Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 12

27/03/12

Social Mo ements : International Enc clopedia of Political Science

Social Mo ements
In a comprehensive sense, the concept of social movement refers to (a) mostly informal networks of
interaction, based on (b) shared beliefs and solidarity, mobilized around (c) contentious themes, through (d)
the frequent use of various forms of protest. This entry begins with a discussion of the elements of this
definition. Next, specific forms of (nonconventional) participation, mobilization, and organization of social
movements are identified. Their impact in recent decades on political systems, democratization, public policies,
and even the international sphere is then highlighted. Finally, the consequences for normative political theory
and deliberative or direct forms of democracy are discussed.
Social movements are constituted by networks of informal relations between a plurality of individuals and
groups, which are more or less structured from an organizational point of view. While political parties and
pressure groups have relatively well-defined organizational boundaries, such as card-carrying members of
specific organizations, social movements are composed of scattered and weakly connected networks of
individuals who feel they are part of a collective effort. While organizations that refer to movements exist,
movements are not organizations but rather networks of relations between diverse actors that often also
include organizations with formal structures.
These networks of relations are considered as constituting a social movement when their members share a
system of beliefs that nourish solidarity and collective awareness. In fact, one characteristic of movements is
the elaboration of alternative world visions and value systems that differ from those dominating at that time.
For this reason, movements have been considered as protagonists of social change.
These emerging values form the basis of the definition of conflicts around which actors mobilize. In particular,
from the 1970s onward, new social movements were defined as actors in new conflicts. While Marxist analyses
traditionally posited the centrality of capitallabor conflicts, the transformations that followed World War II
stressed the relevance of social criteriasuch as gender or generationthat were not based on class position.
Scholars of the new movements, such as the French sociologist Alain Touraine, agree in highlighting the
declining relevance of the conflict between capital and labor. As Alberto Melucci has observed, in complex
societies, which require increasing integration and extend their control even over the motivations for action,
new social movements (e.g., ecological, feminist) try to oppose the penetration of the state and the market
into social life, reclaiming individual identity and the right to shield one's private and romantic life from the
omniscient manipulation of the system.
Finally, social movements are characterized by their adoption of unusual forms of political behavior. Many
scholars pinpoint the fundamental distinction between movements and other political actors in the use by the
former of protest as a form of exerting political pressure. Protest is defined as a nonconventional form of
action that interrupts daily routine. Protestors generally address their actions to public opinion over elected
representatives or public bureaucracies. In fact, movements are characterized by their fundamental critique of
representative democracy, and they challenge institutional assumptions about conventional ways of doing
politics in the name of participative democracy.
Over the past few years, the analysis of social movements has been approached through the concept of
contentious politics, defined as episodic, public, collective interaction among claims makers and their targets
(when at least one government is a claimant, an object of claims, or a party to the claim and the claims
would, if realized, affect the interests of at least one of the claimants). Doug McAdam, Sidney Tarrow, and
Charles Tilly developed a broad research project that addressed the similar mechanisms at play in social
movements, revolutions, democratization processes, and ethnic conflicts. Advocating a dynamic use of
concepts, the scholars involved in this project have tried to single out general mechanisms of contention.
Although social movement studies first developed in the field of sociology, they have also contributed, as will
be discussed below, to the main disciplinary subfields of political science.
sage-ereference.com/ ie /intlpoliticalscience/n565. ml?print

1/12

27/03/12

Social Mo ements : International Enc clopedia of Political Science

Nonconventional Participation
The first pieces of research on social movements in the field of political science were carried out within the
solid research tradition on political participation. While this field of research was initially focused on
conventional forms of participation, underlining the unequal participation of various social groups, from the
1970s onward, scholars began to observe a rapid growth of new, nonconventional forms of political
participation, such as petitions, sit-ins, boycotts, the occupation of buildings, and the blocking of traffic. This
led them to investigate the different styles of participation of different social groups, generations, or nations
and the conditions that would provoke the development of new forms of participation.
In an important piece of comparative research carried out in the 1970s on different Western democracies,
Samuel Barnes and Max Kaase observed that, with respect to laws and decisions seen as unjust or illegitimate,
ever-wider groups of citizens are ready to resort to forms of action characterized by their nonconventionality.
Yet we cannot speak of a real split between those who use orthodox participatory tactics and those who
use so-called direct-action tactics. In fact, conventional participation is often accompanied by nonconventional participation, indicating that those interested in politics and competent in the field tend to use a
range of the various available instruments for exerting pressure on governments. If there are individuals who
prefer one or the other type of strategy, there are nonetheless many who combine the two types. The
conclusion is that the increase in nonconventional participation is not an indicator of the decline of the
legitimacy of liberal democracies, where, on the contrary, a growth in political competence has been observed,
in particular among young people. It is instead an expression of a lasting enlargement of the strategies
available to citizens.
Later pieces of comparative research (among them work by Russell Dalton and Pippa Norris) have revealed that
while levels of traditional types of political participation have remained stable or (in some forms) declined in the
1990s and the new millennium, levels of noninstitutional participation have increased enormously. This growth
concerned all of the countries analyzed, and inside the single countries the differences in levels of
participation linked to gender, age, and educational level had lessened, leading some to speak of a
participatory revolution.
Research on social movements has made a particularly rich contribution to the analysis of political participation
in work on repertoires of protest. Charles Tilly has defined a modern repertoire of collective action as formed
by the set of means a group has at its disposal for making collective claims. Tilly has, in particular, identified
the differences in the types of contentious action in particular historical periods. Protest was certainly not
unheard of prior to the formation of the nation-state: Peasants burned down mills in protest against increases
in the price of bread; subjects dressed up to mock their superiors; and funerals could be turned into occasions
for denouncing injustices. The tactics adopted by protestors varied from the use of irreverent symbols and
music (as in the custom of charivari or shivaree) to field invasions and grain seizures. However, they all were
parochial in scope, addressing local actors or the local representatives of national actors; moreover, they
relied on patronage, appealing to local power holders to convey grievances or settle disputes. In the 19th
century, however, forms of collective action began to change, as the old parochial and patronage-dependent
repertoire was replaced by one that was national and autonomous, involving actions such as strikes, electoral
rallies, public meetings, petitions, marches, insurrections, and the invasion of legislative bodies. This
transformation in the form of protest was the result of the creation of the nation-state, the development of
capitalism, and the emergence of modern means of communication. The new repertoire, therefore, responded
to a new situation in which politics was increasingly national in character, the role of communities diminished,
and organized associations spread, particularly among the working class.

