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Resource Mobilization

According to resource mobilization theory, the acquisition of and access to resources is crucial for social movement organization vitality.  These resources are most commonly financial but also can include less tangible resources, such as expertise, time and social networks. This concept was developed in the 1970s as part of the shift in social movement theory away from the idea that movements were pathologies, instead analyzing social movements through structural and economic lenses. Resource mobilization is first introduced in McCarthy and Zald’s 1973 article, where the authors attempt to identify the source of recent increases in social movement activity. They suggest that expanding leisure time for the middle class was not the cause, but rather increases in occupations and student life resulted in the flexible schedules that facilitated movement participation. In this paper, McCarthy and Zald also introduce the idea of the professional social movement, with paid staff and leaders.  A feature of these professional organizations is that member participation may be in the form of dues, rather than active involvement.  Resource mobilization is more thoroughly developed in a subsequent article (McCarthy and Zald 1977), which is the better-known of the two foundational resource mobilization articles. In the latter article, the basic tenants of resource mobilization are presented and the authors argue that an increase in resources will lead to organizational viability but also to professionalization (such as discussed in the previous paper).  Among the key terms that are introduced in this article is the difference between the adherent – one who believes in a cause — and a constituent — one who supports a cause with resources. They also note that these categories do not necessarily overlap.

Subsequent research has found empirical support for the theory. In one study testing resource mobilization, the authors found that different arrays of resources were more successful than others; also, once organizations acquired resources they were able to attract more resources (Cress and Snow 1996).  Marshall Ganz’s work on the United Farmworkers movement (2000) expands the definition of resources to include a leader’s “strategic capacity”—which includes biography, networks and répertoires—and demonstrates how strategic capacity can overcome a deficit of financial resources.

Given the often close (and, at times, indistinguishable) relationships between religious groups and social movement groups, this resource mobilization can be used to more broadly understand the successes and failures of religious social movements. Furthermore, this concept may be useful in understanding the professionalization trends within religious organizations, including congregations and parachurch organizations, which may transition from being grassroots to professional groups.



Cress, Daniel M., and David A. Snow. 1996. “Mobilization at the Margins: Resources, Benefactors, and the Viability of Homeless Social Movement Organizations.” American Sociological Review 61: 1089-1109.

Ganz, Marshall. 2000. “Resources and Resourcefulness: Strategic Capacity in the Unionization of California Agriculture, 1959-1966.” American Journal of Sociology 105: 1003-1062.

McCarthy, John and Mayer N. Zald. 1973. The Trend of Social Movements in America: Professionalization and Resource Mobilization. Morristown, NJ: General Learning Press.

McCarthy, John D. and Mayer N. Zald. 1977. “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory.” American Journal of Sociology 82: 1212-1241.

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