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Compiled by
Madurai Institute of Social Sciences


It refers to an individual’s social In the C.O. work, it is a
behavior which is intended to group/collective/ organized effort
influence the actions of one or to change social and
more persons. economic conditions,

Any expenditure of effort by a group as such; all- conscious or unconscious, concerted or

collective effort. The term ‘social’ means “interaction of individuals in society”, “mutual
relations of men or classes”; it also includes political economic, cultural and ethical aspects.
Used as a prefix to action, it carries the connotation of a collectivity and an organization
working to achieve an end. The element of spontaneity and consciousness is particularly
stressed by the term social.

Social action is not an alien concept to India, even though its origin is attributed to the west. The
history of social action in this country dates back to eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when
reformers fought against the evils of sati, child marriage, widowhood practices for women and

Lobbying is the practice of influencing decisions made by government. It includes all attempts to
influence legislators and officials, whether by other legislators, constituents or organized groups. A
lobbyist is a person who tries to influence legislation on behalf of a special interest or a member of a
lobby. Governments often define and regulate organized group lobbying
Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy

the devadasi system. Mahatma Gandhi with his principle of non-violence used social action to
raise the status of women and dalits and brought about fundamental changes in social
relationships in India. This legacy still continues as various contemporary, voluntary and
professional groups are joining hands to oppose, or promote public policies and programs
affecting the common people.Of late, social welfare discipline in India realized that it can’t make
any dent in the field of mass poverty. Social was thus conceived as a method of social work when
the inadequacy of welfare measures led to the need of social reform in the beginning of the
present century in the west and around the 1960s in India


1). Assumption regarding the present power structure.
2). Assumption regarding the nature of social welfare delivery mechanism
3). Assumption regarding the economic growth.
4). Assumption regarding the welfare state
5). Assumption regarding the nature of human problems.
6). Assumption regarding the human rights


The advocates of ‘democracy’ feel that “contemporary democratic system” operating for the
benefit of ‘most groups’ and consider the
existing social structure fundamentally sound We claim that democracy is the government of
the people, by the people and for the people.
and responsive to the people’s needs. Whether But in reality democracy seems to be the
it is true? Experience shows that Government is government off (silence) the people, buy the
inaccessible to most of the people. Government people (to get votes) and far (away from) the
has become a power center, with a vested people
interest to maintain the status quo of the
microscopic minority. Politics and Government is a power center, through which the rich and the
powerful exercise control over the weak and the poor. This alienated men from the society
become non-participants in the social life. This is not a healthy situation. To overcome this, the
disadvantaged segments of the community need to be organized to gain more power to equitably
distribute the resources and to attain the principles of democracy and social justice.


Industrial revolution brought many benefits. Some gained the benefits. Many people fell behind.
They became the victims of industrial revolution and they needed help to survive. Social work
offered this help through provision of services. Social workers ‘helped’, ‘enabled’ and ‘even
managed’ the victims of the system to adjust to it. Which is the right path? Advising the victims
to adjust with the sick society or changing the system to adjust to the needs of the members.


There has been rising standard of life as a whole. But the distribution of income, it was felt was
increasingly to the disadvantage of the poor section of the population. The oft quoted ‘Matthew
effect’, i.e. ‘rich are becoming richer and poor are becoming poor’ was felt keenly. Improving
economic condition along with social and psychological conditions of the poor was urgently
sought, so that the poor could play equal and effective role in the society.


The welfare state is said to include all government functions that lead to intervention in the
society for the sake of securing human well being with the exception of military intervention.
But what is the nature of these interventions? The social services are products of, and responsive
to a social order that values economic growth and political stability above human well being and

Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy

uses social services and other helping professions try to preserve and strengthen the ideologies,
behaviors and structures of the status quo. Impoverished group remains despite the welfare state.


Welfare needs of the people can arise not because of any personal draw backs or shortcoming of
the needy, they are caused by the inherent defects in the social system. Social action situates the
problems of human rights and injustice in a systemic perspective. Personal troubles and public
issues are interlinked. It must be understood in terms of public issues.