Resource Mobili ation and Organi ational Approaches


Another significant contribution from scholars of social movements is found in organizational theory, from
research on organizational populations to the most recent neo-institutionalist approaches. In particular,
placing itself within the open-system approach (which maintained the relevance of interactions between
organizations and their environments), research on social movement organizations, carried out by scholars
such as Mayer Zald and John McCarthy, has underlined the role of organizational entrepreneurs in the
mobilization of resources in the organizational fields of single groups.
Until the 1960s, studies on social movements were dominated by a functionalist approach that interpreted
them as reactions to systemic malfunctions, thereby reducing them to purely reactionary, pathological
sage-ereference.com/ ie /intlpoliticalscience/n565. ml?print

2/12

27/03/12

Social Mo ements : International Enc clopedia of Political Science

phenomena. Criticizing this representation, throughout the 1970s, the resource mobilization approach
considered social movements as a normal part of the political process, focusing analyses on the mobilization of
those resources necessary to collective action. According to the resource mobilization approach, social
movements act in a rational, prognostic, and organized manner. Protest actions derive from a calculation of
costs and benefits, influenced by the presence not only of conflicts but also of the resources that are required
to be mobilized around those conflicts. In a historical situation in which unease, contrasts, conflicts of
interests, and ideological clashes appear ever present, the rise of collective action cannot be explained on the
basis of these elements alone, begging the study of the conditions that permit the transformation of
discontent into action. The type and extent of available resources explain the tactical choices of movements
and the consequences of collective action for the social and political system.
In this sense, the mobilization capacities of groups vary enormously, and this reinforces the inequalities
present in society. As far as the so-called weak interestsof those poor in resourcesare concerned, their
organization often depends on the mobilization of influential patrons and/or strong organizational structures.
Organization, aided by solidarity links, can therefore compensate for the absence of material resources.
Unlike the mass society theories, which had presented some forms of political aggregation as effects of the
uprooting of individuals from primary groups and of the social disaggregation stemming from modernization, the
resource mobilization approach instead explains mobilization through both the moral gratification intrinsic to the
pursuit of a collective good and the existence of horizontal (i.e., internal to the collective) and vertical (i.e.,
between different collectives) solidarity links. The density of relations between people who share some cultural
characteristics tends to facilitate the construction of solidarity. Social movement activists are in fact well
integrated within various types of social networks, both formal and informal. It is above all due to these links
that the potential activist develops a particular vision of the world and acquires the information and skills
necessary for collective action. Given that social environments (and groups) are differentiated on the basis of
the density of the networks that characterize them, this gives rise to different capacities for participation.
Charles Tilly has argued that the mobilization of groups is influenced by their level of catnet-ness, a synthesis
of characteristics linked to social categories and the density of social networks. Indeed, the passage from a
category (an aggregation of individuals who share determined characteristics) to a social group (a community
capable of collective action) is facilitated by the simultaneous presence of specific categorical traits and
networks of relations that link the subjects shared among those traits.
That opportunities for participation grow for those social groups characterized by similar structures and
intense social relations is indicated by numerous studies on the labor movement. This was linked in particular
to the presence of large masses of workers who carried out similar tasks and tended to spend not only their
working hours but also their leisure time together, living in socially homogeneous areas found close to the
factories. The presence of socially homogeneous networks characterized by intense social relations favored
the choice to cooperate. Collective action then reinforced the awareness of holding common interests
causing the growth of what Karl Marx called class consciousness. Socialist ideology would then politicize many
social struggles, proposing a wider vision of the world.
Modernization has on the whole increased organizational capacities. Above all, technological developments
have increased the quantity of resources available in the environment. In an imposing piece of research
spanning the past 4 centuries, Charles Tilly has uncovered an evolution from decentralized and informally
coordinated movements to centralized and formal movementsthat is, from solidarity or community groups to
proactive and prolonged actions, organized on a grand scale by associations constituted with the aim of
gaining specific ends. This development was rendered possible by the expansion of means of communication
(today, in particular, of communication via computer). Economic progress too had a generally positive effect
on the associative capacities of individuals, increasing the quantity of resources available for collective action.
In particular, the diffusion of education and the proportional upward shift in socioeconomic class heightened
propensities to associate, since more people are able to subscribe and give money. In addition, together with
education, faith in one's own ability to influence the outside world tends to increase, and with it the
motivation for collective action.

