American Studies

Michael P Young

Affiliate FacultyPh.D., New York University

Associate Professor
Michael P Young



AMS 321 • Social Movements

30814 • Spring 2012
Meets MWF 1100am-1200pm BUR 212
(also listed as SOC 352)


Protests and social movements are vital to public life.  They are important sources of social change.  They may even be prophetic.  This course explores why people rebel, demonstrate, occupy public spaces, riot, bomb buildings, sign petitions, organize trade unions, demand equal rights, save baby seals, block abortion clinics, and burn draft notices.  In this course, we will ask what are protests and social movements?  Why do people start them and join them?  What are protesters motivated by?  Are they after personal or group rewards?  Do protesters act rationally or emotionally?

We will also ask what triggers protests or movements? What structures or shapes them?  Do they follow regular patterns of development?  What is the relationship between different movements? What affect do protests and movements have on society?  Do they provide valuable insights into society? Do they advance social justice? Do they contribute to our social wellbeing? Or do they lead to disorder and exact costs that outweigh benefits?  Might they foreshadow the future?

We will explore these many questions and look for answers in an historical sociology of collective efforts to change America. This course will track American protests and social movements from the 18th century to the present.  In short, this course surveys the history of American protest and theories trying to explain their emergence, development, and impact.


There will be a midterm examination (40% of grade), a final examination (50%), and a field report on an event of activism or protest.  The two exams will cover material from lectures, readings, and a series of documentaries that will be viewed throughout the semester.  Although there is some overlap among these three components of the course, a thorough familiarity with each will be crucial to the doing well in the two examinations.


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