Social Work and Social Action

Course Number:      SWOA 735
Semester:        Spring 2003
Instructor:       Megan Meyer, Ph.D.
Office Hours:        Wednesdays 10-12, Fridays 12-2, or by appointment
Contact Info:       Room 3W16, (410)706-5635,


This course will examine theories of social action and the methods and processes used by challenging groups to bring about social change. Close attention will be paid to the causes and crystallizations of protest; the genesis, growth and sustenance of social movements; strategies and tactics to achieve social goals; and the institutionalization of social change.

Where appropriate, current and historical examples of major social movements will be studied in terms of their theoretical foundations or operational mechanisms. Different models of social action will be examined. Attention will be paid to the needed skills to bring about social change. Students will engage in class projects in order to experience macro level social change interventions.



  1. To assess the variety of social action methods used to bring about social change.
  2. To assess the historical roles played by various social movements and the role of organizers in creating and sustaining collective action.
  3. To assess the theoretical and interdisciplinary foundations of the broad movements for social reform and social change in the United States.
  4. To assess the differential experiences of social movements which stem from their focus upon the issues of race, sex, social class, age, sexual preference, ability, religion or power.


  1. To analyze a social movement regarding its organizational structure, decision-making processes, goals, underlying ideology, strategy and tactics.
  2. To work with existing social movement organizations in cooperative efforts to improve existing social services or bring about broader social change and to perform as part of a multi-disciplinary team engaged in social reform with clarity on what social work brings to the intervention.
  3. o employ a repertoire of skills such as lobbying, testifying, public speaking, advocacy, and coalition building. Make appropriate decisions on when to seek out the skill of others or do litigation or investigation.
  4. To apply critical consciousness to both academic and practice situations and to engage in ongoing reflection on one's practice.


  1. To respect different approaches to learning and practice situations
  2. To develop a heightened sense of self-awareness regarding one's own style of learning and responding to practice situations.
  3. To be confident as a social change agent in a variety of settings.


Classes will be divided between reflection on the readings and action on class projects. Classes will include information sharing, small and large group discussion and action planning, role playing, experiential exercises, films, and field trips. All students are expected to be very active participants and learners in the classroom setting.


Assigned articles.

Moyer, B., McAllister, J., Finley, M., and Soifer, S.  (2001). Doing democracy: The MAP Model for organizing social movements.GabriolaIsland, B.C.: New Society Publishers.

Thoreau, H. D.  (1970).  Civil disobedience.  New York: Washington Square Press.

Prokosch, M. and Raymond, L. (2002). The Global Activitst’s Manual: Local Ways to Change the World.  New York: ThunderMountain Press

Florini, A. (2000). The Third Force: The Rise of Transnational Civil Society. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


Reading Critiques and Class Facilitation      15% (5% each)
Social Movement Paper      35%
Social Action Project      15% (meeting facilitation 5%, action steps 10%)
Final Reflection Paper       35%



1.  Reading Critiques

(Sign-up session 1)

For three sessions, I want a thoughtful critique of and reaction to the assigned readings (1-2 pages double-spaced). State the authors’ major theses, your critique, implications for the class project(s), and 2-3 questions for class discussion, which you will help facilitate.  These will be due on Blackboard by the Wednesday (midnight) prior to the class in which they will be discussed (this will give the professor and other class members time to review the responses before class).

Everyone must complete class readings and be prepared to actively engage in class discussions.  Because of the emphasis on class discussion, it is essential for everyone to do their part.  If you cannot attend class, please notify me.

2. Social Action Project

(Project choice second/third session. Meeting facilitation sign-up second session)

During the course of the semester, students will choose a social action project that involves working as a group to address a local, state, or federal issue or problem.  Each student will run one class “meeting” during the semester in order to facilitate group decision-making regarding goals, strategy, and action steps necessary to conduct the social action project. 

Each student will be required to accept responsibility for carrying out action steps identified during meetings and will be held accountable for completing those items by both fellow students and by the professor in her assessment and grading of each student’s participation.  Each student should keep an activity log/journal of his/her activities and contributions to and processing of the social action project during the semester and attach it as an appendix to the final paper. 

3. Social Movement Paper (individual or small group)

(Due session 9)

Write a 10-15 page APA style, properly referenced paper on a social movement of your choice. You are to analyze the movement using Bill Moyer's Movement Action Plan, but also drawing on outside sources. All papers are to be grammatically correct, contain no spelling errors, and have no APA reference errors. Please refer to the APA manual as needed. 

The paper should address the following areas: a) From the perspectives of political opportunity, resource mobilization and framing theories, discuss what political and resource conditions contributed to the rise of the movement and how movement activists framed their grievances; b) Provide a brief discussion of the stages of the movement and what stage it is currently in; c) Discuss some of the innovative tactics used, the challenges and limitations faced, and what the movement achieved; and d) Discuss what can we learn from the movement? Specifically, what is applicable to our class action?

4.   Final Reflection Paper

(Due session 14)

The final paper is a 5-6 page description of what you learned from the social action effort. 

The paper should assess the following: a) the strengths and limitations of the social action project; b) group dynamics, tensions, and conflicts experienced in carrying out the project; c) personal reflections on what knowledge and skills you learned during the semester; and d) how you intend to apply what you have learned to your personal and professional life in the future.  Your activity log should be appended and referred to where appropriate.


UNIT I: Social Action Parameters

1) Jan. 24

Introduction and Course Overview

2) Jan. 31

Thinking globally, acting locally -  Linking local action to global issues

3) Feb. 7

Violence and Nonviolence

4) Feb. 14

The Inside/Outside Dilemma

UNIT II: Social Movement Theories and Analysis

5) Feb. 21

Resource Mobilization and POS

6) Feb. 28

Framing Social Action

7) Mar. 7

Social Movement Stages, Cycles and Success

UNIT III: Social Movement Case Study Analysis

8) Mar 14

Case Study – Civil rights movement

9) Mar. 21

Case study – Women’s movement – Social Movement Paper Due

    Mar. 28

Spring Break – NO CLASS

10) Apr. 4

Case Study – Anti-nuclear movement

11) Apr. 11

Case Study – Gay & Lesbian movement

      Apr. 18

Good Friday – NO CLASS

UNIT IV: Social Work and Social Action

12) Apr. 25

Transnational Civil Society Part I

13) May 2

Transnational Civil Society Part II

14) May 9

Social workers and social action – Final Paper Due

15) May 16

Reflections: Practice knowledge, Evaluation, and Celebration



Session 1.       Introduction and Course Overview

            *Sign up for reading critiques

                        Readings: None

Session 2. Thinking globally, acting locally

            *Sign up for meeting facilitation

Session 3:       Violent and Nonviolent Action

            *Finalize Social Action Project Topic(s)

Session 4:       The Insider/Outsider Dilemma       


Session 5.       The Context of Action: Resource Mobilization and Political Opportunities

Further reading:

Session 6.       Framing, Collective Identity and Social Action

Further reading:

Session 7:       Social Movement Stages, Cycles of Protest, and Success



Session 8:       The Civil Rights Movement

Session 9:       The Women’s Movement

Social Movement Paper Due!  

Session 10:   The Anti-nuclear Energy Movement

Session 11:     The Gay and Lesbian Movement                            


Session 12:     Transnational Civil Society Part I

Session 13:     Transnational Civil Society Part II

Session 14:     Social Workers and Social Action

Final Paper Due!

Session 15:     Reflections: Practice Knowledge, Evaluation, and Celebration

Readings: None