Current Communication-based social movement theory provides an excellent framework for analyzing social movements at a superficial level, but it neglects to include one important aspect that influences social movements – the culture in which a social movement takes place. The dominant theories used to evaluate social movements are written with a Western, North-American bias and thus are inadequate tools for explaining social movements that occur in other cultures. This work uses a non-Western social movement – China's 1989 Democracy Movement – as a case study to demonstrate the Western bias that Communication-based social movement theory holds, as well as to show the inadequacy of using a Western-based theory to analyze and explain a non-Western culture. Using current social movement theory to analyze China's 1989 Democracy Movement demonstrates the amount of misunderstanding and misinterpretation that can occur if theories that are not culturally sensitive are used to analyze social movements. This thesis proposes that Communication-based social movement theory should either be reformed so that it includes the aspect of culture in its analysis, or it should be used in conjunction with another, more culturally oriented theory in order to prevent misinterpretation and the inaccurate analysis of social movements.
Available by permission of the author. Reproduction or retransmission of this material in any form is prohibited without expressed written permission of the author.
Veenendaal, Lia M., "A Critique of Functionalist and Rhetorical Social Movement Theory: A Case Study of China's 1989 Democracy Movement" (2000). Honors Theses, 1963-2015. 683.