Chapter 2
In the Books: Theoretical Outlines

2.2 Resource mobilization approach

In fact the resource mobilization approach (RMA) is not a very strict theory. The RMA is based on micro-economic and sociological theories, developed by McCarthy and Zald during the 1960s. [Kitschelt, 1991, p. 325; van Noort, 1988, p. 29] During the second half of the 1970s the RMA became popular in the United States. The RMA is not that clearly defined, but some outlines and basic propositions found by most RMA authors can be given. Kitschelt discusses in his critique on the RMA six basic prepositions of this approach. Not all of these are equally important for mutual relationships of NGOs where we are looking at in the case of East-East cooperation. Below the six propositions of the RMA are given, followed by an explanation which ones are applicable for this research. [Kitschelt, 1991, p. 326-330]

  1. Individuals know what they want to accomplish through collective action.
  2. Individuals are able to calculate cost/benefit ratios of participation in collective action.
  3. Grievances in society are ubiquitous, but social movement entrepreneurs and protest organizations are the catalysts which transform amorphous masses and their demands into concerted and purposive movements. Although social movements are not identical with movement organizations, the latter are the 'backbone' of collective struggles.
  4. Knowledge, money and hours of labor, but also solidarity and legitimacy are the resources that enable movements to build organizations and launch effective struggles to attain their objectives. The way and the extent to which movements acquire these resources form their constituencies shape their activities.
  5. Movements act in contingent 'opportunity structures' that facilitate or dampen their efforts to mobilize, patterns their strategies, and influence their potential success. Because movement participants respond rationally to contingent opportunities, movements are not subject to a rigid international logic of development. Movements neither follow a prescribed 'natural history' of rise and decline nor do they involve 'iron laws' of co-optation and institutionalization in the existing social order.
  6. Resource mobilization theorists employ the notion of 'social movement' in a very broad sense. It covers all activities, or even beliefs and preferences, to change society by collective mobilization. This broad notion of social movements also implies a broad applicability of all propositions that RM approaches develop in concerning the behavior of social movements.

At this stage it might be helpful to have a look at the definitions McCarthy and Zald use in their statement of the RMA. First they define a social movement as a set of opinions and beliefs in a population which represents preferences for changing some elements of the social structure and/or reward distribution of a society. Then a social movement organization is a complex, or formal, organization which identifies its goals with the preferences of a social movement or a counter movement and attempts to implement these goals. Further a social movement industry is made up of all of the social movement organizations with relatively similar goals (just as an economic industry is all firms offering similar products). Finally a social movement sector consists of all social movement industries in a society, no matter to which social movement they are attached. [Zald and McCarthy, 1980, p.2]

For the topic of East-East cooperation among environmental NGOs these definitions show us first that we are dealing with one social movement industry, namely the environmental movement and second that the focus lies on social movement organizations, namely the NGOs. The broad concept of a movement, as Zald and McCarthy define it, is not meant when the term environmental movement is used in this report, so that the last proposition of the RMA mentioned by Kitschelt is set aside for this research. In order to define the term environmental movement as it is used here a little side step to the New Social Movement theory is needed. According to this theory the environmental movement is the whole of environmental organizations and individual environmental activists. Besides that the environmental movement is one of the New Social Movements, which have some characteristics, according to Claus Offe. [Offe, 1983, p. 42]. They are groups of citizens who act in the name of the collectivity (of all people, all woman, all animals, for example), their theme's are the conservation or creation of peace, a clean environment, human rights and not alienated labor. The value of personal autonomy is important and their way of acting is political protest based on negative formulated claims. These characteristics draw the outlines of the potential East-East cooperative environmental NGOs we can find in Central Europe. Summarizing this side step to the New Social Movement theory, we find the following definition of the environmental NGO, namely: Non Governmental Organizations with the socio-political purpose of the creation or protection of a clean environment.

Now we come back to Kischelt's five other propositions of the RMA, in order to find out which propositions are indeed applicable to this research on East-East cooperation among environmental NGOs. The first two propositions of the RMA direct us to the underlying rational actor models of the RMA. Most RMA authors see both the behavior of individuals in movements as well as the strategies of movement organizations as rational. This means in practice that clarity about objectives and strategies of organizations and activists is assumed. For the environmental NGOs where this research focuses on this assumption might be valid.

The fourth proposition of RMA defines and shows the importance of resources for a social movement organization. These resources and how to mobilize them is definitely important for the research population. East-East cooperation demands several resources, so that the questions which resources in particular and how to mobilize them are highly interesting for this research.

The fifth proposition draws back on the surroundings of social movements and social movement organizations. In fact this proposition was not abstracted only from the original RMA statements of Zald and McCarthy. It draws back upon the influence of the political process model of McAdam which gives much more attention to the 'opportunity structures' surrounding social movement organizations. Of course the situation in which the environmental NGOs do their jobs is important for the way they act. In the next paragraph the political process model and the connected 'opportunity structure' will be explained.

A following point of interest are the mutual relations within the social movement sector, this means in our case between the environmental NGOs. According to the RMA both cooperation and competition play a role. [Zald and McCarthy, 1979, p. 242; 1980, p. 2] Cooperation ought to exist in order to bring about commonly shared goals, since all environmental organizations are part of the same social movement industry and share the goal of a clean and healthy environment. But in the same time the RMA highlights the fact that similar organizations, like environmental NGOs, are in competition over the mobilization of resources.

Both cooperation and competition are rational strategies in themselves; it is depending on the situation which one is followed in what situation by a particular environmental organization. An organization might cooperate with some others, ignore other organizations and compete with the next couple of groups. Even within one relationship between NGOs cooperation and competition might exist next to each other. For example cooperation may exist on a local level project, while in the same time competition between these two groups occurs on getting the leadership or funding for a national project. Among East-East cooperative NGOs the situation will not be different. All three strategies, cooperation, competition and ignorance, will occur, depending on mutual relationships within the national and international NGO community, the amount of resources available and the specific topics where upon the groups are focused.

All organizations within one social movement industry share a common market wherein specialization of the individual groups can help them to find their 'niche' in the market. Implicit or explicit domain agreements between environmental NGOs give them their place in society. These domain agreements concern for example the organizations' strategy, the particular issue of interest, the segment of sympathizers or the geographical scale. [Zald and McCarthy, 1979, p. 242]

In a relatively stable social movement industry cooperation will be more likely than in a strongly internal factionalized social movement industry. McCarthy and Zald have the impression that 'the modern environmental movement is far less conflict-ridden than, for instance, the earlier socialist movement'. [Zald and McCarthy, 1979, p. 243] With the latter impression we should keep in mind that it is given in 1979 and refers to the situation in the United States. The mutual relationships of environmental movement organizations in Central Europe by 1996 might be different.

Summarizing the efforts of the resource mobilization approach, it gives us a basis for observing the attitude and behavior of social movement organizations, namely rational behavior is expected. Further this approach shows us the possibilities of interaction of social movement organizations which can be cooperation and/or competition. Then the RMA makes us aware of the high importance of resources for social movement organizations. And finally it defines what these resources are and how we can structure and define a social movement, as it is done, with the help of the New Social Movement theory, for the environmental movement and the term environmental NGO.


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