National Structures and Social Movements Crisis, Colonization, and Post-Fordism
Despite the growing role of global dynamics in modern society, the bulk of collective action still occurs within nationally defined contexts in which the state plays a critical role. Thus, any workable theory of society must have a means of conceptualizing the national level of sociohistorical structure as a crucial backdrop of social movement activism. There has been no shortage of sociological attempts to identify and describe the leading features of modern society, but I believe the most useful of these attempts characterize the United States as an advanced capitalist social formation. Such a designation has several advantages. For one, it provides a thread of continuity between our understanding of global and national structures by placing the economic dynamics of capitalism at the center of the analysis. For another, it underscores the fact that capitalism is a changing system that has evolved from earlier forms to "advanced" forms in a process of social transformation that altered many other societal dynamics as well. Finally, although such a conception draws heavily on the Marxist tradition (as does world-system theory), the most useful theorists of advanced capitalism propose a complex and tentative theory of an open system that eschews the dogmatism and orthodoxy that have sometimes plagued such approaches. Just as the work of Wallerstein and other world-system theorists served as a useful guide for understanding the global level of structure, I will rely on the work of Jurgen Habermas, along with several theorists of "post-Fordism," to orient us to advanced capitalism. Once again, there is a voluminous literature of critique and commentary that is beyond the scope of this discussion; my goal is rather to selectively borrow those features of this theoretical work that offer the best angle of vision for theorizing collective action.