The University of Newcastle, Australia
Not currently offered
Course code



10 units


3000 level

Course handbook


This course explores the ways through which social movements (SMs), especially solidarity networks, community activist groups, and non-state actors such as pressure groups, lobbyists, and social advocacies may influence social change; while these actors are themselves conditioned or influenced by existing social conditions. Although the course focuses on the context of Australian society, it will also provide a broader and comparative perspective by looking at the international context. A significant range of social movements and advocacy groups/networks will be studied including the women's movements, environmentalist, lesbian and gay, indigenous rights, welfare activism, the anti-capitalist and global justice, and the human/civil rights movement etc.


Not currently offered.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the course students will be able to:

1. Critically evaluate various approaches to theorising social movements, civil society, and community activism;

2. Examine the history and ideologies of a range of influential Australian and transnational social movements;

3. Assess the practical and intellectual dilemmas of various social movement through analysing their ideas, goals, strategies, experiences, and tactics;

4. Analyse the influence that social movements have had on major social changes and processes;

5. Develop and justify an informed opinion about the legitimacy, or otherwise, of social movements as non-state actors;

6. Develop an appreciation of the complexity and disorder that characterises social movements studies;

7. Develop independent thought and rigorous research in the area of social movement studies


The courses will explore concepts such as frames, ideologies, opportunities and constraints, institutionalisation and networks within a framework of social movement theory. It asks whether social movements and community/civil activists can still be considered as legitimate actors in shaping the future and whether they can influence the ways through which we can deal with major problems.
The course is structured around a number of major practical and ideological dilemmas that social movements usually face in dealing with political and social issues and changes. Social activism and civil societies can be analysed in terms of their implicit or explicit orientations towards a number of common paradoxes such as: reforming the pre-established institutions vs. creating new institutions, focusing on rights vs. stressing responsibilities, defining secularist causes vs. spiritualist causes, acting/thinking locally vs. acting/thinking globally, adopting violence vs. non-violence strategies, and advocating redistributionist justice vs. recognitionist justice. The course introduces these axes of intellectual-practical controversies which are common between social movements and civil societal actors. It aims to question our general assumptions and raise as many as questions as it answers. Topics are likely to include:

  1. Introduction: Social Movements as architectures of social change, key concepts: Social Movements, civil society, collective action, a short global and Australian history of activism;
  2. Theories of Social movements and civil society: American approach vs. European approach? theoretical approaches to the study of social movements and collective actions; culture, ideology, structure, identity and agency;
  3. Civil society and activism: common paradoxes? Today's major challenges of civil societal community activism;
  4. Activism and political change: reform vs. revolution? Labour & Green Pragmatism, Unionism and Socialism;
  5. Activism and welfare: market vs. polis, individual vs. communal? Cases of Anti-capitalist/Anti-Neoliberal oppositions;
  6. Activism and democracy: liberty vs. security? Anti-War, Anti-nuclear and Peace movements;
  7. Activism and environment: social vs. ecological? Case of Environmental Justice Movement;
  8. Activism and Justice: redistribution vs. recognition? Cases of Feminist movements;
  9. Activism and faith: secular vs. sacred? Cases of Islamist Movements and Muslim Diaspora in the West; Christian Fundamentalism;
  10. Activism and the Otherness: rights vs. responsibility? Human/Civil Rights and Aboriginal Movements; Refugee support movement in Australia, homosexual movements;
  11. Activism and Territoriality: global vs. local? Beyond Practical Dilemmas and Conceptual Reductionism;

Assumed knowledge

40 units of study at 1000 level.

Assessment items

Written Assignment: Two or more written assignments