Sociologists seek generalizable explanations of social change, and base new generalizations on specific historical studies.
Partly for these reasons historians tend to borrow generalizations from sociologists and apply them to specific contexts, while sociologists often build new generalizations on the basis of specific historical studies.
For these scholars, known as collective behaviorists, social movements were highly organized but non-routine entities where people interacted to establish new meanings about politics (and other subjects), and where they challenged power based on the making of these new meanings.
Some variations on collective behavior theory emphasized the disorderly side of movement activism, seeing actors in movements as problematic for democracy.
Sociologists have tended to define and redefine social movement in response to the kind of protests they saw taking place around them.
American sociologists in the early- to mid-twentieth century characterized movements as being on a continuum of innovative collective behavior, as the organized end of a spectrum whose opposite pole was crowds and riots (Blumer 1939; see also Turner and Killian 1987).
Definitions of social movements by sociologists abound (see Definitions).
Sociological definitions of movements stress qualities like collective and innovative behavior, extra-institutionality, their network character and multicenteredness, the shifting and fluid boundaries of movement membership, and the willingness of members to disrupt order a little or a lot (Gerlach and Hine 1970).
Instead, American sociologists analyzed movement participation as rational expressions of politics by other than institutional means.
Influenced by organizational studies and economics, what came to be known as the resource mobilization paradigm arose, where, as the name suggests, questions of how movements came into being through the mobilization of resources were central.