Identities and Histor


Research on social movements has also contributed to the debate, an increasingly relevant one in political
science, on the development of collective identity. According to Alessandro Pizzorno, a characteristic of
sage-ereference.com/ ie /intlpoliticalscience/n565. ml?print

3/12

27/03/12

Social Mo ements : International Enc clopedia of Political Science

politics is its reference to solidarity systems that form the basis of the definition of interests. Those who are
mobilized defend certain interests, which are recognizable only with reference to a certain value system.
Interest in one's own material welfare is not, for example, absolute or innate but linked to a certain conception
of the world. Value options lead us to identify with larger groups, to which we feel a sense of belonging and in
the interests of which we are disposed to act. The process of participation thus requires the construction of
sympathetic collectives inside which individuals consider one another as equals.
Identity as the awareness of belonging to a collective we, or to a class, thus facilitates political
participation. If the construction of an identity is a precondition for collective action, it is at the same time a
product of it. In fact, participation transforms the identity of individuals, reinforcing the feeling of belonging to
some groups and weakening identification with other roles. In the evolution of collective action, identity is
produced and multiplies. The barricades of the revolutionary movement, the strikes of the labor movement,
and the occupations of the student movement are all forms of action oriented toward influencing public
decisions. But they also have an internal effect, creating solidarity between participants, making them feel
part of a collective effort. It is the same actionparticipationthat then reinforces the sense of belonging in
a sort of virtuous circle.
For collective action to occur, it is necessary that those who act elaborate a definition of themselves, of
other social actors, and of the content of the relations that connect them. They must identify not only a we
with whom to sympathize but also a they to attribute blame to for the conditions they wish to change. The
construction of identity requires not only a positive definition of who is part of a certain group but also
necessarily a negative definition of who is excluded. For interaction to occur it is necessary, on the one hand,
that the identities of diverse actors be recognized by external actors, so that a part of the mobilization is
oriented toward this search for recognition, inseparable from identity itself. On the other hand, collective
action itself contributes to building and consolidating identity through the definition of boundaries between
actors involved in a conflict.

Political Opportunities and Comparative Political S stems


The analysis of social movements has been particularly lively in the field of comparative politics. Although
concentrating mostly on liberal democracies, studies of social movements have systematized their
observations on the relations between institutional political actors and protest. As challengers to a given
political order, social movements interact with the actors that enjoy a consolidated position in that order. The
characteristics of these interactions affect both the form that collective action takes and its probabilities of
success. In the study of social movements, the most widely used concept for defining the characteristics of
the external environment relevant to the development of social movements is the political opportunity
structure, developed in particular by the American political scientist Sidney Tarrow. Integrating various
empirical observations into a theoretical framework for his study of protest cycles in Italy, Tarrow considered
the degree of openness or closure of formal political access, the degree of stability or instability of political
alignments, the availability and strategic postures of potential allies, and the political conflicts between and
within elites as the main categories of political opportunities for social movements.
With the increase in interest in social movements by political scientists, European scholars, including Hanspeter
Kriesi, Dieter Rucht, and Donatella della Porta, started to use the concept of political opportunities in crosscountry research projects. Alexis de Tocqueville's famous contrast between a weak American government
and a strong French one is usually the implicit or explicit starting point for analyses linking institutional
factors with social movement development. Some criticism notwithstanding, the idea that a state's strength or
weakness influences social movement strategies remains central to the literature on collective action in
general and on revolutions in particular. In Europe especially, this approach resonated with a focus on the
cross-national comparison of different types of European democracies, based on different institutional assets
and cultural traditions. In general, an institutional system has been considered more open (and less repressive)
the more political decisions are dispersed (through functional differentiation of power, territorial
decentralization, and direct democracy). The prevalent belief is that the greater the number of actors who
share political power (the greater the checks and balances), the greater the chance that social movements
will gain access to the system. However, while a weak executive may ease access to the decision-making
process, it will have little hope of implementing policies to meet the demands of social movements. Formal
institutions do, however, interact with informal strategies to deal with opponents, with either inclusive or
exclusive historical traditions that tend to reproduce themselves.
sage-ereference.com/ ie /intlpoliticalscience/n565. ml?print

4/12

27/03/12

Social Mo ements : International Enc clopedia of Political Science

Beyond the comparison of different institutions, the political process approach also stressed the role of
institutional allies for social movements. A more dynamic set of variablessusceptible to change in the short
term and the object of pressure from social movementsincluded aspects such as electoral instability and elite
divisions. Attention to allies such as trade unions and political parties also resonated with the relevance
assigned to these actors.
One of the reasons for the spread of the political opportunity approach in Europe may have been the interest,
well developed in European political science and sociology, in cross-European comparisons. In the 1990s, in
particular, this interest produced large comparative research projects, singling out and exploiting different
dimensions of comparison among European countries, such as citizens' regimes in research on mobilization,
migrant rights, welfare regimes, or issues of unemployment. Historical comparisons, looking at long-term
evolution, singled out a trend toward an increasing diffusion of protest repertoires and social movements.

