Factionalism, Social Movement Structure & Social Change

Wednesday June 13th, 2007, by Muhammed Asadi

An urban area has certain characteristic features that shape the structure and determine the success or failure of a social movement. Whereas a city provides a “critical mass” for mobilization of people and resources, the heterogeneity of a city fractures collective identity so consensus on broad issues is difficult to achieve and maintain, success is therefore limited (even though greater resources are available).

The birth (first structure) of social movements usually occurs in a community that sympathizes with some common cause. In a city, the community is heterogeneous in terms of people and causes; nevertheless it is conducive of generating a “critical mass”. In the second structural level, the social movement gets formed when a subset of sympathizers are organized into agents that identify and publicly support the movement (Stoecker, 1995). This leads to the third structural level, the Social Movement Organization. The difference between the social movement and the social movement organization is the formal nature of the latter with a firm commitment of its members to implement the movement’s goals. The final structural level is the individual agent who brings with him an “individual identity frame” operating within the movement’s “collective identity” (Stoecker, 1995).

At the organization level, the movement might choose between bureaucracy, with set rules and hierarchy or non-bureaucracy with “process” rather than rigid rules of operation. It can also choose between centralization and decentralization (Gamson, 1975). Where the structure adopted is bureaucratic, organizational theory tells us that the individual is sacrificed for the goals of the organization. Thus we would expect to find “internal strife.” Gamson confirms a greater incidence of “factionalism” in bureaucratic movements (Gamson 1975:107). Since bureaucracy is the “system” of the antagonizer that is adopted by the movement, it leads to factionalism due to “individual frame/collective frame” non congruence (Gamson 1975:94). It should therefore be looked upon as a tool of the elite, to be avoided by social movements in the design of the Social Movement Organization. Another structural aspect that can determine whether or not “collective consensus” is achieved is whether the “ideology” of the movement is inclusive or exclusive. If the ideology is changed to where it is loose and accommodating of the “enemy” (i.e. “inclusive”) then membership might grow but the original goal is lost and strife and fragmentation increases. When Paul “Romanized” Christianity by bringing into it concepts of “man-god”, “son of God” and “Trinity”etc., membership into the “new” Christianity increased but it lost the radical “non-elite” reform goal that Jesus envisioned. Not only did membership increase but internal strife and factionalism increased as well. This is exactly what Social Movement Theory would predict happening with an “inclusive” ideological shift (Stoecker, 1995). Something similar happened to Islam, two hundred years after Muhammad’s death. Hadith and other literature were deceitfully introduced as competing canons [to boost numbers by making doctrine “inclusive”, every group legitimized its desires by incorporating them into the every swelling cornucopia of Hadith] against the “exclusiveness” of the Koran, which resulted in fragmentation and strife, injustice and the replacement of the original goal of universal justice with imperial designs.

“(Humankind were one community) and they divided not until after the knowledge came to them, through selfish rivalry among themselves, (each group rejoicing in their own way)”Koran (2:213), 42:14, (30:32)

A common equity based ideology is critical for generating a “broad based” collective identity that seeks “transformative” social justice. It is only under such an ideology that individual and collective “identity frames” can be brought into synchrony to reduce the “potential for identity disputes” (Stoecker, 1975). Without a common “justice based” ideology, “narrow issue frames” (Stoecker, 1995) would result in a movement that at best achieves “redistributive” goals (Stoecker, 1995) and disintegrates before any meaningful socio-structural change. As a result, without a change in ideology, all calls for “broad based coalitions” like Wilson’s Bridge Over the Racial Divide (2000), that he suggests for solving race based problems in the U.S, are bound to fail, like the IMF, UN and World Bank have failed in achieving “transformative change”- change that rights the wrongs of advanced Capitalism’s racial/development stratification in the world.

Unfortunately in cities, due to diversity, stimulation overload and the unequal distribution of “persuasion” resources, resources that heavily favor the elite, ideologies converge towards what is generated by these elite. The elite not only “create” culture by persuasion, they directly create it by the use and design of “space”. It is not in the interest of the elite to promote “transformative” change, so a “quasi-pious” ideology is generated and vigorously promoted that preserves the status quo and targets narrow goal achievement at best (i.e. a “consensus” rather than a “conflict” movement, see Stoecker, 1975). Thus the elite work towards involuntary or institutional factionalism (Koran 28:4) for their goal attainment; they achieve this through privatized solutions that inevitably divide people against their neighbors facing similar problems. A universal criterion that can be applied to recognize elitist ideology is that it would be based not on equity but on the criterion of “superior/inferior” and some form of status hierarchy.

As a result of this “ideology of superiority”, people’s “individual identity frame” can be easily manipulated. The only way to guard against this “deceitful” incursion is if and only if the “collective identity frame” converges “exclusively” towards equity (equality based on justice). Thus there should be complete identity convergence, where a lack of affirmation is considered “individual” moral failure. Any movement based on an alternative ideology, due to its nature (based on superior/subordinate or hierarchy), contains within it the seeds of “internal division” (via selfish desires) which results in factionalism and imminent self-destruction. The history of all human conflict and injustice is the history of “individual selfish desire” leading to factionalism (Koran 6:65) based on an ideology of superiority. Without an ideological shift even the oppressed workers when they get a chance become oppressors (similar to what Michels’Iron Law of Oligarchy suggests).

1. Stoecker, Randy. 1995. Community, Movement, Organization: The Problem of Identity Convergence in Collective Action. Sociological Quarterly.
2. Gamson, William. The Strategy of Social Protest. Dorsey Press. 1975
3. Koran: Translation from the Arabic.

Muhammed Asadi can be reached at masadi@aol.com


1 Response to “Factionalism, Social Movement Structure & Social Change”

  1. May 11, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Great post! I read your other posts as well and I subscribed to your RSS Feed!


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