Social movement theory is a way of understanding how social movements develop, grow, and succeed. It is a multidisciplinary field that draws on sociology, political science, psychology, and other disciplines.

However, the question remains – who created social movement theory? In this article, we will explore the history of this important theoretical framework.

The Early Roots of Social Movement Theory

Social movement theory has its roots in the early 20th century when scholars began to study the labor movement and other collective actions. One of the earliest scholars to focus on social movements was sociologist Robert E. Park. In his book “The Crowd and the Public,” published in 1925, Park argued that social movements were a product of modern society.

The Emergence of Resource Mobilization Theory

In the 1960s and 1970s, a new wave of social movement scholars emerged with the resource mobilization theory. This approach emphasizes how social movements mobilize resources such as money, people, and media attention to achieve their goals. One of the key figures in resource mobilization theory was sociologist Charles Tilly.

The Rise of Political Process Theory

Political process theory emerged in the 1980s as a response to resource mobilization theory. This approach argues that social movements are shaped by political opportunities and constraints within society. Political process theorists emphasize how changes in government policy or public opinion can affect the success or failure of a social movement.

Contemporary Approaches to Social Movement Theory

In recent years, scholars have developed new approaches to understanding social movements. One such approach is framing theory which focuses on how activists frame their message to appeal to different audiences. Another popular approach is identity politics which emphasizes how social movements are shaped by issues of race, gender, sexuality, and other forms of identity.


Social movement theory has come a long way since its early roots in the labor movement. Today, scholars continue to develop new approaches to understanding how social movements work and what factors contribute to their success or failure. By studying social movements, we can learn more about how people come together to effect change and create a better world.