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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Social Activism, Civil Disobedience and Anti-Racism Movements: First Steps

A guide on Activism, Protest, Social Movements and Police Response to Civil Unrest

Encyclopedias & Websites - Getting Background on Activist Movements

Try searching a social movement in Gale Virtual Reference Library (CUNY USE ONLY) which provides the following encyclopedias as e-books:

Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice

Revolts, Protests, Demonstrations, and Rebellions in American History

Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media

Try searching the issue and/or movement you are researching on CQ Researcher (CUNY use only). The following sample CQ Researcher reports are on social issues & activism, there are many more:

Greenblatt, A. (2015, June 26). Millennial generation. CQ Researcher, 25, 553-576.

Glazer, S. (2015, May 8). Free speech on campus. CQ Researcher, 25, 409-432.

Beary, B. (2015, January 9). European unrest. CQ Researcher, 25, 25-48.

Katel, P. (2014, December 12). Police tactics. CQ Researcher, 24, 1033-1060.

Glazer, S. (2014, April 18). Wealth and inequality. CQ Researcher, 24, 337-360.

Jost, K. (2013, February 1). Unrest in the Arab world. CQ Researcher, 23, 105-132.

Katel, P. (2012, January 13). ‘Occupy’ movement. CQ Researcher, 22, 25-52.

Image from:

Suggested Website - The Center for the Study of Social Movements (CSSM) at Notre Dame University

Civil Disobedience - Definition

Civil Disobedience. (2008). In W. A. Darity, Jr. (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (2nd ed., Vol. 1, pp. 545-546). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA.

Civil disobedience is a form of sociopolitical protest consisting of the deliberate and intentional breaking of a law that is believed to be unjust. As John Rawls defines it in A Theory of Justice ([1971] 1991), civil disobedience is “a public, nonviolent, conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in the law or policies of the government” (p. 320). It is marked by several distinctive and defining features. Firstly, to qualify as civil disobedience, such lawbreaking must be undertaken only after other legal and political avenues have been exhausted (or blocked repeatedly by civil authorities). Secondly, it must be done openly and in plain view of a wider public. Thirdly, the protesters’ reasons for breaking the law must be articulated and explained to that public. (Taken together, the second and third criteria are sometimes called the publicity requirement.) Fourthly, such disobedience must be nonviolent and cause no harm or injury to anyone other than the protesters (in the event that the authorities use physical force). And fifthly, the protesters must accept whatever punishment is meted out to them by civil authorities... Read more of this encyclopedia entry

Anarchism - Definitions

Anarchism. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Ed. William A. Darity, Jr. Vol. 1. 2nd ed.  Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008. p111-112.

Anarchy. Encyclopedia of U.S. National Security. Ed. Richard J. Samuels. Vol. 1.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference, 2006. p23

Anarchy. Encyclopedia of Governance. Vol. 1.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference, 2007. p18-19.

Anarchism. A. J. Beitzinger. New Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. 2nd ed.  Detroit: Gale, 2003. p383-385.

Anarchism. David Macauley. Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy. Ed. J. Baird Callicott and Robert Frodeman. Vol. 1.  Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2009. p38-40.

Anarchism and Criticisms on Anarchism on Wikipedia

Social Activism - Definitions

Activism, Social and Political. (2007). In G. L. Anderson & K. G. Herr (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice (Vol. 1, pp. 19-27). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference.

Activism is action on behalf of a cause, action that goes beyond what is conventional or routine. The action might be door-to-door canvassing, alternative radio, public meetings, rallies, or fasting. The cause might be women’s rights, opposition to a factory, or world peace. Activism has played a major role in ending slavery, challenging dictatorships, protecting workers from exploitation, protecting the environment, promoting equality for women, opposing racism, and many other important issues. Activism can also be used for aims such as attacking minorities or promoting war... Read more of this entry (CUNY use only)