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

By Steven M. Buechler | Go to book overview

7
The Political State Politics and Social Politics

A substantial debate about collective action has recently swirled around an elusive distinction between "the political" and "the cultural," and how social movements exemplify these dimensions in their activism. There are at least three levels on which this discussion is occurring. First, at the level of general social theory, the last two decades have seen dramatic shifts away from the political concerns of much social theory toward more cultural issues. This "culturalist turn" in social theory is evidenced by hermeneutics, poststructuralism, semiotics, deconstructionism, and postmodernism. Second, at the level of social movement theory, the last decade has seen a more gradual shift from the political and organizational concerns of resource mobilization theory toward a more cultural emphasis evidenced by social constructionism and many aspects of new social movement theory. Finally, at the level of social movements themselves, there have been various claims about the extent to which more culturally oriented movements have begun to displace more politically oriented movements. At all three levels, the trajectory has thus been from the political to the cultural.

The structural approach advocated here does not provide any immediate answers to these debates concerning the political and cultural dimensions of social activism, but it does provide some implicit guidance. The complex notion of structure (including historical, dialectical, and processual elements) and the multilevel structural model of society developed earlier imply a theoretically open and synthetic approach to the political and cultural elements of social activism. Rather than a dichotomous categorization of movements as either one or the other, this structural approach recognizes the extent to which all social movements contain both political and cultural elements. Thus, all

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