Strategies, Principles and Models in Social Action

Social Action in Social Work

Strategies and Tactics in Social Action

The dictionary meaning of strategy is plan/policy/ approach/stratagem. Tactic means method/approach/ course/ploy/policy/device/scheme/way/trick/ manoeuvre. As indicated by the definitions of the two words, we understand that they can be used interchangeably like many social workers do. However, some social workers have made a finer distinction between strategy and tactic, as the former is a larger term equivalent to a form or type of social action. Social action strategies and tactics mean organising a strike, boycotting, persuading, negotiating, bargaining, etc.

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The tactics and strategies involved in social action. Porter R. Lees suggests nine tactics used by social actionists in various stages of social action. These tactics generally overlap across multiple stages in the process of social action. They are: a) Research b) Education c) Co-operation d) Organisation e) Arbitration f) Negotiation g) Mild coercion h) Violation of legal norms i) Joint action.

Read: Social Action in Social Work

Read: Relation between Social Action and other Methods of Social Work

Major Three Strategies of Social Action

There is hardly any consensus on the possible and available strategies which can form the core of social action practice. However, three main strategies identified by Lees are:


In this strategy, social workers collaborate with the local authority and other authorities or agencies to improve the existing social policy. The underlying assumption of this approach is a homogeneity of values and interests, through which substantive agreement on proposed interventions is obtained. It doesn't involve loss or gain of power, authority or money; change occurs within a consensus that includes values and interests. In collaborative strategy, the difference in the social structure or institution is brought about by peaceful means, including education, persuasion, demonstration, and experimentation. One of the premises on which it is based is that all those who have power will not necessarily respond to change only through the conflictual approach. Through the above techniques, change can be brought about as for them, the intended change is either the lesser of the two evils, or they have identified the factors that affect the institution's very existence or the achievement of its goals. They are disenchanted or dissatisfied and hence willing to change.


Competition or Bargaining, Negotiation, Advocacy

The second set of techniques is based on the premise that one anticipates some resistance to change. The activity of the change agent may have to be accompanied by tactics that are not persuasive instead of seeking to affect change through pressure. In this strategy, contending parties utilise commonly accepted campaign tactics of persuasion, negotiation and bargaining with the willingness to arrive at an operating agreement.

Disruption and Confrontation

The third set of techniques is based on the premise that in the struggle between those who are pro-status quo and those who are pro-change, resistance is an aspect of the change effort and therefore, the dynamics of conflict are inherent in the social action effort. This strategy signifies a more militant approach, and it may include strikes, boycotts, fasts, tax-refusal, 'sit-ins' etc. Lees also has riots and guerilla warfare though these may be omitted by many other social workers as any use of violence will be unacceptable to the values and ethics of professional social work.


Richard Bryant also postulates two sets of strategies—

1) Bargaining: By bargaining, he means lobbying, submitting petitions, information and publicity campaigns, etc.

2)  ConfrontationConfrontation includes strikes, demonstrations and sit-ins.

Surender Singh adds another approach or strategy as an Administrative approach. He mentions that "Most often than not, the establishment viewed any struggle or effort towards drastic or radical change as a law and order problem. Therefore, an administrative approach or strategy is adopted to deal with the situation". It includes persuasion, bargaining, pressure, coercion, infiltration, concession, co-option, splitting, etc.

It may be noted that perception of the situation by the leaders or decision-makers and their experience counts much more in selecting the strategy. To exemplify, in the backward classes or peasant movements, strategies like withdrawal, self-organisation, conversion, combining of caste with class, mobilisation, division of labour, attacking the monopoly of reference groups by the deprived, use of secular and religious themes, participation in or shunning of elections (democratic political processes), emulation, propaganda, mass-appeal, articulation, deprivation, sensitisation, protest, demonstration, etc. have been used.


Hornstein lists specific strategies for social intervention. They are Individual change, techno- structural, data-based, organisational development and cultural change, violence and coercion, non-violent direct action, accommodation, exposures, living examples, public support, presentation of proposals, competition, lobbying, agitation and subversion. Hornstein has classified these strategies or tactics of social action as:

1) Direct action: E.g. Picketing, Marches, Fraternization, Haunting, Leafleting and renouncing honours.

