempt to bring about changes related to social issues such as inequality, climate change, and human rights. Such activists are often members of social movement organizations, with no direct connection to the targeted organization; however, at other times the activists are employees seeking to drive change from within the targeted organization. Either way, activism can involve a spectrum of different protest or influence tactics leveled at the targeted organization, from disruptive product boycotts and employee sit-ins to more persuasion-oriented letter-signing campaigns and boardroom presentations. As activists and organizations respond to one another over time, their interactions may come to incorporate both coercive pressures and cooperative dimensions. Organizations and wider fields and markets can also be more indirectly influenced by activism, as organizational decision makers observe and respond to activist-induced changes taking place in their environments. For example, activists sometimes effect change in a small set of influential organizations, which then helps convince the wider field to follow suit. Overall, research at the nexus of social movements and organization studies has benefited from foundational work in sociology and political science that highlights the role of collective action in empowering social movements. Below, after discussing seminal works, reading suggestions are organized along two dimensions: (a) Outcomes of Social Movements and (b) activist behavior and social movement processes. Of course, many works contribute along both dimensions, but are only listed once for brevity.

Seminal Works & Reviews

While the general study of social movements began earlier, research in the 1960s and 1970s was marked by an increasing recognition of theoretical linkages between social movements and organization theory. This development also reflected a renaissance period for organization theory itself, as new theories were being developed and applied to a range of organizational phenomena. Still for the most part research on social movements during this period tended to focus on the processes through which the movements themselves grew and transformed in society and how they influenced government policymaking, rather than how they influenced market-based organizations or other types of organizational fields or populations. Beginning around the mid-1990s, scholars from inside organization studies began actively and explicitly applying social movement theory and concepts to the study of organizations more broadly. Hence this bibliography includes key readings from both outside and within organization studies, as well as several complementary review pieces, to provide a background for current scholarship in this area.

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