Struggling for a Social Europe: Neoliberal Globalisation and the Birth of a European Social Movement

By Vandenberg, Andrew | Capital & Class, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview

Struggling for a Social Europe: Neoliberal Globalisation and the Birth of a European Social Movement


Vandenberg, Andrew, Capital & Class


Andy Mathers Struggling for a Social Europe: Neotiberai Globalisation and the Birth of a European Soda! Movement Ashgate, 2007, 215 pp. ISBN: 978-0-7546-4580-1 (hbk) £50

reviewed by Andrew Vandenberg

This book redeems itself with several interesting aspects, but on the whole, it is disappointing. The book's interesting central argument is that because the 'new socialdemocratic left' (Touraine, Melucci, Gorz, Castells, Habermas, Offe, Beck and Giddens) deploys a Weberian assumption that class is an economic category, it both exaggerates the various forms of a 'new times' thesis and dismisses the labour movement as an outdated actor incapable of forging alliances with the new social movements. A Marxian assumption that class is a comprehensive social relation provides more realistic grounds for strategic deliberations that inevitably include unions. What is disappointing about the book is that the substantial chapters cannot fulfil the promise of this critique, because they look closely at only one actor: namely, a protest movement to achieve a 'social Europe' among the unemployed activists who organised 'European marches' to EU summits from several points around Europe between 1996 and 2000. The analysis of a struggle requires either study of a structure of subordination (class, race, gender), study of a structure of action (rational choice), or study of iterative actions and reactions by contending actors. To study one actor is like studying wives without studying either husbands or the institution of marriage. Mather often mentions other actors and the wider context of capitalism, but offers no analysis of struggle between contending forces or actors.

The introductory chapter notes that the European marches were about social protest rather than social partnership. The European Trade Union Confederation kept its distance, but the organisers did garner support amongst various radical unions. The chapter also notes that where Touraine disparaged the European marches, Bourdieu supported them enthusiastically. The next chapter offers a series of excellent précis of arguments about, first, the shift from an industrial to a postindustrial order (Touraine, Melucci, Gorz, Castells), and second, the crisis of modernity (Habermas, Offe, Beck, Giddens). This leads to the well-grounded conclusion that a contrast between Old' and 'new' social movements operates with a gradational Weberian concept of class as an economic category. After these concise and lucid opening chapters, Chapter 3 offers a less interesting discussion of critical ethnography and Touraine's four types of intellectual. In a dozen cities around Europe, the author interviewed a total of thirty-seven activists in German, French and English, collected many pamphlets and diverse documents, perused many websites, and participated in many meetings, demonstrations, actions, and press conferences. In the next three chapters, a comprehensive picture of an emerging actor is presented from the insider's perspective of an engaged activist who is also a trained researcher and skilled interviewer.

Chapter 4 describes the efforts of unemployed activists to organise 'European marches' by unemployed people to Amsterdam, Cologne and Nice from many places around Europe between mid-i996 and the end of 2000. A second shortcoming of the book arises in the way Mather draws on the work of Sidney Tarrow, who has written about the formation of transnational social movements. This is obviously pertinent to the transnational aspect of the European marches, but Mather deploys Tarrow's arguments in a shallow way. He seems to be unaware of Tarrow's leading role in an extensive effort with collaborators Doug McAdam and Charles Tilly (McAdam, 2001) and a host of followers to comprehensively revise the North American approach to the study of social movements. Since the mid-1990s, Tarrow and colleagues have developed an approach that eschews both structures and agents in favour of studying relations between actors, repertoires of contention (marches, rallies, strikes) and sites of contention (streets, other public places, institutions, workplaces). …

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