2) Non-cooperation: E.g. Strikes, Boycotts, Tax-refusal.

3) Intervention: E.g. Sits in, Reversal strike, Obstruction.

In the Gandhian tradition, non-violent protest and persuasion, non-cooperation and non-violent intervention have been included in the three broad categories of strategies or methods of social action. In fact, these three characteristics of Gandhian social action shares striking similarity with the ethics, values and philosophy of professional social work. It may be noted that though social action requires confrontation, negotiation or persuasion, it does not approve of any violence, hostility, cruelty and blood-shedding. It means that even the discontent is shown peacefully.

Common methods used in Gandhian social action are parades, vigils, posters, teachings, mourning, protest meetings, etc. These methods are a peaceful demonstration of discontent and dissatisfaction. In the Gandhian approach, workers are guided by certain factors in selecting methods or strategies they adopt for social action.


Four Strategies of Social Action

According to Zeltman and Duncan: There are four types of strategies in Social Action. They are :

1)   Educational Strategy: Social action can be the procedure by education. It means informing people about the programmes and their goals and objectives. Basically, make awareness of the programs to the people. Techniques of education :

a) Education at an individual level.

b) Education at group level.

c) Mass level education (meetings, motivational speech, public opinion)

d) Education by demonstration (dailies, posters, wall arts, leaflets)

2)  Persuasive Strategy: Encourage, Manage, Convince, Motivate, Influence, Understand etc.

3)   Facilitate Strategy: Cash money, education ( free materials, night school), health (medicine, prescription, consultancy)

4) Power Strategy: Coercion, force, pressurise, power apply, campaign, persuasion, and rebellion activities (hartal, strike ) etc.

According to W. A. Friedlander: There are four types of strategy in Social action such as :

1)    Communication

2)    Information  & educational

3)    Promotion/ Development of Social Legislation

4)    Legislative Publicity


Principles of Social Action

Considering the Gandhian principle of mobilisation as a typical example of the direct mobilisation model of social action, Britto (1984) brings out the following principles of social action:

The Principle of Credibility Building

It is the task of creating the public image of leadership, the organisation, and the movement's participants as champions of justice, rectitude, and truth. It helps secure due recognition from the opponent, the reference public and the peripheral participants of the movement. Basically, Social Action initiates some programs in any particular area, and people of that locality are the participants of this programme. So, This programme should be credible and clear about its goal, objectives, process, facilities etc. Credibility can be built through one or many of the following ways:

1) Gestures of goodwill towards / Managing the opponent: It's the most important to implement any social action to manage oppositions, nor they'll create many problems against it, by round-table discussion, understanding facilities for them, meeting, conference etc.

2)  Setting/Creating Examples: This is also another vital way to make the programme credible by creating examples such as a programme on "Education for all in Rural area" and examples as To get good job education is compulsory or To get free from exploitation education is necessary.

3)   Selection of typical, urgently felt problems for struggles / Instant facilities in an emergency: The leaders gain credibility if they stress the people's felt needs. By doing this the programme will be more reliable to the people. This programme will be more credible if it's taken in favour of locality and the significant problems of the locality, as for the programme on "Education for all in Rural area" supply free educational materials or build some educational institutions.

4)  Success: Successful efforts help set up the leader's credibility and the philosophy they preach. If this programme runs successfully, then gov't initiates/takes an extended effort, and NGOs help make it successful.


Principle of Legitimisation

Legitimisation is convincing the target group and the general public that the movement's objectives are morally right. The ideal would be making a case for the movement as a moral imperative. Leaders of the movement might use theological, philosophical, legal-technical, and public opinion paths to establish the tenability of the movement's objectives. Legitimisation is a continuous process. Before launching the programme, the leaders justify their actions. Subsequently, as the conflict exhilarates to higher stages and the leader adds a new dimension to their programme, further justification is added, and new arguments are put forth. Such justification is not done by leaders alone. In their participation, followers, too, contribute to the legitimisation process. Following are the three approaches to legitimisation:

1)  Theological and religious approach to legitimisation: This programme should be religiously and theologically purified and avoid any contradictory issues.

