Goal expansion among social movement organizations: The case of community-environmental groups

Date of Completion

January 1997


Sociology, Public and Social Welfare|Sociology, Social Structure and Development|Environmental Sciences




This dissertation examines factors that help explain why community-environmental social movement organizations (SMOs) expand or fail to expand their organizational goals beyond single-issue, reactive issues. A review of the literature suggests that a movement-centered model of movement change can better explain goal-expansion than natural-history, resource mobilization and new social movement theories alone. Goal-expansion is examined in terms of networks that SMOs activate, the grievances that members construct, and the socio-economic context of the community where these SMOs develop. A purposive sample of six SMOs in the state of Connecticut is used; two of these are goal-nonexpanding, two expanded in number of issues (watchdogs), and two expanded in direction (proactives).^ Qualitative and quantitative findings suggest that goal-expansion is correlated with (1) having more rather than fewer internal networks (or emergent, intra-SMO networks), and not with having more previous movement networks, as initially proposed. Data suggest that goal-expansion is also correlated with whether activists (2) "own a social problem," (3) whether they lose trust toward authority; and (4) whether they develop an emergent sense of proactivity. Additionally, goal-expanding SMOs are more likely to become incorporated as non-profit organizations. This model suggests the fallacy of determinism afflicting resource mobilization and political process approaches, i.e., their frequent emphasis on external influences. This model also challenges the Weber-Michels model; rather than decay, disband or displace their goals, the organizations labeled "goal-expanding" outlive their issues, evolving into a source of opposition to local political players. ^