The Effects of Social Movements on Public Policies


Another area to which research on social movements contributed is the analysis of public policies. A growing
number of studies have addressed the effects of protest on the policy process. In one of the first and most
influential studies on social movement effects, William Gamson identified the factors contributing to success as
a minimalist strategy ( thinking small ), the adoption of direct action and a centralized and bureaucratic
organization. Other scholars of collective action have, however, challenged this vision. In particular, it has
been noted not only that violence can sometimes appear as a winning strategy but also that when
organizations, including social movements, become bureaucratized, the desire for organizational survival comes
to prevail over declared collective objectives. According to Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, the effort
to build organizations could be not only futile but also damaging. The search for material resources to ensure
organizational survival leads inexorably toward cooptation and the taming of protest. However, it has been
remarked that no particular strategic element can be evaluated in isolation without taking into account the
conditions within which social movements must operate as well as the presence of alliances or opponents in
power. Most important, movements are never the sole actors to intervene on an issue; rather, they are part
of alliances including political parties and sometimes even public agencies.
The attribution of credit for obtaining substantive successes is in fact complex. The presence of a plurality of
actors makes it difficult to attribute success or failure to any one particular strategy, and whether the results
of protest should be judged in the short or the long term represents a further problem. While social movements
demand long-term changes, protest cycles instead tend to stimulate immediate incremental reforms. Policy
development is characterized by steps forward and backward, moments in which public policy approaches the
demands made by social movements and others in which the situation deteriorates. Factors peculiar to social
movements, such as their distance from the levers of power, the heterogeneous definition of their objectives,
and their organizational instability, further complicate matters.
These difficulties notwithstanding, social movements have had relevant effects on different stages of public
decision-making processes. Generally, social movements are formed to express dissatisfaction with an existing
policy in a given area. Although it is usual to make a distinction between political and cultural movements, the
first following a more instrumental logic, the second more symbolic, all movements tend to make demands on
the political system: Environmentalist groups have demanded interventions to protect the environment;
pacifists have opposed the culture of war; students have criticized selection and authoritarianism in
education; the feminist movement has fought discrimination against women; and the world social forums have
criticized neoliberal globalization.
The definition of specific policy claims is often relevant for the very self-definition of a social movement.
Frequently, a particular demand becomes nonnegotiable, being the basis for a movement's identity. In many
countries, for example, the feminist movement has been constructed around the nonnegotiable right of women
to choose concerning childbirth; the halting of the installation of nuclear missiles in the countries of the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) fulfilled a similar role for the peace movement. In the first case,
mobilization was proactive, seeking to gain something new, the right to free abortion; in the second, it was
reactive, seeking to block a decision (to install Cruise missiles) that had already been taken. One of the
founding organizations of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, the Association for the Taxation of Financial
Transactions and for Civic Action (Association pour la Taxation des Transactions financires et pour l'Action
Citoyenne, ATTAC), emerged around demands for a tax on transnational transactions; also present in Porto
sage-ereference.com/ ie /intlpoliticalscience/n565. ml?print

5/12

27/03/12

Social Mo ements : International Enc clopedia of Political Science

Alegre, the debt relief campaign asked for the cancellation of foreign debt for poor countries. Demands whose
symbolic value is very high, such as the Equal Rights Amendment in the case of the American feminist
movement, remain central for a movement even when their potential effectiveness is questionable. The
importance of such nonnegotiable objectives is confirmed by the fact that, although activists may be willing to
negotiate on other demands, even partial victories on these issues, such as a woman's right to voluntarily
interrupt pregnancy, are considered as defeats. While nonnegotiable demands are particularly important in the
construction of collective identities, social movements rarely limit themselves to these. In fact, they tend to
articulate specific requests for reforms.
The changes brought about by social movements may be evaluated by looking at the various phases of the
decision-making process: the emergence of new issues, the writing and applying of new legislation, and the
analysis of the effects of public policies in alleviating the conditions of those mobilized by collective action.
Various levels of responsiveness to collective demands within the political system can be distinguished: from
the availability of the authorities to listen to the protestors, to their willingness to put an issue on the agenda,
and, then, to adopt and implement specific policies. Research on social movements initially concentrated on
the production of legislation, with quantitative and qualitative analyses of the responses of parliaments and
governments.
More and more, however, research has developed also on the implementation of decisions demanded by social
movements as well as the cultural transformations they produce. Although movements tend to request
legislative change, it is also true that this is neither their only nor perhaps even their primary objective, as
movements are in fact carriers of symbolic messages by influencing bystanders and spreading their own
conception of the world and alternative values. Typically, new ideas emerge within critical communities and
are then spread via social movements. While the capacity of social movements for reaching their general aims
has been considered low, their capacity for thematization, the introduction of new issues into public debate,
and their long-term cultural influence have been considered high.

