Social Movements in Advanced Capitalism: The Political Economy and Cultural Construction of Social Activism

By Steven M. Buechler | Go to book overview

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Social Movements and Sociology Siblings of Modernity

Social movements have profoundly influenced the contours of modern society and the discipline of sociology. Despite this dual influence, the analysis of social movements within sociology has only begun to receive systematic attention in the past 20 years. Prior to this time, social movements were treated as a subcategory within an amorphous area called collective behavior that itself was tangential to the core of sociology. The historical marginality of social movements within sociology is ironic given the standard textbook definitions of the discipline as concerned with the study of "social statics" and "social dynamics." A survey of those textbooks, as well as the discipline, reveals that for myriad reasons sociology has focused on social statics and regarded social dynamics as a residual category. Perhaps it is an indicator of disciplinary maturation that the study of social change and social movements is now acquiring a new significance within sociology.

An historical consciousness suggests that this is not so much a new development as it is a return to the origins of sociology. The discipline emerged in a time of massive social change, and sociology sought to understand and explain those changes by placing them within the more comforting frames of "progress," "development," and "modernization." Additional comfort was offered through the promise that these changes had their own internal logic that could be understood through an application of the techniques of natural science to the social world. The emergent discipline of sociology thereby disciplined and normalized an unruly world of social turmoil by offering the first social-scientific accounts of the causes and consequences of that turmoil and its role in a process of social evolution.

Much of the turmoil that sociology sought to normalize was expressed in the collective action that emerged in response to state making, urbanization,

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