Evolution of Social Movements: Old vs. New in Societal Dynamics


Social movements, focusing on specific political or social issues, encompass various types, with Old Social Movements (OSMs) and New Social Movements (NSMs) standing out due to shared similarities and distinct differences. Delving deeper into their characteristics, influences, and impacts on society reveals a complex interplay between historical and contemporary forces shaping the landscape of activism.

Old Social Movements (OSMs)

Bagguley's analysis emphasizes that OSMs are primarily influenced by class and economic factors, often embodied by entities like Trade Unions such as NASUWT and NUT in the UK.

These movements find their social base predominantly among the working or lower-middle class, reflecting historical struggles for workers' rights and economic justice. Notably, OSMs are considered insider groups, enjoying connections with those in influential positions, exemplified by Trade Unions' links to Labour politics through TULO (The Trade Union & Labour Party Liaison Organisation).

New Social Movements (NSMs)

As Hallsworth characterizes NSMs as entities challenging the established political and cultural order, it becomes evident that these movements address contemporary issues that have arisen in Western society since the 60s.

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Themes such as feminism, environmentalism, gay rights, and anti-racist groups become central to the agenda of NSMs. Moreover, NSMs attract individuals from diverse social classes, emphasizing inclusivity and the recognition of intersecting identities. The global appeal of NSMs transcends not only social class but race and nationality too. For example, events like LGBT parades and protests happen across the world, showcasing the ability of these movements to unite people globally in the pursuit of shared goals.

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Case Example: The IRA

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) serves as an extreme example of an outsider group within the context of social movements. While the IRA seeks a united Ireland, the organization has been labeled illegitimate by the British government due to its adoption of violent methods, deemed unacceptable in a democratic society. This case underlines the complex nature of outsider groups and the challenges they face in gaining legitimacy. It also highlights the dynamic nature of the status of such groups, as seen in the transformation of environmental NSMs from outsider groups in the 70s to influential advisers sought by political parties today.

Shared Similarities Between NSMs and OSMs

Despite their differences, NSMs and OSMs share common ground in their fundamental aim: to unite people with shared goals and interests. The methods employed by these movements to achieve their objectives often align. Teachers Unions, such as NASUWT and NUT, have staged several strikes over the last few years due to issues with teacher’s pensions, pay, and working conditions. Their tactics are characterized by peaceful and civil strategies, with the exception of a few extreme cases. This commonality in approach underscores the interconnectedness of various social movements and their collective efforts to bring about positive change.

Differences Between Social Movements

Examining the differences between NSMs and OSMs reveals nuanced variations in their social bases, influence on those in power, and global appeal. The social base of OSMs rooted in class and economic factors contrasts with the more inclusive social base of NSMs, reflecting a broader spectrum of concerns. The ability to influence those in power distinguishes OSMs as insider groups, often holding sway over decision-makers. In contrast, NSMs are considered outsider groups, with limited access to influential individuals. The global appeal of NSMs further differentiates them, allowing them to transcend national boundaries and unite people on a global scale. However, pinpointing exact differences can be challenging due to shifts in public and political opinion over time, highlighting the fluid and evolving nature of social movements.


In conclusion, the exploration of Old and New Social Movements unveils a complex tapestry of activism shaped by historical legacies and contemporary challenges. The nuanced differences in their social bases, influence on those in power, and global appeal contribute to the unique nature of each movement. Despite these distinctions, both NSMs and OSMs share a fundamental goal: to unite people and bring about societal change that promotes increased equality. As society continues to evolve, social movements will likely adapt and redefine themselves, shaping the discourse on political and social issues for generations to come.

Updated: Jan 02, 2024
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Evolution of Social Movements: Old vs. New in Societal Dynamics. (2017, Feb 09). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/describe-and-explain-variations-between-new-and-old-social-movements-essay

Evolution of Social Movements: Old vs. New in Societal Dynamics essay
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