3. Modernity and Social Movements
Thus far I have discussed the sociological understanding of modernity and modern social movements. In this section my task is to take up the question of how modernity itself has affected the development of modern social movements. In the preceding section I drew an analytical distinction between old and new social movements. My task here is to connect this discussion with the changes in economic and social structure that may be referred to as "postmodern." I argue that what I call "new" social movements are the expression of postmodernity.
Three societal dynamics underlie the development of postmodernity: the expansion of the state, the explosion of the knowledge industry, and the development of the new mass media. These three dynamics of social change have both influenced social movements and been influenced by them. The old social movements were at once the product of modernity and an essential element in its dynamism. The working class movement, for example, was the product of industrialization and urbanization, but modern democracy was a force in its development in specific directions. Similarly, new social movements are both the product of modernity and a reaction to it. It is important, however, to distinguish the postmodern critique of modernity from the premodern critique. The premodern, or Romantic, critique of modernity focused on modernization as such and based itself on an idyllic past, usually with right-wing political overtones. In contrast, the postmodern critique of modernity, although sharing some of the features of Romanticism—which are especially evident in the environment movement—represents a "progressive" transcendence of modernity rather than its outright rejection.
At this point I would like to discuss three of the changes underlying the postmodern condition. First, since the end of World War II Western
societies have undergone an exceptional transformation in economic and social structure. To a great extent the root of this transformation lies in the expansion and intervention of the state into areas that previously were the domain of civil society, including private economic activity regulated by a market and social activity, such as child-care, regulated by tradition. This shifting ground between state and civil society, between public and private areas of action and responsibility, is part of the field of ambiguity and potential conflict from which new social movements emerge. State expansion and intervention have politicized private domains and provoked a reaction from both the political left and the political right.
Second, in the postwar period Western societies have also experienced a shift toward knowledge-based, capital-intensive production, which requires more highly educated workers. The state-supported transformation of the employment structure has been underpinned by a revolution in education in which the links between education and production have become more pronounced and rationalized through various forms of manpower planning. What I call the new social movements are to a great extent peopled by the highly educated and the content of their critique of modern society builds on both their educational experience and their occupational expectations.
A related development important to the understanding of the new social movements is the expanded employment opportunities for women—especially married women—made possible by the knowledge industry and the general expansion of the public sector. The expansion of service, administrative, and care-giving occupations, which coincided with the growth of the state and its intervention into what previously were private services, has opened up many new paid employment opportunities for women. New opportunities for work and education helped establish the condition in which the social values and norms that defined a proper "woman's place" could be challenged. Here the interplay between the beliefs of a sociopolitical movement (the women's movement) and a shifting economic and social structure of opportunity becomes clear. Structural possibilities and social conflicts grew together, opening fields of contention from which sociopolitical movements would emerge.
Third, the changes in representative democracy that occurred as part
of modernity have laid the grounds for postmodernity. During the course of their development the old social movements became participatory movements. Whatever their original intentions or ideologies, they came more and more to be concerned with getting a piece of the modern pie and participating in modern politics as equal partners with capital and other powerful political and economic actors. These movements—and here I think primarily of the labor movements of Western Europe—developed into organizations that became part of the institutionalized power and decision-making structures of modern society. Such movements developed into centralized organizations and associated with political parties, slowly gaining power and influence but losing the dynamism and the mass engagement with which they began. Perhaps this development was both necessary and successful, for no one can deny the actual power labor movements enjoy today in Western Europe. Except for ceremonial occasions, however, hardly anyone would deny that the "movement" aspect has disappeared. Political power and participation were bought at the price of accepting a certain definition of modern politics, that of administration and redistribution through the centralized state, and of the loss of a social movement. In the dialectic between movement and organization, the movement got lost. This development is also important in understanding new social movements and their rejection of modernity. For the new movements modernity is associated with a particular type of politics. The new social movements are expressions of the rejection of the politics of administration and its representatives in both labor and capital. In this sense they are postmodern because they reject the identities of class and the ideology of political modernism.