Welfare services should be provided to the people as a matter of right, which they may be able to
There is a certain power center with a vested interest, which controls the policies and
administration of welfare services in each country, which needs to be corrected.

From this we can derive three hypotheses

1. Welfare is a power game; through which the rich and the powerful exercise control over the weak
and the poor.
2. The rich corner the gains of the welfare, but for that the poor has to pay.
3. There is no way to alleviate the situation unless one socializes the welfare and the clients of the
system take over its administration.


The term ‘social’ means “interaction of individuals in society”, “mutual relations of men or
classes”; it also includes political economic, cultural and ethical aspects. Used as a prefix to
action, it carries the connotation of a collectivity and an organization working to achieve an end.
The element of spontaneity and consciousness is particularly stressed by the term social.

1. DICTIONARY OF SOCILOGY: Any expenditure of effort by a group as such; all-conscious or
unconscious, concerted or collective effort

2. MARY RICHMOND (1922) Social action is mass betterment through propaganda and social
legislation; a method of bringing about a change in the social environment of the clients.

3. PETER LEE (1937): Social action seems to suggest efforts directed towards changes in law or
social structure or towards the initiation of new movements for the modification of current
social practices.

4. LR GRACE. L. COYEE: Social action is the attempt to change the social environment in ways,
which will make life more satisfactory. It aims to affect not individuals but social
institutions, laws, customs and communities.

5. Social action is “a systematic, conscious effort directed to influence the basic social condition
and policies out of which arise the problems of social adjustment and maladjustment to which
our service as social workers is addressed.

6. Social action is described as an organized group effort to solve mass social problems or to
further socially desirable objectives by attempting to influence the basic social and economic
conditions or practices.
Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy

7. Social action is a term applied to that aspect of organized social welfare activity directed
towards shaping, modifying or maintaining the social institutions and policies that
collectively constitute the better adjustment of the social environment.... To meet the
recognized needs of the individuals and to facilitate those relationships and adjustments
necessary to its own best functioning.

8. Social action may be defined as efforts to bring about change or to prevent change in current
social practices and situations, through education, propaganda, persuasion or pressure on
behalf of the objectives believed by the social scientists to be socially desirable.

9. Social action has been viewed by professional social workers as a means for improving mass
conditions, enhancing social welfare, solving mass problems, influencing basic social
conditions and policies out of which arise the problems of social adjustment and
maladjustment; and changing the environment.

10. Social action may be defined as a public promotion of a cause, measure or objective in an
effort to obtain support or official action. Ordinarily social action involves organized efforts
to influence public opinion or official policy or executive action through enlistment of the
support of groups or individuals.

11. Organized effort to change social and economic institutions as distinguished from social work
or social service, the fields of which do not characteristically cover essential changes in
established institutions. Social action covers movements of political reform, industrial
democracy, social legislation, social justice, religious freedom and civil liberty. Its techniques
include propaganda, research and lobbying.

12. Social action is an individual, group or community effort within the framework of social
work philosophy and practices those aims to achieve social progress, to modify social
policies, and to improve social legislation and health and welfare services.

13. MV MOORTHY: Social action is a series of endeavors concerned with awakening the people
to see, as well as to foresee their own problems and attack them through the swift course of
combined action or legislative enactment.

14. Social action as a strategy of limited social change at the intermediate and macro levels of
society that is used in non consensus situations and employs both norm adhering and norm
testing modes of intervention.

15. Social action is an organized and learned activity that attempt to influence social distribution
of status, power and sources.

16. PHILIP KOTLER: Social action is defined as an undertaking of collective action to

mitigate or resolve a social problem.

17. KK. JACOB: (1963) Social action is essentially an effort at initiating suitable changes and
reforms to improve socio-economic conditions and to better the social climate.

18. TRESSIE ARANHA (1984): Social action is a type of social work intervention, where the
change agent system (individual/group/organization) acts on behalf of the client system, to
redress the injustice it is suffering, by seeking through a legitimate authority to bring about
Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy

change in the social structures that are causing injustice.

19. G.A.A. BRITTO (1980): Social action is the method of social work which is used for/ with /by
any unit of society larger than the sociologically defined communities.

