Meaning of Social Movements

In sociological language, social movements are defined as collective actions practiced by groups in society, with the purpose of modifying or preserving certain cultural, economic and political aspects or even transforming the whole of socio-political reality.

In general, social movements express some socio-political dissatisfaction or specific characteristics of their organization, articulating segments of society in claiming guidelines that aspire to the realization of change or social, economic, political and cultural permanence, considered necessary and fair.


The first broader manifestations of social movements in industrial societies, announced at the end of the 18th century and consolidated throughout the 19th century, are practiced by salaried workers, especially by workers in capitalist factories, who react to the precariousness of their working conditions and of life.

Subjected to strenuous working hours, demeaning wages and poor material conditions of existence, many workers engage in mobilizations containing a diverse repertoire of demands.

Critical proposals for the exploitation of man by man reached a projection hitherto unthinkable. The egalitarianism in material terms gained an unusual scope with socialist proposals of association between capital and work (“ utopian ”) and confrontation between worker and entrepreneur (“ scientific ”), in addition to propositions related to an anarchic alternative society. Such proposals, little by little, gained the sympathy of workers who adhered to forms of action, giving “body” to the social movement. To think of one of the pillars of sociological thought, Karl Marx , is to place it in this historical context.

New social movements

Social movements have diversified both in their social compositions and in their thematic universe, throughout the 20th century. In this sense, the correlation of forces between different social groups is modified and the challenges to situations considered unfair are multiplied.

These new social movements , with their thematic diversification by cultural, ethnic, feminist, sexual and ecological issues , among others, broke out and spread mainly from the 1960s.

These movements inaugurate forms of mobilization that are different, at least in part, from the traditional social movements of workers, conventionally structured in the union dimension.

Social movements in Brazil

In Brazil , social movements were and continue to be strong, manifesting themselves both in the countryside and in the cities.

In the field, the land issue remains current and controversial. In the 1950s until 1964, the Peasant Leagues were active, who preached agrarian reform “in law or by force”. At the end of the 1970s, the MST (Movement of the Landless) began in the south of the country, which, through widespread mobilization and awareness, mainly through the invasion of rural properties and public offices, fights for agrarian reform. .

The student movement, the feminist movement and the black movement are other examples of social movements of great importance in contemporary Brazilian history. The Brazilian government’s affirmative policies (affirmative actions), starting in 2003, reflect part of the achievements of these movements.

Social Movements