2) Moral approach to legitimisation: This programme should be free from irregularity, corruption, nepotism, and deviant issues, but there'll be based on justice, proper allocation, integrity, morality, honesty, equality etc.

3) Legal-technical approach to legitimisation: It's important to follow the national policies, and existing laws and understand social rules and regulations to legitimise the programme.


Principle of Dramatisation

The dramatisation is the principle of mass mobilisation. The movement's leaders galvanise the population into action by emotional appeals to heroism, sensational news management, novel procedures, pungent slogans, and other techniques. Almost every leader mobilising the masses uses this principle of dramatisation. Some of the mechanisms of dramatisation could be:

1)  Use of Poems & Songs: Programme related songs and poems also dramatised people in 1971. There were a lot of poetry and themes related to the liberation war that inspired freedom fighters to fight for the country.

2)  Powerful speeches: This is also a crucial way of motivating & understanding the masses and creating a drama-effect.

3) Role of women: Making prominent/ inspired/influenced women to lead marchers was a technique that gave a dramatic effect to the movement.

4) Boycott: This is a violent approach. Boycott is also an effective way of influencing public opinion both when the effort is successful and crushed. Possession, People chain, Picketing and 'hartals'– voluntary closure of shops and other organisations, used to dramatise the issue. But everything should be in the honest procedure (integrity, justice, morality) by Heroism or Leadership.

5) Slogans: Jokkha Valo hoy, Say no to drugs, HIV/AIDS– knowledge is prevention, etc. are some of the slogans used to give a dramatic effect to various social movements.


Principle of Multiple Strategies

There are two basic approaches to development: conflictual and nonconflictual. Taking the main thrust of a programme, one can classify it as political, economic or social. The basket principle indicates the adoption of multiple strategies, using combined approaches and a combination of different programmes. Zeldman and Duncan have identified four development strategies from their community development experience. These have been framed for use in social action. They are:

1) Educational strategy: The prospective participants are educated at the individual, group, and mass level in this strategy. This is one of the basic requirements of social action. People or target groups are given the necessary information about the issue. People are motivated and persuaded to participate in the movement by creating awareness. Education by demonstration is an essential aspect of this principle. The demonstration has a profound impact on the knowledge retention of the target population.

2) Persuasive strategy: Persuasive strategy adopts a set of actions/procedures to bring about changes by reasoning, urging and inducing others to accept a particular viewpoint. It means managing people to seek opportunities for dialogue with their opponents, rally, oratory and gentle presentation of arguments, using meetings, conferences, banners, posters, placards, leaflets, electric media, dailies and visit door to door etc.   

4) Facilitative strategy: This refers to procedures and activities to facilitate the participation of all sections of society in the mass movement.

5) Power strategy: It involves coercion to obtain the desired objectives. The forms of coercion may vary in motivation, campaign, persuasion, and rebellion activities. (ex- gov't initiative free and compulsory primary education and to implement it, in initiative stage coercion should apply).


Principle of Dual Approach

Any activist has to build counter-systems or revive some new system, which is thought to benefit the mobilised public on a self-help basis without involving the opponent. This is a natural requirement consequent upon attempting to destroy the system established/maintained by the opponents. Then use 2nd approach Self-help approach (help people individually, not in a group)


Principle of Manifold Programmes

It means developing various programmes with the ultimate objective of mass mobilisation. These can be broadly categorised into three parts:

1) Social (Health, Education, illiteracy, awareness, nutrition, counsel, vaccine, community-based health services – Surjer Hasi, Sobuj Chata etc.)

2) Economic (employment, VT, micro-financing, human resources development, marketing, self-entrepreneurship, level of standard, investment etc.)

3) Political (participation, election, voting, public opinion, rally, meeting, democracy, gov't, campaigning etc.)


