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Last updated 22 Mar 2021
Social movements are large, sometimes informal, groupings of individuals or organisations that focus on specific social or political issues. Their aim is to carry out, resist or undo a social change. They can be categorised with pressure groups in terms of their place in the UK’s democracy, but they are frequently a collection of pressure groups, or individuals from different pressure groups, working together to address an issue.
Two good examples of social movements in the UK are the “Stop the War” coalition and the “Occupy” movement. The former was a collection of pressure groups, politicians and celebrities along with other members of the general public formed initially to protest against the UK’s proposed and then actual involvement in the invasion of Iraq, but has continued to protest against any military action by both the UK and other countries. The latter was formed again from a variety of pressure groups, poilticians, celebrities and members of the public in response to the financial crisis and its aftermath at the end of the first decade of the 21
In general, modern Western social movements are possible through an education population becoming aware of issues, the pluralistic nature of democratic political systems, and the onset of technology and the internet in terms of being able to mobilize people globally at speed. On a few occasions, the ‘Arab Spring’ being an example in Tunisia, a social movement can actually become involved in democratizing a country, but more often they tend to flourish after democratization has taken place, and have become a popular and global expression of dissent in Western democracies in the past two centuries.