Resource Mobilization Theory

Understanding Resource Mobilization Theory

Smelser’s value-added theory Opens in new window tends to underemphasize the importance of resources in social movements. By contrast, resource mobilization theory focuses on the ability of members of a social movement Opens in new window to acquire resources and mobilize people in order to advance their cause (Oberschall, 1973; McCarthy & Zald, 1977).

Resources include money, people’s time and skills, access to the media, and material goods such as property and equipment. Assistance from outsiders is essential for social movements. For example, reform movements are more likely to succeed when they gain the support of political and economic elites (Oberschall, 1973).

Resource mobilization theory is based on the assumption that participants in social movements are rational people. According to the social scientist Charles TIlly (1973, 1978), movements are formed and dissolved, mobilized and deactivated, based on rational decisions about the goals of the group, available resources and the cost of mobilization and collective action.

Resource mobilization theory also assumes that participants must have some degree of economic and political resources to make the movement a success. In other words, widespread discontent alone cannot produce a social movement; adequate resources and motivated people are essential to any concerted social action (Aminzade, 1973; Gamson, 1990).

Based on an analysis of fifty-three U.S. social protest groups (ranging from labor unions to peace movements) between 1800 and 1945, the sociologist William Gamson (1990) concluded that the organization and tactics of a movement strongly influence its chances of success. However, critics note that this theory fails to account for social changes brought about by groups with limited resources.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, scholars continue to modify resource mobilization theory and to develop new approaches for investigating the diversity of movements. For example, emerging perspectives based on resource mobilization theory emphasize the ideology and legitimacy of movements as well as material resources (Zald & McCarthy, 1987).

Additional perspectives are also needed on social movements in other nations to determine how activists in those countries acquire resources and mobilize people to advance causes such as environmental protection.