Social Action

By: Gabriela Degen De La Cruz


The more I read on Social Justice, the more there is to say. After much thought and reflection, I can’t help but think of how social justice movements in western societies have changed throughout time. It is clear that these movements emerge as a form of collective action in response to situations of inequality, oppression and/or unmet social, political, economic or cultural demands. Some of the most world renowned social justice movements are the Women’s Suffrage movements in the late 1800s and early 1900s in England, the nonviolent civil rights movement in the U.S. in the 1950s and early 1960s, and the resistance against the apartheid state in South Africa, also in the 1950s, among other historical social movements around the world.

Even if we scan the news and observe media reports of current and recent social movements like Black Lives Matter, Anti-Islamophobia Movements and its counter movements, #MeToo, or Anti-Human Trafficking, we see individuals coming together and forming a collective action.

The frequently referenced, Cultural Anthropologist David F. Aberle in 1966 described four types of social movements based on who a movement is trying to change and how much change a movement is advocating, Aberle identified four types of social movements: redemptive, reformative, revolutionary and alternative. Depending on how much change the movement advocated for it could either more limited or more radical in this context, and whether the movement is seeking to target a specific individual, or a larger group or an institutional system.

Without wanting to get too technical and turn this into a theoretical debate, it is obvious that different social justice movements take on different forms in different contexts. However, the common denominator in all these movements, helps us understand that social justice is about taking action and making a difference in how we experience life. Whether it’s being part of a big organised group with a global reach, or within your local community context, social justice movements calls for collective action for an intended change. Whether the intended change take shape is a different topic of conversation.

Now, before I passionately continue on writing, the voice of my well versed father chims in. His response, like many other scholars before him, would argue that while some individuals are actively and proactively participating in social justice movements, there are those who could be merely by-standards uninvolved or bothered by a commotion let's say, and/or who choose not to get involved. In fact, their decision to not be informed and/or get involved is contributing to the movement. And they could have valid reasons for choosing not to get involved. So then, maybe the opposite of social justice is not injustice, but ignoring the issue and keeping silent.

With what we have just mentioned, this leaves me thinking even more. If social justice is not just about taking action (or not) then there must be something more. In thought, my mind races through past discussions, lectures and seminars, and for some reason or another, my thoughts revolve around “social responsibility”.

While social responsibility is most commonly used in the context of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the framework could also be used for individuals, although it’s not as widely talked about. It can be argued that as citizens we have an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large. But even the slight mention of this thought can raise a flurry of questions and counter arguments that would take us back to a complex political discussion, which I won’t go into anymore.

But if we were to take a step back. If social justice is in the form of treating others with dignity and respect, as discussed in the previous post, then couldn’t that be seen as our collective, ie. social, responsibility?


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Crystal Russell