2. Social Movements
Social movements are central to modernity. They are central both because modernity connotes movement and because modernity involves new political alliances and allegiances in which mass movements play a significant role. But social movements are more than the spontaneous gathering of masses of individuals. They are a distinct form of collective behavior. They are purposive and relatively structured forms of collective behavior. Crowds, even traffic jams, are made up of masses of individuals, but they are not modern movements. Unlike crowds, social movements are composed of groups of individuals gathered with the common purpose of expressing subjectively felt discontent in a public way and changing the perceived social and political bases of that discontent. What makes social movements modern is not their collective but their distinctly political character.
The idea of legitimacy is central to the modern understanding of politics. Political action requires minimally "that an actor or actors make some explicit claim that the means of action can be recognized as legitimate and the ends of action become binding for the wider community" (Offe 1985, 826–27, italics in original). Thus it is possible to make a distinction between sociocultural and sociopolitical movements. Sociocultural movements, for example, religious sects or countercultures, make use of legitimate and accepted forms of collective action—public demonstrations, recruitment, bloc voting, and so on—in their attempts to increase their numbers and secure the right to practice their beliefs. Yet they usually do not intend by these actions to make these beliefs or practices binding on the entire political community. When they do, as in the case of many contemporary Islamic movements, they are no longer sects or sociocultural movements but full-fledged sociopolitical movements.
So far I have distinguished sociopolitical movements from sociocultural movements and other, more spontaneous, forms of collective behavior. To differentiate sociopolitical movements from ad hoc protest groups, I further require that sociopolitical movements have a more or less generally accepted set of shared beliefs. Such a set of beliefs provides for a common understanding and definition of a conflict situation and allows continuity from one specific situation to the next. Sociopolitical movements must also possess some form of organization and means of communication to give them stability and continuity.
Sociopolitical movements, then, are more than masses of people gathered in protest; they require forms of organization and communication
that allow continuity over time and space. The forms these movements take differ in modern societies depending on the specific political culture, but the existence of such organizations and networks of communication is a characteristic of modernity and modern politics. Sociopolitical movements, in other words, are a defining characteristic of modern politics and modern society.
In pointing out that modern social movements require a degree of organization and networks of communication in order to ensure their continuity over time, it is necessary to distinguish sociopolitical movements from more highly structured organs such as political parties, which are themselves characteristic of modernity and modern politics. Although they are more structured than crowds and mass mobilizations, sociopolitical movements are less structured than political parties. They expand and contract, continually taking in and losing participants. They are more flexible in organization and tolerant in beliefs than political parties because their purpose is less a practical and instrumental one than an expressive one. However, the line between parties and movements cannot be drawn too firmly. Sociopolitical movements may produce their own political parties or work with and within other parties as tactics for achieving some of their ends. Not all who participate in the movement need join or even accept the idea of a more formal political party as part of the movement itself. For many participants, in most cases for even the majority, the movement may be only a vaguely defined or experienced set of beliefs and emotions through which one may discover and express dissatisfaction without necessarily feeling loyalty to any organization or political program.
To maintain a sense of continuity, sociopolitical movements require both the fluidity of ideas and emotions, as expressed in public demonstrations, pamphlets, and newsletters, and the stability provided by more formal organization and leadership. The leadership stands for and speaks for the movements at times when no mass public is visible, something that seems necessary and yet that creates problems of its own.
When defined as more-or-less organized forms of collective action aimed at social change, social movements are a distinctly modern phenomenon. They depend on and express our modern political culture, which permits and recognizes mass discontent as part of the repertoire of political action and which is based on the awareness that fundamental change is indeed possible. Modernity and modern politics rest on the
assumption that society and policy are made by people, not gods or kings. The absence of such awareness, that is, the lack of a political content to mass discontent, distinguishes modern social movements from more traditional forms of popular discontent and rebellion.
It is common today to distinguish "old" social movements from "new" ones (Melucci 1980, 1981). Such a distinction rests on two sets of criteria. The first, associated with Alain Touraine, builds on the theory of the historical transition from an old industrial society to a new postindustrial society (Touraine 1981). From this point of view the labor movement is an old social movement because it expresses the conflicts of industrial society and industrialization, that is, the conflicts between labor and capital. New social movements, such as the women's movement, express conflicts representative of the new postindustrial society. A second set of criteria differentiating between new and old social movements stems from the issues they raise and the locus of the changes they wish to bring about. In this case the labor movement not only reflects the old struggle between labor and capital but also is rooted in and concerned with the labor process itself in its demands for change and its vision of the future. New social movements, however, express concerns that according to established ways of thinking are outside the labor process. These concerns are primarily noneconomic issues, such as gender relations and the meaning of war and peace. The new social movements express concerns that are more cultural than economic. They aim at changing norms and values rather than productive and distributive relations.
These distinctions between old and new social movements provide a convenient way of categorizing various contemporary political conflicts and social movements. For one thing, classes and related class interests, which provided the prime source of collective identity and motivation for collective action in the past (at least in Europe), seem less a factor today, at least for explaining social movements. Contemporary social movements seem motivated by concerns other than those directly associated with income and economic security. In addition, rather than focusing on the labor process the realm of concern has shifted to what has been called the "life-world," which involves issues of personal identity, personal life, neighborhood, sexuality, and life-style. Finally, the types of demands put forward by the new social movements lie, to some extent, outside the realm of traditional compromise politics, whether that be labor-market politics or representative democracy as it currently exists. Unlike working-class movements, which can offer and withdraw
their labor power in exchange for concessions from capital, the new social movements have little to offer in exchange. Their demands tend to be made in nonnegotiable terms and are usually expressed negatively: antiwar, antinuclear, and so on. Whether this approach represents tactics or is an early stage of movement development remains to be seen. The literature on social movements includes a long-standing discussion concerning the strategies and tactics of social movements (see Jenkins 1981). In any case the distinction between old and new social movements seems worthwhile to make from an analytical point of view. From the actor's point of view its validity seems beyond question.