Models of Social Action in Social Work

There are two main models of social action, as given by Britto (1984). They are:

1) Elitist Social Action

2) Popular Social Action

When social action is carried out by the elite exclusively or with marginal participation of the masses, it is termed 'elitist social action'. Elite social action is essentially a group action. The other model of social action is termed 'popular social action' in which either the elite incorporate the clientele in the process or the beneficiaries themselves carry it out. Three sub-models can be identified in each type of social action.

Model 1: Elitist Social Action

In this model of social action, only elites (few people with higher status and responsible positions) initiate and conduct the action or movement for the benefit of the masses. The distinct aspect of this model is that the general population or the target group is not involved directly in the process. Still, sometimes, some like-minded people from the mass participation in this model of social action put their effort together to bring about suitable change in the system by influencing it through social legislation. In this model of social action, the general public or the target group is not involved. The three sub-models of elitist social action are:

Legislative Social Action Model

It is a process in which elite groups conduct studies on the gravity, extent, and urgency of the problems, create public opinion, and lobby to modify the social policy. Here, the general population or the target group is not involved directly. Some elites, themselves or like-minded individuals, take up the social issues they think can be related to the pressing problem. They do lobbying and other similar activities to achieve some benefits for the entire segment of people, prevent some maladies from affecting their clientele, or remove some problems hindering their growth. How is such a type of social action conducted? The elites set up or be a part of commissions and conduct studies on the social problem they consider crucial.

After conducting studies on the gravity, extent and urgency of the problem, they chalk out scientific, feasible interventions, create public opinion and do lobbying. They discuss the matter with the concerned officials and Ministers and persuade them to take up appropriate interventions. The elites get the rule, law and appropriation approved. They also assist in the proper implementation of the new policy.
The process of this model is 
a) Identification of Problems
b) In-depth study of problems
c) Forming commission
d) Awareness building
e) Forming policy and making laws        


Economic Sanction Model

In this type of social action, the elites try to obtain benefits for society by gaining control over some economic, social, political or religious weapon. In this process, the elites gain control over some financial resources and use them as a threat to get benefits for their clientele. Usually, the elites want to take control of social, economic, and religious institutions for their own interest. They take different programs such as handing cash to vulnerable families during one's marriage, death and donating money to Madrashas, Mosque, Temples in Waz-Mahfil etc.

Direct Physical Model

It is a process where elites take the law into their own hands and punish those responsible for the cause of injustice and thus try to benefit their clientele. Sometimes the elites help others on their own, and it comes from humanity, brotherhoods, spiritual effect, self-motivated, hope for fame and name or popularity.


Model 2: Popular Social Action

It is the second type of social action model given by Britto. In the popular social action model, many people with or without elite participation are involved. They aim their aggressive/conflictive action against the unjust and dehumanizing structures, agencies, policies, procedures or oppressive agents. The direct mobilization, dialectical, and conscientization models are the sub-types of social action. These models differ from each other in some respects, and they have some common features, as mentioned below:

Conscientization Model

It is based on Paulo Freire's concept of creating awareness among the masses through education. Paulo Friere developed the concept of conscientization, which means educating the people about the oppression, oppressed and the oppressor (their own position in the two groups), their inter-relationship, the power structure and ways to liberate from the oppressed or oppressor class. Friere maintains that when the oppressed and/or oppressor are conscientized, there exist motivating possibilities for the true liberation of mankind and the most efficient domestication of man. He believed that education can be a tool for re-education and social action. The conscientization process results not merely in learning literary skills. Still, it is intended to assist the participants in liberating themselves from all structures, which inhibit the realization of their full humanity through action-reflection-action. This form of social action involves maximum participation of the concerned population.

People are allowed to analyze and understand the social structures that circumscribe their lives. To know is to change, and so they are invited to transform the structures through the means of their choice. As a result of humanization, it is hoped that the oppressed do not become oppressors in their turn. In the present situation, this model of social action is being extensively used in several countries.


