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Power, State and Social Movements

SO2350 Power, State and Social Movements (10 ECTS credits)


Dr David Landy Dr Niall Gilmartin

Module Content/Outline:

Part I of the module focuses on social movements, seeking to understand what social movements are, how they work and what effects they have. The course looks at a variety of social movements in Ireland and beyond and explores them using theory and practical reflection on the movements. We ask what distinguishes social movements from mere protest groups. We study how social movements work and what they achieve. We also look at why people get involved and stay involved in movements dedicated to social change. There is a strong practical element to the course, with visiting speakers from social movements in Ireland discussing their own movement activities.

Part II of this course introduces students to sociological understandings of power and the state. We approach this task by questioning the orthodoxy that the modern state – liberal, democratic, national, market-oriented – that emerged in Europe since the 16th Century is the ‘telos‘ (end-point) to which all humanity might aspire. This questioning is prompted by the manner in which the modern state and its institutions have been exported and imposed on the rest of the world as a result of colonization, and decolonization and, more recently, in the name of conflict resolution and good governance (also known as the liberal peace project). In doing so, the module critically explores issues such as state power; race, gender and state; liberal interventionism in deeply divided societies; state violence and legitimacy; and forms of resistance.

Learning Objectives:

On successful completion of this module, you will be able to:

  • Discuss key theoretical questions relating to social movements and a ‘politics from below’: framing, recruitment, mobilisation, institutionalisation, and identity in movements;
  • Apply this theoretical understanding to the practices of social movements in Ireland and elsewhere;
  • Assess both conventional understandings of power and the state and their critique
  • Understand something of the relationship between the rise of the modern state and the emergence of the social sciences;
  • Reflect on the contingency of your own location;
  • Discuss the relationship between the state, power, violence and racism;
  • Assess some of the difficulties involved in resistance.


Lectures &Tutorials/ Contact hours:

Two lectures and one tutorial per week

Workload: Lectures: 22 hrs; Tutorials: 22 hrs; Exams/assignments: 80 hrs; Self-study: 126 hrs. Total: 250 hours.

Recommended Texts/ Key Reading:

  • Alinsky, S. (1971) Rules for Radicals New York: Vintage Books.
  • Inda J. X. (ed) (2005) Anthropologies of modernity: Foucault, governmentality and life politics, Blackwell.
  • Goldberg, T. (2002) The Racial State, Blackwell. Alinsky, S. (1971) Rules for Radicals New York: Vintage Books.
  • Crossley, N. (2002) Making Sense of Social Movements. Buckingham: Open University Press.
  • Snow, D. Soule, S. and Kriesi, H. (eds) (2007) The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Connolly, L. and Hourigan, N. (eds) (2007) Social Movements and Ireland. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Gledhill, J. (2000) Power and its disguises anthropological perspectives on politics, Pluto.


Part I: Coursework (50%)
Part II: Examination (50%)

Attendance at tutorials is compulsory. Failure to attend at least half of the tutorials will automatically result in a 10% (one full grade) deduction from the overall module grade.

Penalties for late submission: Without an authorised extension, the mark given will be lowered by one grade

Examination: 1 x 3-hour end-of-year examination