Differences between Interest Groups and Social Movements

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Interest groups and social movements both owe their existence to collective behavior theories; they are, therefore, similar to that extent. That being said, interest groups and social movements are generally different. Interest groups are more formal and institutionalized, that is, they are often part of the policy-making process. They can, therefore, be thought of as political insiders. Interest groups are not guided by formal rules they are also closer to the power center and use formal avenues of political communication. Social movements, on the other hand, are less formal and less institutionalized. Additionally, social movements are not part of the formal processes. Social movements use protests and mobilization of people as opposed to conventional channels which are a preferred choice of interest groups (Císař, 2013). Snow (2004) on the other hand refers to the two as different types of collectivities. Leech (2001) holds that social movements have a more extensive and populist membership base as opposed to the membership of interest groups which is more narrow and specialized. Additionally, social movements neither resist nor pursue progressive policy changes, but instead look for new areas recognition. They are, therefore, likely to use protests as a tactic (McAllister, Dowrick, & Hassan, 2003)

The scope of the question

The scope of the question is fairly broad because it will not only touch on the various differences between interest groups and social movements but also what those differences mean in different contexts, for example, interest groups and social movements mean slightly different things in different countries. Additionally, the question will also touch on the various theories that help explain these two collectivities.

Is it necessary to narrow the answer?

Narrowing the answer might be necessary particularly with regards to the various theories that help explain the two collectivities because the literature on the theories is very broad and in some cases go off the point to other subjects that are of no relevance to our question.

The theories that the sources reveal

            Jenkins (1983) tries to elucidate the theory of resource mobilization and how it is important in explaining social movements and interest groups. The source also tries to compare this theory with other theories like polity theory, the theory of collective action, strategy theory just to name a few and their attempts at explaining interest groups and social movements.

Theories used

1. Resource mobilization theory

2. Polity theory

3. Strategy theory

4. Theory of collective action and other collective behavior theories

The usefulness of the theoretical perspective

The theoretical perspective is very useful for this question because it helps to organize thoughts and give context to this topic as well as provide an understanding of the subject or the topic from different perspectives. For instance, how political scientists understand or describe interest groups and social movements is slightly different from how other disciplines such as psychology, sociology just to name a few do

How the sources help the answer the question

Císař (2013) helps explain the difference between interest groups and social movements from two perspectives namely, the conceptual perspective and from the perspective of collective behavior theories like resource mobilization theory. McAllister (2003) also attempts to make the distinction between interest groups and social movements but from the Australian context. Leech (2001) helps explain the differences from the point of view of the size of membership. It also helps to expound or elaborate the explanation by McAllister. Snow (2004) attempts to explain the two collectivities from the point of other disciplines, he attempts argues that social movements and interest groups are not far broader than politics. Finally, Jenkins (1993) and Beuchler (2000) elaborate on the various collective behavior theories namely polity theory, resource mobilization theory and other theories.

The information presented

Císař (2013) presents information about what other sources or authors say about the subject. He, for instance, quotes Paul Burstein’s view that there is no theoretical basis for differentiating between interest groups and social movements, that the distinction is strictly nominal. Additionally, this source provides the two collectivities with a historical context, that is, it to tell the history of both social movements and interest groups. Similarly, this source attempts to differentiate the two collectivities on the basis of their ability to access resources. McAllister (2003) on the other hand presents information about the difference between the two collectivities but from an Australian perspective. Snow (2004) and Leech (2001) simply provides information that elaborates the on the information provided by the other two source. Snow (2004), for instance, elaborates more on what interest groups are. Finally, Buechler (2000) and Jenkins (1983) provide information on the various collective behavior theories.

How the information presented will help answer the question

Apart from providing the historical context the sources also provide fairly sufficient information about how other disciplines and how other authors describe the two collectivities this helps to expand and deepen the understanding of the subject. Additionally, the sources help provide the theoretical basis for the subject this helps determine the scope of the question or the subject. In addition, the sources are relevant enough; this will help answer the question as appropriately as possible.

Do these sources lead to other sources?

(Císař, 2013) for instance leads to sources such as Leech (2001), Snow (2004) and many others. These other sources help expound or elaborate on the subject more. So yes the information from these sources lead to other sources.

Why each source was chosen

(Císař, 2013) was chosen because it is not only relevant it also attempts to differentiate the two collectivities from more than one perspective. It is, therefore, a very objective source.

McAllister (2003) was chosen because of its relevance, it elaborates on the subject from the Australian context which is of important interest to this question.

Leech (2001) and Snow (2004) was chosen because it elaborates expounds or elaborates (Císař, 2013)

Beuchler (2000) and Jenkins (1983) were chosen because they explain the various collective behavior theories.

Does each source provide a link to another source?

(Císař, 2013), for instance, provide a link to sources such as Resource mobilization and social movements: A partial theory by McCarthy and Zald (1977), (Beyers et al, 2008) just, (LaVague-Manty, 2006) just to name a few. Leech (2001) and Snow (2004) are part of the links from this source so yes the sources provide links to other sources.

Are the new sources better

Generally, the new sources are complementary, that is, they kind of elaborate the ideas of the original source better. Leech (2001) and Snow (2004), for instance, explains the ideas or the subject discussed in (Císař, 2013) in greater detail.

Are they more informative and clear?

Generally yes because they help expound on the subject discussed by the original source further and they are also fairly more clearly written than the original sources.


Baumgartner, F.R. and Leech, B.L., 2001. Interest niches and policy bandwagons: Patterns of interest group involvement in national politics. The Journal of Politics, 63(4), pp.1191-1213.

Buechler, S.M., 2000. Social movements in advanced capitalism: The political economy and cultural construction of social activism. Oxford University Press on Demand.

Císař, O., 2013. Interest groups and social movements. Encyclopedia of social and political movements, pp.616-620.

Jenkins, J.C., 1983. Resource mobilization theory and the study of social movements. Annual review of sociology, 9(1), pp.527-553.

McAllister, I., Dowrick, S. and Hassan, R. eds., 2003. The Cambridge handbook of social sciences in Australia. Cambridge University Press.

Snow, D.A., 2004. Social movements as challenges to authority: Resistance to an emerging conceptual hegemony. In Authority in contention (pp. 3-25). Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

November 24, 2023
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Theory Interest Groups

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Expertise Interest Groups
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