Local Protest and Urban Policies


From the 1990s onward, research on social movements and public policies has also focused on protest
campaigns against large-scale public works in urban and semirural contexts. If the presence of territorial
conflicts is certainly not a new phenomenon, the 1990s saw a growing analytical focus on new forms of
protest, which have been portrayed as limited and localized. It has been observed that those seeking to
defend the quality of life in a limited territory tend to oppose public works that are seen as compromising
either the ecological equilibrium (e.g., refuse incinerators) or public security (e.g., the insertion of unwanted
social groups in their territory). The presence of localized conflicts has met with great concern, given the
multiplication in both these types of protest against locally unwanted land uses (LULUs) in recent years.
Local conflicts are usually seen in the social science literature (and more generally) as being motivated by a
not in my backyard (NIMBY) syndrome, associated with conservative behavior and an egotistical resistance
to social change. In public policy analysis, local opposition is often associated with free riderism that is, the
refusal to pay the necessary costs to attain public goods. This interpretation of the NIMBY syndrome has,
however, been disputed. In fact, empirical research on local oppositions has indicated a complex reality, with
committees characterized by a diverse capacity or will to present their particular claims within a more
comprehensive framework.
In contrast to a NIMBY reading of the situation, sociological research has often interpreted LULU conflicts as
an expression of different types of social movements. In the discourse of those who protest, the defense of
local natural resources is often accompanied by a more general defense of natural resources. From this point
of view, local conflicts can be interpreted as an evolution in the ecological movement, characterized not only
by the growth (in numbers, resources, and legitimacy) of environmental organizations but also by the diffusion
of environmental awareness into public opinion as well as an extension of collective action beyond traditional
organizational networks or environmental discourses. In contrast to the 1970s and 1980s, the main role in the
mobilization of the protest is now played by citizens' committeesthat is, organized but weakly structured
groups of citizens that unite on a territorial basis and use forms of protest to oppose interventions that they
claim to be damaging for the quality of life in their territory. Additionally, although previously framed mainly as
a postmaterialist concern, shared by a new bourgeoisie with high levels of education, environmental
conflicts now tend to involve more and more underprivileged groups, above all in degraded areas, where
sage-ereference.com/ ie /intlpoliticalscience/n565. ml?print

6/12

27/03/12

Social Mo ements : International Enc clopedia of Political Science

projects with high environmental impacts (e.g., incinerators) are often executed. In these conflicts
environmental associations are usually present, but they often cooperate and conflict with other organizations
based in the territory.
Local conflicts are also discussed in the light of earlier research on urban growth machines, defined by formal
and informal networks between public and private actors oriented toward increasing investment for economic
growth. Against these networks, social movements, groups, and associations opposed to the reduction of
welfare resources destined for marginal social groups, as well as residents' associations who see themselves as
damaged by projects for urban transformation, propose a different model of development.
To overcome the NIMBY label, social movements mobilized in these local conflicts tend to bridge the opposition
to specific land use with frames of social justice. Faced with those who accuse them of protesting on behalf
of the individual interest (rather than the common good), they develop a not on planet Earth (NOPE)
discourse. Moreover, they often define their protest through a procedural rhetoric that defends their action as
opposition to the abuse of power and lack of transparency in public decision making, as well as the collusive
alliance between government and entrepreneurial interests.

Social Movements and Democrati ation


Reflections on social movements are also relevant for the analysis of democratization processes. The role of
social movements for democracy has been discussed with very different expectations. Initially, social
movements were considered either as marginal (vis--vis political parties) to democratic development or as
dangerous for democracy, promoting excessive levels of societal mobilization. Later on, however, these
assumptions have been contested, and more and more attention has been paid to the development of civil
society organizations.
It is true that some movements have refused democracy altogether (e.g., fascist and neo-fascist
movements), while others have the unintended effect of producing a backlash against democratic rights.
Additionally, identity politics, often seen in ethnic conflicts, have sometimes ended in religious war and racial
violence. However, since the 1970s in particular, the assessment not only that social movements flourish in
democracies but also that most, albeit not all, social movements support democracy has become widespread.
Pushing for wider suffrage or the recognition of associational rights, social movements contributed to the first
waves of democratization and the development of democratic public spheres. Later on, the labor movement
has contributed to the enlargement of citizens' rights, and social movements have played a fundamental role in
the struggles for democratization as well as in democratic consolidation.
The social science literature on regime transformation has stressed that social movements contribute to
democratization under certain conditions. In particular, only those movements that explicitly demand increased
equality and protection for minorities actually promote democratic development. In fact, looking at the process
of democratization, it may be observed that collective mobilization has frequently created the conditions for
the destabilization of authoritarian regimes and can also lead to the intensification of repression or the collapse
of weak democratic regimes, particularly where social movements do not stick to democratic conceptions.
While labor, student, and ethnic movements brought about a crisis in the Franco regime in Spain in the 1960s
and 1970s, the worker and peasant movements and the fascist countermovements contributed to the failure
of the process of democratization in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s. Moreover, social movements have often
formed transnational alliances to overthrow an authoritarian regime. In Latin America, as well as in Eastern
Europe, social movements have asked for (different forms of) democratization, producing a final breakdown of
neo-fascist as well as real-socialist authoritarian governments.
Research on various transition processes has stressed that the first steps toward democratization include a
demobilization of civil society and the development of more institutionalized political actors following the
opening of institutional opportunities, or the pacted strategy of the elites' settlement, as in Spain after
Franco and toward the end of the Pinochet regime in Chile. In recent democratization processes, the
availability of public and private funds in the Third Sector contributed to an early institutionalization of
movement organizations. This does not, however, necessarily seem to be the fate of social movements in
phases of democratic consolidation: The presence of a tradition of mobilization, as well as movements that are
independent from political parties, can facilitate the maintenance of high levels of protest during transition and
consolidationas the shantytown dwellers' movement in Chile, the urban movement in Brazil, or the
sage-ereference.com/ ie /intlpoliticalscience/n565. ml?print