With this rather cursory discussion of the social and economic background to postmodernity I now turn to the effects of modernity on the new social movements. I discuss three dynamics in this connection: state intervention, the knowledge industry, and the mass media.
3.1. State Intervention
I have mentioned some of the ways that state intervention in social and economic spheres has influenced the development of social movements
in recent times. State expansion and intervention into labor market planning, education, family life, and child-rearing, both passively through taxation and other forms of economic redistribution and actively through the reorganization of services traditionally performed privately, have had the effect of politicizing new spheres of social life. This politicization has generated reactions on both the political left and the political right and has provided issues for activists in new social movements. Although the creation of the nation-state and the resulting political identity was central to what classical social theory meant by modernity, postmodernity is at once more universalistic (concerned with humanity and nature, women's liberation, and world peace) and more parochial (concerned with local control and self-reliance). And in contrast with modernist political movements, which had a class character and drew political identity from material concerns, such as labor and capital, postmodernist movements are more idealistic and diffuse in their participants and interests.
In addition to its expanded role as employer and redistributor of funds, the state has become the arena as well as the focus of political action. All these factors have influenced the development of social movements in the recent past, and go a long way in explaining their emergence, the types of issues raised, and the particular activists who populate them. But there is another side to state intervention: the state as activist and political agent.
I can perhaps best show what I mean with examples from my own research concerning the development of European environmentalist movements. The Swedish state has played a very active role in defining environmental issues and deciding environmental policy since the early 1970s. Sweden was one of the first countries to create a governmental agency concerned with environmental protection, and this early activism on the part of the state, an activism in favor of environmental protection, has played a significant role in the way the Swedish environmentalist movement has developed. For one thing, this positive attitude toward regulation and control took many issues and potential mobilizing forces away from the environmentalist movement. For another, state intervention has had the effect of turning environmental protection into series of legal and technical issues. As a result the environmentalist movement has been forced to accept the state's definition of the situation and to shape its reaction along lines and according to rules it has had no part in framing. Thus the movement developed more as a movement of experts who could
participate in environmental debates by virtue of being conversant in the legal and technical language of the field and who were recruited as a counterweight to government and industry experts. The movement became more and more professionalized, which shaped the type of issues taken up, the type of activist attracted to the movement, and the type of organization used. Professionalization created a potential rift between a knowledgeable leadership and a less knowledgeable, and thus less powerful, rank and file. Furthermore, the government has been able to recruit many of the movement-produced experts into its own administration of the environment. Other contemporary social movements have had analogous experiences. The women's movement, for example, has to an almost equal extent been "legalized" and administered through state definition and intervention into the "women's problem."
Although too much can be made of this trend—as in the claims either that social movements are functional to societal adaptation or, more cynically, that they are forms of "artificial negativity" that help "one-dimensional" societies rationalize their forms of domination—new social movements share with old ones a tendency toward institutionalization and, from another point of view, incorporation. However, as resource mobilization theorists have shown, the threat of incorporation, that is, "selling out" to the establishment, is often a stimulus that gives life to social movements. The threat of incorporation is often met with protest and the formation of new, rebellious groups within the movement. This internal conflict is common to all social movements, both old and new. What is significantly different, however, is the forms through which this incorporation can take place. Old social movements in the West fought against a hostile state and a well-entrenched ruling elite and for the most part sought recognition as legitimate combatants in the struggle for political and economic rights, as struggle carried out in the name of democracy. They could be called modernizers insofar as democracy is measured by inclusion and participation on an equal basis with other combatants. New social movements, however, have emerged from within this structure of modernity and have done so partly as a reaction against it. For the old social movements the prime areas of conflict and identity as well as the means of incorporation were work and the state. Participation in the established institutions on an equal basis with other powers is not the goal of the new social movments, nor is the state the means to attaining their goals. They cannot be called modernizers. The new social movements fear having their ideas and identities included and redefined in the ideologies and the platforms of the older political parties and thus incorporated into the bureaucratic world of state regulation and control. What was the prime goal of the old social movements is anathema to the new.