Dialectical Mobilization Model

It helps in promoting conflict to exploit the contradictions in a system, believing that a better alternative system will emerge as a result. Dialectic means the art of logical disputation. This process involves an initial proposition (thesis), which is inadequate and generates a counter proposition (antithesis), and the rational context of both is taken up in the synthesis. In other words, when individuals or groups take up extreme positions and argue, the position may be taken as the thesis and that of the other as the antithesis.

The result of their argumentation, an inevitable conclusion acceptable to both, may be termed synthesis. Thus, posing contradictory positions and arriving at a better decision is termed dialectics in logic. Actionists who follow a dialectical process take the logical to the ontological. They assume that all forces clash and develop in nature and human institutions. Every institution and social force contains the element of its own disintegration. They expose the contradictions within a system, promote conflicts and expect a higher-order result in the social-economic political structures.

Direct Mobilization Model of Popular Social Action

In the direct mobilization model, the social actionists take up specific issues, and the masses are mobilized to resort to protests and strikes to achieve the objectives. In this process, the leaders or elites pick up specific grievances or issues affecting the people at large. They analyze the causal factors at the root of the injustice. They formulate alternative policies and procedures and mobilize the masses for protest activities to achieve the set objectives. By this model, thesis groups participate and initiate this programme and antithesis groups set opposition to this programme. Then, by managing, convincing, and motivating about the goals and objectives of the programme, when the opponent supports this programme, it's called synthesis.


The social action might be initiated by elites, the beneficiaries themselves, or even the state or government. The target of action may be individuals, groups or communities. The action may either visualize their participation or only that of elites/institutions with people as recipients. In addition, the locus of action again maybe state institutions, associations, groups, and people, and its coverage may be confined to the grassroots level or may even extend to intermediate and macro levels. The action may be active (a need is perceived by an individual, group or agency and becomes the cause of action) or reactive (the action is a response to a situation created by an earlier action).

Model 3: Social Action Model

Considering these factors, a framework of social action has been described below: The social action might be initiated by elites or the beneficiaries themselves or even by the state or government. The target of action may be individuals, groups or communities. The action may either visualize their participation or only that of elites/institutions with people as recipients. In addition, the locus of action again maybe state institutions, associations, groups, and people, and its coverage may be confined to the grassroots level or may even extend to intermediate and macro levels. The action may be active (a need is perceived by an individual, group or agency and becomes the cause of action) or reactive (the action is a response to a situation created by an earlier action). Taking these factors into account, a framework of social action has been described below:
1) Institutional (state)
2) Institutional (Social )
3) Social Institutional
4) Populist/Movement 
5) Gandhian (Militant non-violent tradition; Gentle, non-violent tradition; and Citizenship model of constructive work)


Models Institutional (state) Model of Social Action

It is the social action initiated by the state or government. Social action by the state generally takes an indirect form, and its aim is to benefit the people with or without their participation. The approach is parliamentary, representational, bureaucratic and elitist. The action is organized or sponsored within the framework of law and may be legalized subsequently. For example, the government passes executive orders to regularise unauthorized settlements of the poor in urban settings and implement programmes for community reconstruction, say, as proper sewage, availability of safe drinking water, free immunization, and health check-ups. This is initiated for a particular period, and gov't then makes it permanent, and this follows the process: Policy ~ Programme ~ Legalize ~ Law act. 

Institutional-Social Model of Social Action

It visualizes social action by non-governmental institutions aided or unaided by the government. In this model, action is initiated either directly or with the support of the people. It has a strong legal framework in favour of the common people. Even in some instances, people's active support is sought in time. In the beginning, the action is initiated for the people but subsequently progresses with and through them. The inherent theme behind such social action is primarily 'welfarist' or providing relief and services to the needy. The action often occurs within the framework of law, such as social action is taken up by NGOs, say, as sanitation drive in a slum area or a movement to re-admit school drop-out girls and boys in a community. 