7/12

27/03/12

Social Mo ements : International Enc clopedia of Political Science

environmental movements in Eastern Europe illustrate.


In turn, consolidation fuels the development of social movements. Resources for collective action tend in fact
to increase over time, as movements become institutionalized, construct subcultural networks, create
channels of access to policymakers, and form alliances. This organizational continuity means that the
experiences of early-riser movements represent both resources and constraints for those that follow.
Processes of imitation and differentiation, and enforced repetition and learning take place simultaneously.
Movement activists inherit structures and models from their predecessors. The social movement sector grows
with the diffusion, during each wave of mobilization, of the capacities required for collective action. In fact,
mobilization is facilitated by the presence of networks of activists willing to mobilize around new issues, where
these are seen as compatible with their original identities. Moreover, the substantive gains made by one
movement can have beneficial consequences for the demands of other movements, and their success can
encourage further mobilizations. It can be concluded, therefore, that the importance of social movements
tends to grow insofar as there is an ever-increasing amount of resources (both technical and structural)
available for collective action.

International Relations and Transnational Movements


Social movement studies, like other areas of the social sciences, have been late to address the phenomena of
transnationalization and are still in search of adequate methods, concepts, and theories to explain them. There
are several reasons for this. First, most scholarship has time and again confirmed the relevant role that
national political opportunities play in influencing social movement mobilization, its dimensions, duration, and
forms. The modern repertoire of protest emerged with the creation of the nation-state, and social movements
have played an important role in the development of (national) citizenship rights. So it is at the national level
that they fought for access, suffered state repression, and found allies. Second, social movement studies
focused on Western (and Northern) democracies. Furthermore, research in international relations has long
considered the states as the only relevant actors.
In the field of social movements as in others, phenomena of transnationalization were first, and not by chance,
addressed within the fields of international relations and international sociology. Bringing transnational
relations back in, Thomas Risse, Kathryn Sikkink, and others have pointed out the role of transnational
environmental and human rights campaigns in developing international normative regimes. In doing this, they
took into account the role of nonstate actors, as well as emphasizing cooperation over competition. Research
on human rights regimes or peace and war also stressed the emergence of international norms that challenged
the vision of international politics as an anarchic system of states.
At the same time, research emerged on the development of international governmental organizations (IGOs)
and, in parallel and related to these, on a population of international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs),
often taking the form of transnational social movement organizations. Over the past 2 decades, these
nongovernmental actors have grown enormously in terms of numbers, membership, material resources, public
resonance, and institutional access. This research also recognizes the interplay of actors at different
geographical levels, going beyond disciplinary borders between internal and international politics. In human
rights campaigns, national actors, suffering repression in authoritarian regimes, found allies abroad in epistemic
communities, involving IGOs, national governments, experts, and INGOs.
Focusing on the interactions between social movements and IGOs, in the first studies from a social movement
perspective, Hanspeter Kriesi, Dieter Rucht, Sidney Tarrow, and Donatella della Porta emphasized the capacity
of transnational social movements to adapt to IGOs' rules of the game, with a diplomatic search for agreement
over democratic accountability, discretion over transparency, and persuasion over mobilization in the street. In
this, they found some resonance in the more normatively oriented literature on civil society seen as the
beginning of a global civil society.
Research on transnational
opportunity structures. In
movements with domestic
international allies and (2)
political decisions.

processes and social movements first developed around reflections on multilevel


this sense, two main paths of transnationalization were singled out: (1) social
political concerns (especially in authoritarian regimes) searching for external,
social movements addressing their own governments to influence international

Attention was also paid to the resource exchanges between transnational social movement organizations and
sage-ereference.com/ ie /intlpoliticalscience/n565. ml?print