20. G.A.A. BRITTO: Social action is a conflictual process of varying intensity, initiated and
conducted by the masses or by a group of elites, with or without the participation of the
masses in the action against the structures or institutions or policies or programs or
procedures of the government and /or relevant agencies and/or power groups to
eradicate/ control any mass socioeconomic political problem with a view to bringing
betterment to any section of the under privileged at a level larger than that of a
sociologically defined communities.

21. NANAVATHY (1965): Social action as a process of bringing about desired changes by
deliberate group and community effort.... Social action does not end with the enactment and
signing of social legislation, but that the execution of policies is the real test of the success or
failure of social action.

22. SUGATA DAS GUPTA: Social action is applied to that aspect of social welfare activity which is
directed towards shaping or modifying the social institutions and policies that constitutes the
social environment in which we live.

23. R.R. SINGH: Social action may be defined as a process of individual, institutional and/or
group effort, spontaneous, self initiated or directed- which is designed at the grass roots
or macro levels. To consciously and collectively deal with a situation considered
unsatisfactory, through marshalling of appropriate resources and timely use of various
participatory action strategies either within the legal framework or outside it.

24. H.Y. SIDDIQUI: Social action should be seen as an endeavor to bring about or prevent change
in the social system through a process of making people aware of the socio political and
economic realities conditioning their lives and by mobilizing them to organize themselves for
bringing about the desired change, or to prevent the change that adversely affects them,
through the use of whatever strategies they may find workable, with the exception of
violence. In the process of social action, group work knowledge and skills will be utilized so
also the techniques of community organization. But the process require additional
knowledge and skills of bringing a wide variety of people and interest groups together in
order to work for a common purpose; therefore the relevant skills would have to be
specifically identified; this requires a very thorough understanding of the political and
economic forces operating in a society and a very clear understanding or the goals to be
achieved and probable strategies to be followed.


• Scope of social action. is limited by the scope of social work
• Scope of social action is limited by the understanding of the causative factors of human
• Scope of social action. is determined by the convictions of the Social Worker

Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy

Understanding Causative factors Remedy

Conventional Low level of economic development Economic growth
Individual inadequacy Social services / counseling
population explosion
Marxist / radical Production relationship Changing the system.


• Prevention of changes considered as negative
• Solution to mass problems
• Improvement in mass conditions
• Influencing institutions, policies and practices
• Introduction of new mechanisms or programs
• Redistribution of power, resources, decision making
• Effect on thought and action.

Partial list of social action movements.

Animal rights movement Anti-consumerism Anti-war movement

Anti-globalization movement Black Consciousness Movement Brahma Samaj Movement
Charismatic movement Civil rights movement Conservation movement
Counter-culture movement Co-operative movement Cultural movement
Disability rights movement Ecology movement (Environmental movement)
Ecofeminism Environmental Justice movement Environmental Movement
Fair Trade movement Free software movement Free love
Global justice movement Human rights movement Indigenous peoples movement
Labor movement Landless Peoples Movement The landless workers' movement
Non-cooperation movement Narmada Bacho Andolan Right to Life
Student movement Squatting movement Women's liberation movement
Prohibition or Temperance Movement Women's suffrage movement
Treatment Action Campaign - movement struggling for HIV/AIDS treatment
Neurodiversity movement advocating for the right of people who are considered neurally divergent
LGBT social movements (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender social movements)

Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy

Social Action in the Indian Context (Adapted from John Samuel)

The nature and character of Social Action, to a large extent is shaped up by the political culture,
social systems and the constitutional frame-work of the country in which it is being practised. It
is the practice which makes the theory of social action and not vice versa. But the way we
perceive and practise Social Action is determined by the ideological inclinations, historical
settings and the value system of the proponents. One of the difficulties in getting clarity about the
term social action is the fact that it is being widely and broadly used to signify a sweep of
practices ranging from violent protest, report writing to lobbying, public interest litigations and civil
disobedience. Though the process of advocacy encompasses one or more of such components,
mistaking the use of one component to Social Action is to miss the woods for the trees.

