What is W.U.N.C? Aside from being a contender for my favourite acronym, it is a concept which I haven’t been able to get out of my head all weekend.
I came across it in Charles Tilly’s book ‘Social Movements 1768-2004 (Tilly,2013,p.4) and it really struck a chord with me.
W.U.N.C , is a sociology theory and a way of assessing the nature of a social movement, basically broken down into 4 categories, if it fits into these then in theory it is a legitimate movement.
So let’s break it down:
W – Worthiness : as in whether the people involved in the movement are ‘worthy’ , I.e whether they are respectable both in appearance and in their professions.
U – Unity : are all members of the campaign group united or are there internal divisions? how is the campaign orchestrated in order to create unity?
N – Numbers : how many people are in the organisation? how many people are out in the streets? how many people have put their name on your petition?
C – Commitment: how committed are participants to the cause? are they braving bad weather or violent resistance to be at the protest?
One of the points was particularly interesting to me and I found myself thinking more and more about it over the past few days, Worthiness.
How can we as individuals, with wildly different personal and political views define what worthiness is? Whilst WUNC theory explains this as simply being down to the appearance and character of the group members I had a nagging feeling that ‘Worthiness’ could mean something more. The word itself is defined as “The quality of being good enough” and “The quality of deserving attention or respect”.
For example,I see collective action by Unions and workers as a worthy form of social movement, however there are many people who not only see it as unworthy but would like to ban it as a form of social protest altogether. What makes my opinion of worthiness more valuable than theirs?
However, could a split of ‘worthiness’ in a movement, between different groups who may feel ignored because of factors like class or gender, cause a domino effect? Consequently if certain members feel they are more committed, or are putting more of an effort in to the movement then would they be inclined to split the movement into smaller factions?
This could affect both unity and numbers and create a factional split – where the belief of the splinter groups are similar to the original group but for minor differences caused by internal issues. A good example of this would be the 1981 Labour party split , which created the SDP. (Rubinstein,2006,pp 152-4)
The question remains, however as to how we as historians use social movements in our work. One thing I have thought about is whether it really is possible to apply each of the above points to any given movement and come up with a categorical definition of a ‘social movement’, in other words , how can people with different personal or political views look at past events and apply these theories without adding personal prejudices on to them, and invalidating some movements whilst supporting others?
This is something I would like to explore more deeply over the coming weeks as I develop my knowledge of social movements and social theory further.