Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

The Cultural Perspective in Social Movement Theories and Past Research on the Solidarity Movement

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

The Cultural Perspective in Social Movement Theories and Past Research on the Solidarity Movement

Article excerpt

Introduction: The Cultural Perspective in the Study of Social Movements

The cultural perspective is becoming increasingly popular in the sociology of social movements. Considered a revolutionary approach not too long ago, and now ubiquitous and even taken for granted, this perspective assumes that economic and political structural conditions are not the only factors behind the emergence and dynamic of social movements. The list of crucial determinants also includes common shared values, ideologies, lifestyles, laws, organizational models, webs of meaning, collective identities, rituals, and beliefs. The first challenges to the structural paradigm occurred in the early 1980s with the appearance of studies in the field of cultural analysis, initially loosely associated with social movements (Swidler 1986), and with growing interest in the social constructionist perspective (Klandermans and Tarrow 1988; Morris and Mueller 1992). While it would be incorrect to describe the cultural perspective as completely absent from the sociology of social movements prior to this period, it is only henceforth that it is more systematically encapsulated in a theoretical framework and spreads into fields of study other than those bordering on ethnography. This was undoubtedly prompted by the appearance of the theory of new social movements (e.g., Touraine 1989), master frames (e.g., Snow et al. 1986; Benford and Snow 2000), and collective identities (e.g., Melucci 1989). Authors who have observed the evolution of the theory towards a more serious consideration of cultural factors include Francesca Polleta (2008), Jennifer Earl (2004), and Jan Kubik (2007-2008), while others (including Johnston and Klandermans 1995; Goodwin and Jasper 2004; della Porta and Diani 2006; Baumgarten, Daphi and Ulrich 2014) have gone further, engaging in an interesting discussion on the strong and weak points as well as the prospects of the cultural perspective in the study of social movements. With the exception of one article by Jan Kubik (2007-2008), Polish studies of social movement theory devote little if any attention to the approach, often due to their date of publication (cf. Gliński 1996; Kuczyński 1994; Sztompka 2005; Żuk 2001). The occasional early mentions of the cultural perspective were warranted by the need to explain that which could not be explained by referencing structural conditions, that is, in order to fill in gaps in older theories (Polleta 2008: 78-79); it has since become a truism to say that social movements strive not only to effect economic and political change, but also pursue cultural goals of their own: being themselves a product of a particular culture by which they are defined, enabled, and limited, they create their own more or less open culture, which then facilitates the reproduction-and the challenging-of existing structures.

Definitions of Culture

There exist many definitions of culture and choosing among them is not always an arbitrary matter (Sewell 1999). In this paper I employ a broad understanding of the term, not limiting it to artifacts and the social movements activities directly associated with the field of culture. The definitions of culture used in the study of social movements typically revolve around a Weberian sociology-emphasizing the agency and initiative of social actors (leaders and participants of a social movement)-or, alternatively, around Durkheimian sociology, now supplanted by Pierre Bourdieu and Michel Foucault, emphasizing the power and influence of the cultural context over the actions of the individual (Swidler 1995; Williams 2004).

Here, I apply definitions associated with both Weber and French sociologists. I take as my point of departure the categorization proposed by Stephen Hart (1996; cf. Earl 2004), which is only one possible division (cf. Johnston 2009), but has the advantage of presenting the broadest range of uses of the term culture. Building on a body of several works that attempt to overcome the structural paradigm, Hart lists three concepts of culture employed by social movement scholars (1996: 88-89):

* The social-psychological approach, which defines culture as a set of values, beliefs, and motivations characterizing individuals. …

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