The concept and practice of Social Action in India can be located from three different streams;
firstly, from the history of socio-religious reforms movement and nationalist struggle for the Indian
independence; secondly, from the dynamics of political culture and social systems prevailing in the
country for the last fifty years. And finally, the prevailing practices of Social Action by non-party
political formations, social action and public interest groups. The entire arena of Social Action
becomes functional and meaningful in relation to the constitutional framework, character of the
State and the operating political culture. In the Indian context, the process of Social Action can be
better understood by locating it in the historical, political and social practices and analysing it in
relation to a representative parliamentary democratic constitutional framework.

Social Action in India: A historical understanding

The history of Social Action can be reconstructed from the social and political practices of public
policy influencing for the last two hundred years. The history of conscious and organised socio-
political actions for public policy change can be divided into four phases.

1. The first phase is that of socio-religious reform movement from 1800 to 1857,
2. the second phase from 1857 to 1920s is that of the emergence of a nationalist movement for
the Indian independence,
3. the third phase from 1920 to 1950 is that of a mass based political movement for freedom
struggle; and
4. the fourth phase is from 1950s to the emergency period of 1977.

Social action as a practice is not nascent in India. The tradition of influencing public policy, for
eradicating social evils, goes back to the nineteenth century social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan
Roy. The legacy of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Thanthai periyar and Ambedkar gives
significant insight into the indigenous and effective advocacy methods practised during the pre-
independence period.

In India, there have been social action efforts on issues related to environmental degradation,
rights of the dalits and tribals, women’s rights and civil rights, nuclear installations, land alienation
of tribals, child labour, unorganised working sector, drug and forest policies and many other

Advocacy Methods in the Indian Context

In many of the relatively effective social action efforts, mass mobilisation, improvised methods of
non-violent protest and persuasion, public interest litigation, legislative advocacy, lobbying the
bureaucrats and media advocacy were strategically and simultaneously used to build up an
effective public argument. In some of the ongoing campaigns like Save Narmada Movement,
grassroots mobilisation was combined with other advocacy strategies such as activating global
pressure through international advocacy groups and development lobbies (Srinivasan 1992).

Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy


Cause: A social object/undertaking that change agents
believe will provide some answer to the problem.
1. Helping the victims of the social maladies; concerned
Causes of Social Action
1. Helping cause
with provision of aid comfort or education
2. Protest cause 2. Identifying individuals/ institutions which contribute
3. Revolutionary cause most of the social problems and altering their behavior
3. Identifying individuals/ institutions which contribute
most of the social problems and eliminating them.
Change Agent: An organization/ individual whose
CHANGE AGENT primary mission is to advance a social cause.
Change Strategy: Basic mode of influence
adopted by the change agent to affect the change
1. It attempts to produce behavioral compliance or co-
operation in the change target through the use of agency
controlled sanctions (not belief/value modification]
creating desired behavior through Authority (E.g.
CHANGE STRATEGY Authority, Force, Payment.)
1. Power Strategies 2. It attempts to induce the desired behavior in the
2. Persuasive Strategies. change target through the social object (Persuading that
3. Ro-education Strategies desired behavior serves the natural interests of the
change target through logical, emotional, moral appeals
(E.g. Family Planning, etc.)
3. It attempts to induce the desired behavior in the
change target through internalization of new beliefs or
values (Permanent change).
Change Target: Ways in which influence and
response can be transmitted between change
agents and change targets, Media influence
response channels; Personal influence/response
1.Ultimate Target 1. Individuals, Groups of institutions designated as the
2.Intermediate Target targets of change efforts.
2. Victims and offending institutions. For helping cause,
target is client system; for protest cause the target is
power system; for revolutionary cause the target is
enemy system. Public, Government, Business,
Social action is defined as an undertaking of collective action to mitigate or
resolve a social problem – Philip Kotler.

Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy

Types of Social Action

Dr. RR. Singh

Institutional/ Social institutional / Gandhian / Institutional [Social] / Populist/Movement
Militant / Gentle Citizenship/Constructive/ Non-Violent / Non-violent / Model
Sugata Das Gupta
Not Non Violent / Non Violent
Dr. G.A.A. Britto
Elitist Model/ Popular Model
Legislative Action model / Economic Sanction model/ Conscientization model/Direct
Mobilization model / Physical Action model /Dialectic model



Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy

Advocacy is the pursuit of influencing outcomes — including public-policy and resource
allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions — that
directly affect people’s current lives. (Cohen, 2001)
Therefore, advocacy can be seen as a deliberate process of speaking out on issues of concern in
order to exert some influence on behalf of ideas or persons. Based on this definition, Cohen states
that “ideologues of all persuasions advocate” to bring
a change in people’s lives. However, advocacy has
many interpretations depending on the issue at stake,
which can be different from this initial value-neutral

Forms of advocacy
There are several forms of advocacy, which each
represent a different approach in the way change is
brought into society. One of the most popular forms
is social justice advocacy.
Although it is true, the initial definition does not
encompass the notions of power relations, people’s
participation and a vision of a just society that
promoted by social justice advocates. For them,
advocacy represents the series of actions taken and
issues highlighted to change the “what is” into a
“what should be”, considering that this “what should
be” is a more decent and a more just society (ib.,
2001.) Those actions, which vary with the political, economical and social environment in which
they are conducted, have several points in common (ib., 2001.) They:
• question the way policy is administered
• participate in the agenda setting as they raise significant issues
• target political systems “because those systems are not responding to people’s needs”
• are inclusive and engaging
• propose policy solutions
• open up space for public argumentation.
Some of the other forms of advocacy include:
• Ideological advocacy: in this approach, groups fight, sometimes during protests, to advance
their ideas in the decision-making circles.
• Mass advocacy: is any type of action taken by large groups (petitions, demonstrations, etc.)
• Interest-group advocacy: lobbying is the main tool used by interests groups doing mass
advocacy. It is a form of action that does not always succeed at influencing political decision-
makers as it requires resources and organization to be effective.
• Bureaucratic advocacy: people considered “experts” have more chance to succeed at
presenting their issues to decision-makers. They use bureaucratic advocacy to influence the
agenda, however at a slower pace.

Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy

Promoting advocacy against violence on women

• Legislative advocacy: legislative advocacy is the “reliance on the state or federal legislative
process” as part of a strategy to create change
• Media advocacy: is “the strategic use of the mass media as a resource to advance a social or
public policy initiative” (Jernigan and Wright, 1996.) Public Insurance campaigns illustrate how
media advocacy was used to fight alcohol and tobacco-related health issues.
• In a legal/law context: An 'advocate' is the title of a specific person who is
authorized/appointed (in some way) to speak on behalf of a person in a legal process.
• In a political context: An 'advocacy group' is an organized collection of people who seek to
influence political decisions and policy, without seeking election to public office.
• In a social care context: Both terms (and more specific ones such as 'independent advocacy')
are used in the UK in the context of a network of interconnected organizations and projects
which seek to benefit people who are in difficulty (primarily in the context of disability and
mental health).

Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy

• In the context of inclusion: Citizen Advocacy organizations (citizen advocacy programs)

seek to cause benefit by reconnecting people who have become isolated. Their practice was
defined in two key documents: CAPE, and Learning from Citizen Advocacy Programs.

Advocacy groups
Advocacy is led by advocates or, when they are organized in groups as is the case most of the
time, advocacy groups. Advocacy groups as defined by Young and Everritt are different from
political parties which "seek to influence government policy by governing." They are "any
organization that seeks to influence government policy, but not to govern." This definition
includes social movements, sometimes network of organizations which are also focused on
encouraging social change. Social movements try to either influence governments or, like the
environmental movement, to influence people’s ideas or actions.
Today, advocacy groups contribute to democracy in many ways. They have five key functions:
• Give a voice to (misrepresented) citizen interests
• Mobilize citizens to participate in the democratic process
• Support the development of a culture of democracy
• Assist in the development of better public policy
• Ensure governments’ accountability to citizens.
In comparison to other countries and other the last thirty years, an increasing number (40 percent)
of the Canadian population is member of an organization which has had an advocacy role and has
tried to achieve political change. Such a level of participation is a positive indicator of the health
of the democracy in Canada

Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy


• Born: 30 January 1909

• Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois
• Died: 12 June 1972
• Best Known As: The father
of community organizing

As Barack Obama was preparing to graduate from Columbia he wasn't sure what he wanted to do
with the rest of his life. Finally, in 1983, he decided to follow in the footsteps of one of his heroes,
radical leftist and communist fellow traveler, Saul Alinsky. He concluded, "That's what I'll do… I'll
organize black folks at the grass roots… for change." Obama moved to Chicago, Alinsky's hometown,
and established himself as a community organizer. Saul Alinsky served as the inspiration behind
President Barack Obama's initiative to become a community organizer in Chicago.

Oddly enough, another of Alinsky's most ardent admirers turned out to be the most popular woman
Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her 1969 senior thesis at Wellesley College was titled, There Is Only The
Fight: An Analysis of the Alinsky Model.

ALINSKY, SAUL DAVID (1909-1972), Social reformer. Born in Chicago on January 30, 1909.
Alinsky graduated from the University of Chicago in 1930 and remained there for two additional
years studying criminology. While employed as a social worker dealing with juvenile
delinquents, and, from 1933 to
1936, as a criminologist with the Alinsky Quotes
Illinois state penal system, he • Always remember the first rule of power tactics; power is not only
gained first-hand understanding what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.
• Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the
of the roots of social pathology-
frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement
discrimination, disease, or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.
unemployment, poor housing-and • History is a relay of revolutions.
the workings of the poverty • Once you accept your own death, all of a sudden you're free to live.
cycle. He had already done much You no longer care about your reputation. You no longer care
fund raising and organizational except so far as your life can be used tactically to promote a cause
you believe in.
work for various reform
• Tactics mean doing what you can with what you have.
movements when he decided in • The greatest enemy of individual freedom is the individual himself.
1938 to make a career of such • We must believe that it is the darkest before the dawn of a beautiful
work. Moving to the back of the new world. We will see it when we believe it.
yards district of Chicago-a poor
working –class area near the stockyards – he enlisted the aid of labor and religious leaders in
forming the Back of the Yard Council, a citizens’ organization whose purpose was to act as a
pressure bloc for social improvement. Using peaceful direct action tactics, the council succeeded
in vastly improving conditions in the neighborhood and, more importantly, in demonstrating to

Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy

all who participated the realities of political and economic power and their own ability to use
power to achieve their own legitimate ends. In 1940, Alinsky established the Industrial Areas
Foundation (IAF) to serve as a reservoir of money, manpower, and expertise for community
organizing. After serving as a consultant to various government agencies during World War II,
he returned to the IAF and undertook community organizing in areas of poor and powerless
neighborhoods across the country. Working always at the invitation of local groups, he
concentrated on developing indigenous leadership and on instilling the notion of self-help.
Firmly opposed to paternalism either on the part of the powerful or that of self-seeking
“reformers,” he was a passionate and controversial exponent of radical democracy. Among the
groups that benefited from his tireless and fearless efforts were Mexican Americans in California,
black citizens of ghetto neighborhoods in Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Missouri, and Rochester
and Buffalo, New York; and, in later years, residents of numerous white middle-class
neighborhoods. His success was attested to both by the number of his ardent admirers and by the
vehemence of the attacks made on him by those opposed to change. Among his published works

1. "Never go outside the expertise of your people.

When an action or tactic is outside the experience of the people, the result
is confusion, fear and retreat.... [and] the collapse of communication.
2. "Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.
Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty. (This happens
all the time. Watch how many organizations under attack are blind-sided by
seemingly irrelevant arguments that they are then forced to address.)
3. "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with
this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church
can live up to Christianity."
4. "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to
counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage."
5. "A good tactic is one your people enjoy."
6. "A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. Man can sustain militant interest in any issue
for only a limited time...."
7. "Keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for
your purpose."
8. "The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself."
9. "The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a
Social Action is concerned with how to create
constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this unceasing pressure that results in the
mass organizations to seize power and give it
reactions from the opposition that are essential for the success of the campaign."
to the people; to realize the democratic dream of
10. "If you push a negative hard and deep enough,equality, it will break through
justice, into
peace.... its counter
"Better to dieside...
every positive has its negative." your feet than to live on your knees.' This
11. "The price of a successful attack is a constructive meansalternative."
revolution –Alinsky
12. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. In conflict tactics there are certain rules
that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the
target and 'frozen.'...

were Reveille for Radicals, 1947, and Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic
Radicals, 1971. Alinsky died at his home in Carmel, California, on June 12, 1972.

