Maryna Sakalova. On the methological approaches to historical studying of social movements

The study of social movements has always been an important subject of historical research. Meanwhile historians rarely gave substantive definitions of social movements and preferred to define it through enumeration of related phenomena. The notion of social movement emerged in the 18th century and was first used by Sen–Simount (1760—1825) to characterize protest movements of his time. Later on the notion was theorized and introduced into social sciences discourse by L.Stein (1815—1890), K. Marx (1815—1883) and M. Weber (1864—1920). In the framework of Marxist theory the notion of social movement has lost its importance and has been eliminated by class struggle — political movement paradigm. This approach dominated and in many cases still dominates in the historical studies of social movements. As a result the notion of social movement included political parties activities, class struggle and cultural and literature movements. In some cases social movement was defined as a system of political parties which expressed economical political and cultural interest of social classes.

In the end of the 1980ies historians tried to theorize the history of social movements in terms of modern political science theories. Social movements have been thought of as organized collective efforts by relatively powerless groups of people who use extra institutional means to promote or resist change in society. The sociology of social movements includes, among other things, the study of the conditions under which movements arise (and decline), the reasons for people’s involvement in them, the strategies and tactics pursued by social movement organizations (and their opponents), and the impact they have on society. Because social movements emerged in the eighteenth century, exist in many societies, and encompass a variety of political perspectives, the number and types of social movements is vast and in this situation classification, categorization and periodisation of social movements have become an urgent need for historical science. Thus historians may use movement typologies based on amount of change (associated with Neil Smelser) and on amount of change and level of change (associated with David Aberle).

Along with this more or less traditional taxonomies there are other alternatives, i.e. analysis of social movements by levels (individuals (micro-level)), social movement organizations — SMO (meso–level), social movement industry — SMI (meso–level), political opportunity structure (factors external to the movements — macro–level); by temporal issues (antecendents, emer­gence, peak mobilization, decline and abeyance).

The article describes in what way mentioned above and other classi­fication schemes based on various theoretical approaches can be used for the analysis of the history of social movements in Imperial Russia (and Belarus as a part of it).