8/12

27/03/12

Social Mo ements : International Enc clopedia of Political Science

IGOs. Exchanges of knowledge as well as a potential reciprocal legitimization were singled out along with the
capacity of transnational social movements to sensitize public opinion to global problems. At the same time,
the difficulties in protesting beyond national borders were stressed by looking at different data on protest
events, which generally seemed to remain anchored at the national level. Some studies also pointed out the
cognitive effects of globalization, for example, in the intensification of relations beyond borders in terms of the
cross-national diffusion of movement frames and strategies for maintenance of public order. Here as well,
attention is paid not only to the potential for increasing exchanges but also to their limits.
With the development of campaigns addressing various and diverse IGOs, more reflections were developed
concerning the different opportunities that different international assets offered to different social movements.
Opportunities such as a consensual culture and a reciprocal search for recognition were available, for example,
for the United Nations (UN) but not for (the much more closed and hostile) international financial institutions
such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank,
which became the targets of lively protests. In fact, more recent research has indicated that there are as
many types of institutions at the transnational level as there are national ones. The social movements that
target them, therefore, have to find specific leverage, for example, in the unanimity rules of the WTO, which
make alliances with some states particularly relevant, while international experts and formal channels of
consultation are exploited in interactions with the ILO. Additionally, in recent research, IGOs have emerged as
complex and fragmented institutions, made of different bodies that provide external actors with differentiated
opportunities. Looking at the European Union, the European Council, Commission, Parliament, and courts are all
targeted by social movements, but protest strategies vary with the different characteristics of these specific
bodies. Furthermore, different movements can have a more difficult or an easier life in terms of gaining access
to specific (sympathetic) Directorates General in the European Commission or opposing powerful ones.
Different opportunities require different strategies. If previous research had stressed the moderation of social
movement tactics when addressing IGOs, with a move from the street to the lobbies, recent studies have
rediscovered protest. In fact, going beyond the specific experiences of the parallel summits organized by the
UN on environmental or women's issues, many interactions between social movements and IGOs have involved
protest. With time, the frustration over the results of more moderate forms of interaction brought about the
development of broader coalitions, including religious groups, unions, and social movements, which combined
pressure with petitions, marches, and even direct action. Since the 1999 protests during the WTO meeting in
Seattle, the 2000s have seen an escalation of interactions between protestors and the police during the
contestation of international summits. Even though transnational protests remain a rare occurrence, the few
transnational protests that have taken place (whether in the form of global days of action, countersummits, or
social forums) emerge as particularly eventful in their capacity to produce relational, cognitive, and affective
effects on social movement activists and social movement organizations themselves.
Finally, at the cultural level, a global language developed together with intense interactions during the
transnational events mentioned and indeed a growing acknowledgment of the roles and responsibilities of IGOs.
Social movement activists started to present their actions as part of a global justice movement, calling for
global justice and global democracy. Although still deep-rooted in national political systems and movement
families, cosmopolitan activists tend to bridge the local with the global and vice versa. In doing this, they are
contributing to the development of a transnational political system, as well as transnational identities.

Social Movements, Democrac , and Normative Theor


Although mainly addressed within the empirical subfields of political science, social movement studies have
recently begun to interact with political theory, more specifically the branch reflecting on participatory and
deliberative conceptions of democracy.
Social movements often do not limit their interventions to single policies but challenge the ways in which
political institutions work. Movements demand, and often obtain, the decentralization of political power, the
consultation of interested citizens on particular decisions, or appeals procedures against decisions by the
public administration. They also interact increasingly with public administrations: They ask to be allowed to
testify before representative institutions and the judiciary, to be listened to as counterexperts, and to receive
legal recognition and material incentives. In fact, social movements increase the possibilities for access to the
political system, both through ad hoc channels relating to specific issues and through institutions that are
open to all noninstitutional actors. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, social movements have indeed
sage-ereference.com/ ie /intlpoliticalscience/n565. ml?print

