Global Structures and Social Movements The World-Capitalist System
Modern social movements have a history as old as that of sociology itself. Indeed, as indicated in Chapter 1, the histories of these two phenomena share an important family resemblance in the premise that society is a social construction to be transformed or explained. Despite this lineage, sociology has been only intermittently attentive to social movements, and its periodic attention has reflected sociohistorical and intellectual climates as much as collective action itself. Nevertheless, the past 25 years have been one of the most productive and intensive periods in the history of social movement theory. My goal in Part II of this book is to consolidate, build on, and contribute to this revival of social movement theory by developing a structural approach to social movements. Based on the premise that social movements are rooted in multiple, historically specific levels of social structure, this approach explores the myriad linkages between these types of social structure and the nature of social movements. This structural approach is briefly described in the next section. The remainder of this chapter then explores the global level of sociohistorical structure; subsequent chapters take up the national, regional, and local levels of sociohistorical structure.
Our understanding of social activism today is seriously hampered by the lack of a broader theory of society. To paraphrase Mills's discussion of the sociological imagination ( 1959), the promise of such a theory is the ability to in-