Cultural Politics and Social Movements

Cultural Politics and Social Movements

Cultural Politics and Social Movements

Cultural Politics and Social Movements


Bridging the worlds of activism and academia-social movement theory informed with the real experiences of activists-this volume of accessible essays brings together insights from European New Social Movement theorists, U. S. scholars of social movements, and activists involved in social movements from the 1960s to the 1990s. Author note: Marcy Darnovsky is Visiting Lecturer at the Hutchins School of Liberal Studies, Sonoma State University and Hayward State University. >P>Barbara Epstein, Professor in the History of Consciousness Board at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is author of Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s. >P>Richard Flacks is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of several books, including Beyond the Barricades: The Sixties Generation Grows Up (with Jack Whalen, Temple).


Like so much else about social movements, the meaning of the term is itself often hotly contested. For us, social movements are collective efforts by socially and politically subordinated people to challenge the conditions and assumptions of their lives. These efforts are a distinctive sort of social activity: collective action becomes a "movement" when participants refuse to accept the boundaries of established institutional rules and routinized roles. Single instances of such popular defiance don't make a movement; the term refers to persistent, patterned, and widely distributed collective challenges to the status quo.

While traditional definitions usually focus on movement challenges to political structures, economic arrangements, and institutional rules, social movements -- perhaps especially contemporary ones -- also take on established cultural categories and social identities. Accordingly, social movements appear to be simultaneously spontaneous and strategic, expressive (of emotion and need) and instrumental (seeking some concrete ends), unruly and organized, political and cultural. The seeming contradictoriness of movement activity therefore challenges not only political systems and cultural status quos but also many of our explanatory frameworks and analytic categories. When social movements are surging, both social order and social theory are called into question.

Social Movements as a Field of Study

Intellectual discourse about social movements has always been tightly connected to theorists' attitudes toward democracy. At the most conservative pole have been those who, from at least the time of the French Revolution, saw the actions of unruly mobs as proof of the inherent danger of democracy and of the need for authoritative social control. At the liberal center has been the view that movements, although undesirable, are symptoms of institutional failure, and, therefore, that they signal the need for social reform, including reforms that would strengthen the legitimacy of established authority by granting the unruly certain rights of democratic citizenship. On the left have been those who interpreted popular movements as evidence of the illegiti-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.