Social Institutional Model of Social Action

This type of social action may be organized by the citizens, self-help groups, elites, the deprived, and others for their benefit. It may seek support from formal groups and institutions (s) that may like to espouse its causes in its progression and development. It may be direct, participatory and even radical. Depending upon its success,s it may institutionalize itself formally or remain a spontaneous and sporadic effort with an informed and critically aware social base and power. The nature of such action may be constitutional or extra-constitutional. The social institutional model can be distinguished from the institutional social model in that in the latter, one action is initiated by the institution, say an NGO. At some stage, people are mobilized to participate. On the other hand, in the social, institutional model, people initiate social action and may collaborate with some institution working for a similar cause. (Organized by particular social groups for their own interest ) 


Populist/Movement/Real Model of Social Action

The fourth model relies entirely on a popular social base and power. It rejects dependency and stresses self-reliance through collective effort, active participation, and continuing education. This is an ideal form of social action in which participants experience thinking, deciding and working together in helping themselves and, in the process, also strengthen their social base and power. It is an action of the people, for the people and by the people. This type of action may partake of some of the characteristics of a movement and may both be constitutional and extra-constitutional. It may be routinizing or self-terminating.

Gandhian Model of Social Action

Social action of the Gandhian tradition emerges as a class by itself because of its emphasis on spirituality, purity of means and ends, non-violence as a creed, austerity (limitation of want), and moral re-armament of people. Constructive thinking, mobilization, organization and action are the essential ingredients of this model. People's power remains the basis in all the three types of social action of this tradition. This model has three sub-types: 


Militant non-violent tradition

With non-violence still the base, this tradition or approach calls for a political and revolutionary character to the social action. It aims at forceful intervention to bring about radical changes in the social system. It does not rely totally on the peaceful and constructive work done at the grassroots level. It believes in the redistribution of power and resources, and to achieve this aim, it intends to mobilize the masses to take action. For example, the chipko movement emerged out of the protest against rampant deforestation in the Himalayan hills caused by indiscriminate deforestation for commercial consumption. 

Gentle, non-violent tradition

The Satyagraha did by Vinoba Bhave for Satyagraha and village and community reconstruction explains Gandhian social action's gentle, non-violent form. It is the process of peaceful bargaining or discussion with gov't to settle the problems, for example, by submitting the memorandum, quiet possession, and arranging the human chain. It blends the components of the social (populist-movement) and the grassroots-institutional (constructive work). Bhudaan (donation of land) and gram-Daan (donation of villages) for the reconstruction of the Gandhian socialist community are fine examples of this tradition. 

Citizenship model of constructive work

This type of social action concentrates mainly on the grassroots level of social activity (citizenship) through education. This type of social action relies on constructive work and believes that necessary changes in the social system would occur in due time. It rejects coming into conflict with the authorities, protests and boycotts to achieve the desired objective of social change. It prefers to lay stress on consensus, and citizenship's role (model) and visualizes a revolution in thought and method. It includes agro-based activity, environmental issues, neatness and cleanliness, digging canals, afforestation campaign, roads and bridge constructions etc.

The Gandhian approach further subscribes to the view that the government depends upon the people and not the people on the government. All exploitation is based on cooperation-willing or force– of the exploited, and therefore there is a need to generate social power – a capacity to control the behaviour of others, directly and indirectly, through action by groups of people which impinges on other groups. Non-violent action is not only a policy for a faithful Gandhian worker but also a creed, and the constructive programme is considered to be the core of such action. 

In all the three traditions of Gandhian social action, people's base is considered primary; a parliamentary approach is regarded as inadequate; and while the last two types concentrate on the solution of social and economic problems, through people building and action, militant non-violent tradition model also adds political dimensions to them. The role of institutions is considered enabling, people-based and supportive in all three forms–which aims towards creating a caring and welfare society as contrasted with a welfare state. 

The above five models of social action are interrelated phases of a process and its progression from the involvement of institutions to that of the people. These may be contributive, complementary, completing, and even counteracting depending upon their perception of the need situation, goals, approaches and respective roles of the institutions and/or people. These should, however, not be treated in as 'either/ or fashion, or as mutually exclusive. Initiative for an organized effort may spring from one model, only to be seized upon by the others and routinized by the third. Social action is a process of continuing constituency work through education, and whenever it is found feeble or absent, it needs to be 'cultivated'.

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