Social Movements have been from the start a central object of the social sciences: how do people behave collectively? How do they coordinate? What are the costs of a mobilization? What are the tools used (gatherings, voice, violence and so on) Who gets involved, and who does not? What triggers a movement, what makes it fail? How are movements remembered and replicated in other settings? 

The first attempts to understand collective behavior developed in the area of crowd psychology, at the beginning of the 20th century: explaining the protesting behavior of the dominated classes was the goal of a rather conservative discourse that aimed to avoid disruptive attitudes. Gustave Lebon's rather pseudo-scientific attempts were a case in point: collective action was identified as a form of panic or of madness. Later on, more sympathetic approaches appeared, since social movements were considered as an excellent illustration of a democratic state. Recently, globalization has brought about new objects of contention but also the internationalization of protests. Mobilizations in the post-socialist countries and the "Arab Springs" are characterized by new forms of claims and new forms of action. For many social scientists, their study demands a new theoretical and methodological equipment.

The field of social movements has been an innovative place for new concepts and new methods: "resource mobilization theory", "repertoire of action" and "eventful sociology" are good examples. Right now, this area of study hosts the most intense, and perhaps the most exciting debates in the social sciences. Ideas are cross-fertilized by the interdisciplinary dialogue between, sociology, psychology, political science and history.

This course has two aims: 1) providing the student with precise accounts of social movements, associating an ethnographic eye with formal reasoning and 2) reassessing the theoretical efforts to come up with a unified view of social movements. The historical and theoretical dimension of the issue will be central, but the active participation of the students will allow to analyze case studies with precision: in some cases, the examples will be brought in by the students. 

We live in a "movement society" as David Meyer and Sidney Tarrow once said. The new social media and the electronic age have changed the ways of association and communication dramatically. The course is also an exercise in democratic thinking.