9/12

27/03/12

Social Mo ements : International Enc clopedia of Political Science

been able to introduce changes that move toward greater grassroots control. They have produced a change in
political culture, in the whole set of norms and reference schemes that define the issues and means of action
that are politically legitimate. Repertoires of collective action, which were once condemned and dealt with
simply as public order problems, have slowly become acceptable, and new policy arenas have been created on
issues of major concern for social movement activists (see, e.g., environmental or gender rights agencies). Not
only were some public bureaucracies established under the pressure of movement mobilizations and movement
activists regarded as potential allies, but also movement activists have been co-opted into specific public
bodies as members of their staff. The public administrators working in these institutions mediate particular
social movement demands through both formal and informal channels and frequently ally themselves with
movement representatives to increase the amount of public resources available in the policy areas over which
they have authority. They tend to have frequent contacts with representatives of the social movements
involved in their areas, with the movements taking on a consultancy role in many instances. In addition, they
sometimes develop common interests.
Social movement activists also maintain direct contacts with decision makersparticipating in epistemic
communities, made up of representatives of governments, parties, and interest groups of various types and
persuasion. Nongovernmental organizations critical of neoliberalist globalization have, in particular, resorted to
bringing pressure to bear at both the national and the international levels, cultivating specific expertise. From
human rights groups to environmentalists, advocacy networkscomposed of activists, bureaucrats belonging
to international organizations, and politicians from many countrieshave won significant gains in a number of
areas, such as the protection of the environment or human rights violations. Some social movement
organizations have, indeed, been highlighted as having not only increased in number but also strengthened
their influence on the various stages of international policy making.
Most important, so-called participatory and deliberative institutional experiments have developed over the past
2 decades, especially at the local level. They are based on the principle of participation by normal citizens in
public arenas of debate, empowered by information and rules for high-quality communication. Actors
associated with social movements have intervened in the development of some of these experiments,
sometimes as critical participants, sometimes as external opponents.
More generally, social movements have developed a fundamental critique of conventional politics, affirming the
legitimacy (if not the primacy) of alternatives to parliamentary, liberal democracy. Especially since the 1960s,
many social movements have supported the direct participation of citizens in public decision making, criticizing
the delegation of decision making to representatives who can be controlled only at the moment of elections.
Moreover, they seek to switch decision making to more transparent and controllable sites. In the social
movement conception of democracy, the people themselves (who are naturally interested in politics) must
assume direct responsibility for intervening in the political decision-making process. More recently, the
normative debate on deliberative democracy has found resonance in some social movement organizations that
have developed norms and practices of consensual decision making, stressing the need to improve the quality
of communication. Some attention on the part of political theorists has also been focused on the role of social
movements in the creation of alternative public spheres, free from state intervention.
In the global justice movement, in particular, several organizations have experimented with participatory,
discursive models of democracy both in their internal decision making and in their interactions with political
institutions. Internally, social movements havewith a greater or lesser degree of successattempted to
develop an organizational structure based on participation (rather than delegation), consensus building (rather
than majority votes), and horizontal networks (rather than centralized hierarchies).
As far as the social movement critique of existing democracy is concerned, their search for an alternative
cannot be considered as over. Not all students of social movement organizations agree that they have
overcome the risk of producing oligarchies and personalistic leadership, the very problems at the center of
their critique of traditional politics. Although it maximizes responsiveness, the direct democracy model has
weaknesses as far as representation and efficiency are concerned. Problems of efficiency affect the success
of movement organizations themselves; problems of representation concern the legitimization of new forms of
democracy. The refusal by social movements to accept the principles of representative democracy can
undermine their image as democratic actors, particularly when they begin to take on official and semiofficial
functions within representative institutions, assuming the form of parties or public interest groups. Social
forums, by bringing together heterogeneous actors, pay great attention to the quality of internal
sage-ereference.com/ ie /intlpoliticalscience/n565. ml?print

10/12

27/03/12

Social Mo ements : International Enc clopedia of Political Science

communication but with unequal results. These limitations notwithstanding, social movements have helped
open new channels of access to the political system, contributing to the identification, if not the solution, of a
number of democratic problems.
Donatella della Porta

Further Readings
della Porta, D. (1995). Social movements, political violence and the state. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge
University Press.
della Porta, D., & Diani, M. (2006). Social movements: An introduction (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Blackwell
della Porta, D., ed. , Kriesi, H., ed. , & Rucht, D. (Eds.). (1999). Social movements in a globalizing world. New
York: Macmillan.
della Porta, D., ed. , & Tarrow, S. (Eds.). (2005). Transnational protest and global activism. New York:
Rowman & Littlefield.
Diani, M. The concept of social movement. Sociological Review, vol. 40, p. 125. (1992).
Gamson, W. (1990). The strategy of social protest (2nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. (Original work
published 1975)
Khagram, S., ed. , Riker, J. V., ed. , & Sikkink, K. (Eds.). (2002). Reconstructing world politics: Transnational
social movements, networks and norms. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Kriesi, H., Koopmans, R., Duyvendak, J.-W., & Giugni, M. (1995). New social movements in Western Europe.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
McAdam, D., Tarrow, S., & Tilly, C. (2001). Dynamics of contention. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University
Press.
McCarthy, J. D., & Zald, M. N. (1987). Social movements in an organizational society. New Brunswick, NJ:
Transaction Publishers.
Melucci, A. (1996). Challenging codes. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Piven, F. F., & Cloward, R. (1977). Poor people's movements. New York: Pantheon.
Pizzorno, A. (1978). Political exchange and collective identity in industrial conflict. In C. Crouch, ed. & A.
Pizzorno (Eds.), Resurgence of class conflict in Western Europe (pp. p. 277298). New York: Holmes & Meier.
Rucht, D. (1994). Modernisierung und soziale bewegungen [Modernization and social movements]. Frankfurt
am Main, Germany: Campus.
Tarrow, S. (1998). Power in movement: Social movements, collective action and politics. Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press.
Tarrow, S. (2005). The new transnational contention. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Tilly, C. (1978). From mobilization to revolution. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Touraine, A. (1977). The self-production of society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Entr Citation:
della Porta, Donatella. "Social Movements." International Encyclopedia of Political Science. Ed. Bertrand Badie, Dirk BergSchlosser, and Leonardo Morlino. Thousand Oaks, C A: SAGE, 2011. 2432-44. SAGE Reference Online. Web. 27 Mar. 2012.

SAGE Publications, Inc.


sage-ereference.com/ ie /intlpoliticalscience/n565. ml?print

11/12

27/03/12

Social Mo ements : International Enc clopedia of Political Science

Brought to you by: C lovis Souza

sage-ereference.com/ ie /intlpoliticalscience/n565. ml?print

12/12

Оценить