Alinsky’s Philosophy and approach:

1). The poor, the powerless, the deprived have the fight to decide for themselves; how they
should live and what services should be offered to them (i.e., The Right to Self determination)
2). The poor can solve their own problems, if given the opportunity and the means (The ability
of the poor to solve their own problems)
3). In order to do this, the poor must have power (Power is the means to solve the problems)
4). There are two sources of power – money and people. Poor people don’t have money, so their

Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy

only source of power is themselves. Therefore they must organize. (The Source of Power is
their numbers and their organization)
5). The people’s organization is based on self-interest. Self interest means seeking power (The
basic goal of organization is to seek power)
6). The poor people organization uses direct action methods. It engages in conflict with those
whom it sees as exploiters and enemies of the poor. It uses conflict as a deliberate strategy
(They use conflict as a deliberate strategy to gain power).

"The first step in community organization is community disorganization. The disruption of the present
organization is the first step toward community organization. Present arrangements must be
disorganized if they are to be displace by new patterns.... All change means disorganization of the old
and organization of the new." "An organizer must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent... He must
create a mechanism that can drain off the underlying guilt for having accepted the previous situation for
so long a time. Out of this mechanism, a new community organization arises....

Social Action—Alinsky & Gandhi

The goal of social action is to transfer ‘power’/ and or to destablish the establishment. This goal
can be achieved only by a straight, hard hitting conflict with the establishment.
How to hit the establishment? It is over this the two models of social action (Alinsky & Gandhian
model) differ

Alinsky Mahatma Gandhi

Destroying the individual who holds the Destroying the value system which keeps the
power. power
Attacking the person who heads the Not to crush the individual. Purpose is to
establishment change the system. Protecting the body and
psyche of the so called enemy
Ends should justify the means Means should justify the ends
Inducing anger and hatred Based on love and satyagraha
Defeating the enemy Winning over the enemy
Secrecy is maintained in the program No secrecy. The purpose of the program
Planning is transparent
The purpose is to make the system more Attempt to change the entire pattern of the
functional. community organization, bring political
Attempt to change the structure of the decentralization, simpler and more relevant
social policy. technologies, de-institu -tionalization and de-
professionalization of the welfare system

Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy

Principles followed in Gandhian Social Action

Gestures of Good Will towards the opponents

Example setting
Principle of credibility building
Selection of typical urgently felt problems for struggles
Gaining success in the attempt
Theological and religious approach
Principle of Legitimization Moral approach
Legal Technical approach
Use of songs
Powerful speeches
Principle of dramatization
Role of women
Education strategy
Persuasive strategy
Principle of multiple strategies
Facilitative strategy
Power strategy
Principle of dual approach Constructive programs
Principle of manifold programs

1.Siddiqui.H.Y. [Ed] Social Work and Social Action, New Delhi, Harnam Publications.[1984]
2. Singh.R.R. Reorienting Social Work Education For Social Action in 1
3 Britto.G.A.A. Some Principles of Social Action in @ 1
4 Perspectives in Social Work, Vol. XI No 2 May- Aug, 1996, Special Issue on Social Advocacy,
College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan.
5. National Center for Advocacy Studies, Pune.
6. Advocacy Movements for Health, Housing, Environment, Women & Children’s Rights,
Farmers, Dalits, Human Rights.

Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy

More about Social Action

Civil Disobedience, refusal to obey civil laws or decrees. This refusal usually takes the form of
passive resistance. People practicing civil disobedience break a law because they consider the
law unjust, wants to call attention to its injustice, and hope to bring about its repeal or
amendment. They are also willing to accept any penalty, such as imprisonment, for breaking
the law.
Two notable examples of progress were achieved through the practice of civil disobedience in
the mid-20th century. The first, the independence of India, was largely a result of the
Satyagraha (Sanskrit, “truth and firmness”), programs of nonviolent resistance by Mohandas
Gandhi to the British colonial laws. The second involved civil rights legislation in the United
States, in which the nonmilitant efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr., played a primary role.

Hunger Strike, voluntary fast undertaken as a means of protest. Hunger strikes are employed as
a political weapon designed to bring notoriety to a cause and thereby apply pressure for change.

Protest, expression of dissent or disapproval, especially in a formal way.

Passive Resistance, to oppose or challenge a government, an occupying power, or specific laws

by nonviolent methods. Fasting, demonstrating in protest, and refusal to comply with orders or
laws are examples of passive resistance.
refusal to obey laws or decrees, Civil Disobedience
protest through abstaining from food, Fasting
refusal to trade or associate with another organization, group, individual, or nation, Boycott
particular incidents where passive resistance was utilized, India: Gandhi's Protest Movement;
notable proponents of passive resistance, see Mohandas Gandhi; Martin Luther King, Jr.;
Rajendra Prasad; Henry David Thoreau; Leo Tolstoy: Tolstoy's Moral Philosophy

Nonviolence, doctrine or practice of rejecting violence in favor of peaceful tactics as a means

of gaining political or social objectives.
adherents of nonviolence, Asoka; Dalai Lama; Mohandas Gandhi; Indian National Congress;
Kenneth Kaunda; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Albert John Luthuli; Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee
specific uses of nonviolent tactics, India: Gandhi’s Protest Movement; Prague
religious aspects of nonviolence, Jainism; Anabaptists

Addams, Jane (1860-1935), American social reformer and Nobel laureate, born in Cedarville,
Illinois, and educated at Rockford Female Seminary and Women's Medical College and in
Europe. In 1889, with Ellen Starr, Addams established Hull House in Chicago, one of the first
settlement houses in the U.S. Addams played a prominent part in the formation of the National
Progressive Party in 1912 and of the Woman's Peace Party, of which she became chairperson in
1915. She was elected (1915) president of the International Congress of Women at The Hague,
Netherlands, and president of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, which
was established by The Hague congress. She was a delegate to similar congresses held in
Zürich, Switzerland (1919); Vienna, Austria (1921); The Hague, Netherlands (1922);
Washington, D.C. (1924); Dublin, Ireland (1926); and Prague, Czech Republic (1929). She
won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, sharing the award with the American educator Nicholas
Murray Butler. Her works include Democracy and Social Ethics (1902), Newer Ideals of Peace
(1907), Twenty Years at Hull House (1910), and The Second Twenty Years at Hull House
Understanding Social Action - Social Action for Social Workers -_S.Rengasamy


Reformers, people who seek to change society or one of its institutions in order to help it
recover or realize its original ideals. Reformers differ from revolutionaries in wanting to repair
rather than destroy the existing social order. Alternating periods of reform and the increasing
need for it have characterized all lasting institutions of government and religion.
For information on:

Nader, Ralph (1934- ), American lawyer and consumer-protection advocate, born in Winsted,
Connecticut, and educated at Princeton and Harvard universities. His campaign against
questionable manufacturing and design practices in the automobile industry brought him to
national attention in the mid-1960s, when he published Unsafe at Any Speed (1965; revised ed.
1972). His work provided the primary impetus for the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle
Safety Act of 1966. Other issues of corporate ethics and human safety to which he has drawn
attention include environmental pollution; the danger of atomic energy plants; health hazards in
food, medicine, and occupations; fraud; and the secrecy and immunities of large companies. He
contributed to the enactment of the Wholesome Meat Act in 1967

Nader became a leader in the consumer-protection movement. He organized investigative

teams of young lawyers, consumer specialists, and students, popularly called Nader's Raiders,
to conduct surveys of numerous companies, federal agencies, and the U.S. Congress. Nader is a
controversial figure; his investigations have at times been criticized as superficial and biased
against big business and government.