The hope of a social movement is to direct society and its ruling factions into a productive direction that will right wrongs and allow justice to prevail. In this essay, I will explain the most surprising aspects of social transformation I learned, what information challenged opinions I had before I took the course and what I would like to research further, how I can apply concepts about social movements to my own life, and what role I would take in a social movement I feel passionately about.
When I took this course, I thought that I knew a lot about social movements already, knowing the struggle my homeland of Palestine has endured for the last several decades and most of its history, so I found it surprising that I have a lot to learn about social movements and societal transformations. When we read “The Four Stages of Social Movements” (Christiansen 2-3), I was surprised that people all over the world devote their waking hours to the study of social movements and transformation. We learned that the four stages are “Emergence,” “Coalescence,” “Bureaucratization,” and “Decline.” What caught my interest were the reasons for the decline, which included success and integration of the social concerns into governance, but I was also drawn to the reasons for failure, which seemed to center upon a lack of organization (Christiansen 4). This seemed to make sense for me, especially in the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 where Palestinians failed to make their voices known due to a lack of organization (Tartir 471). I was surprised how applicable the theory was in the case of the 2011 uprisings, but I was pleased to learn the materials.
The content of the course that challenged my perspectives that I had prior to taking it was Rhys Williams’s explanation of social movements in terms of culture. Williams approached social movement and transformation from a “framing” perspective, but one thing struck me about the content that I found odd, especially from my perspective as a Palestinian: “[F]or a frame to go from understanding to motivating action it must have three elements, ‘injustice,’ ‘agency,’ and ‘identity.’ These provide a useful understanding of the problems and dilemmas confronting activists and organizers, and the ways in which grievances develop to foster social action.” The reason why I found this statement odd was because I feel that the Palestinian people have endured injustice and have a national identity that should be recognized the world over, but agency was an interesting point in this aspect. Since the British occupation, I believe Palestinians need to learn to be an independent nation, but we have not had the agency to facilitate the success of Palestine to establish itself as such. This content gave me another way of understanding my nation’s history and challenged my prior knowledge. It added depth and dimension to my previous knowledge. This aspect interests me greatly and motivates me to dig deeper into how to improve agency for Palestine.
I think it is safe to say that I have a personal connection and motivation to the course materials; I see myself applying concepts about societal organization and social movements in my personal life to help Palestine gain more independence in the future. I believe that many aspects of the course materials will help me understand how to apply the aspects of social movements. My aim is to apply these concepts in a nonviolent way. The violence between Israel and Palestine have only served to hurt all involved. My interest is in helping Palestine gain independence, but we need to concentrate on finding ways to improve the infrastructure for my society. I believe that the good of the people should be the common focus. The conflict with Israel has severely limited the prosperity of Palestine. It is difficult to do commerce in my country because of the limitations on transportation. Palestine needs a stronger government that will work to improve the lives of its citizens. Presently, Palestine is as much dependent on Israel as it is at war with it. These conditions must be improved for improved outcome of its society. It is difficult to motivate a society where work is not constant and unemployment is high, especially along the Gaza strip. It is difficult to feel like a social movement can be successful when most people are worried about eating. However, I will take into account Tartir’s concepts of resistance economy as a possible way to help my country. “It is a model that challenges the repressive authorities and faces the multiple layers of oppression in order to reverse the cycles of de-development and fulfill economic rights in an ultimate expression of self-determination” (472). This would give Palestine more resources to establish our independence, I believe, and is also something I will study more in order to become an effective agent for social change.
I also believe that it is evident from the pieces I have shared about Palestine that I am interested in social movements as a vehicle to create social change and transformation for Palestine and that I am passionate about the subject. I do not envision myself heading an army or becoming head of state, but I do envision myself becoming part of change that can be implemented once peace is established. War has brought nothing but destruction for Palestine, so I do hope for peace so we can begin creating an environment of peace that will help the prosperity of both nations. I see myself becoming part of the rebuilding of national pride and a safe environment for all Palestinians to partake in and enjoy prosperity and safety. As Williams stated, “The institutional context is a powerful shaping force” (98). I believe this piece is a part of Palestine’s unsuccessful efforts to gain independence and maintain itself economically. Our institutional force is not a powerful one. I am inspired, because in Saudi Arabia, the leader there is a young one, and he ended governmental corruption, many of the offenders in his own family. He locked them up in a hotel and brought them all down. Conditions have improved substantially since then in the country. While Palestine’s situation is different, it shows what strong national leaders can do to improve the livelihoods of an entire nation. I do not have a strong vision of my future yet, but I am hoping that I will be able to produce effective change in my country and become as big of a part of it as I am able.
In this essay, I applied the course materials to explain the most surprising aspects of social transformation I learned, what information challenged opinions I had before I took the course and what I would like to research further, how I can apply concepts about social movements to my own life, and what role I would take in a social movement I feel passionately about. This course has helped me increase my awareness of the societal factors that could contribute to social movements that strive to create better living conditions for everyone in societies around the world. Sometimes, these conditions are due to violations in human rights, and at other times, there is a desire to improve existing conditions to make life better for all quadrants of society. In the case of my homeland of Palestine, I believe that the course materials have helped me understand why my country has not been able to become effective in their social movements, which really should be to improve the economic conditions and independence of the country while decreasing the violence. I will be using this course knowledge so that I can become an effective advocate for social change for Palestine and contribute to continuing the social movements that are productive in order to produce meaningful results.
Christiansen, Jonathan. “Four Stages of Social Movements.” EBSCO Publishing Inc., 2009, https://www.ebscohost.com/uploads/imported/thisTopic-dbTopic-1248.pdf, pp. 1-7.
Tartir, Ala’a. "Contentious Economics in Occupied Palestine." Contentious Politics in the Middle East: Popular Resistance and Marginalized Activism Beyond the Arab Uprisings, edited by Fawaz A. Gerges, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp. 469-501.
Williams, Rhys H. "The Cultural Contexts of Collective Action: Constraints, Opportunities, and the Symbolic Life of Social Movements." The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements, edited by David A. Snow, Sarah A. Soule, and Hanspeter Kriesi, Blackwell Publishing, 2004, pp. 91-115.