3.2. The Knowledge Industry
The expansion of education and the closer links between the production of knowledge and the practical interests of the state and private economic sectors in increased productivity and profits have provided much fuel for contemporary conflict and the emergence of new social movements. Many participants in the new social movements are the products of this transformation, at once the beneficiaries of higher education and detractors of its shifting aims. The argument that higher education is manipulated by technocratic interests, which grew out of the student movements of the 1960s, has been extended into new areas by recent sociopolitical movements. Activists in the environmentalist movement use this critique of the relationship between education, science, and state-corporate interests (and the view of nature that underlies it) as a platform from which to criticize Western society in general. Many activists in the peace movement share this general criticism. They describe science, Knowledge, and technology as arms of common state and corporate interests and identify the military-industrial complex as central to the modern mode of production. Thus, the knowledge industry and the links between education, knowledge, and corporate and state interests provide a common focus for new social movements and in this way have influenced their development. At the same time, because many activists in these movements are highly educated professionals employed in the very institutions they criticize, the movements have influenced the production of knowledge.
To take another example from my ongoing research, the environmentalist movement in Europe has developed in particular ways in part because of the interaction between professional scientists—both as activists and as the representatives of government or private interests—and the movement itself. The environmentalist movement has helped shape the course and content of knowledge production in part because of this interaction. Many scientists, and not just ecologists and biologists, have been influenced in the type of research they do and the broader theoretical frameworks they apply by their own or their colleagues' participation or interest in environmentalist organizations. New scientific frameworks have been developed or greatly modified in conjuction with the rise of environmentalism—the science of ecology is but one obvious example— and research programs have been instituted and funded for the same reasons.
The same may be said about the more applied areas of technological development. The concept and development of "alternative technology" arose within the environmentalist critique of modern production and consumption practices. Both the development of new scientific frameworks and the formulation of alternative technologies have focused
on the modernist orientations of the knowledge industry. This modernism is identified in the productivist orientations that are thought to underpin contemporary knowledge production, which view nature as an object of human intervention and redirection. Because of the universalistic, rational-scientific orientation of much of modern environmentalism, which stems from the background of its activists and the political-cultural context in which it has developed, the environmentalist movement in Europe has contributed to the postmodern critique of modernity. This has the somewhat paradoxical effect of opening rational alternatives to modernity to modern rationality. Some of these alternatives (not all of course) contain the seeds of a new form of knowledge production, based on a new cosmological orientation and a new view of the relationship between humanity and nature (see Cramer, Eyerman, and Jamison 1987).
3.3. Mass Media
Like the state and the knowledge industry, the new mass media have helped "create" the new social movements. Coverage in the mass media and the instant attention gained through modern communications technologies have helped build these movements into significant social and political forces and have influenced their internal strategies, organization, and leadership. As Todd Gitlin has documented in his brilliant account of the influence of the mass media on the development of the student movement in the United States, the media in many senses became the movement (Gitlin 1980). New social movements are shaped by the mass media in several ways. Activists are conscious of media attention. They are also aware of their own importance in making and shaping "events" and in catching the public eye. To be noticed by the media is to gain legitimacy and significance and the ability to influence policy as well as the public at large. Modern movements must learn to use the media; otherwise the media will use and abuse them.
Modern politics is played out before the public. The mass media are the producers as well as important interpreters of this drama. The mass media, either because of their form or because of the values they embody, are attracted to the spectacular and the flamboyant. This has the effect of making the media event and the colorful movement leader a significant factor in the development of modern social movements. Would such an organization as Greenpeace, one of the fastest-growing organizations in the environmentalist movement, be possible without the mass media and modern techniques of communication and administration? I think not.
Other movement organizations are also influenced by the modern media. Gitlin demonstrates that the American student organization Students
for a Democratic Society (SDS), a rather small group of well-brought-up students, was given celebrity status through media attention, which transformed not only the organization and its leadership, giving precedence to the colorful and the violent, but also its aims and its ideology, giving precedence to "radical" ideas and positions even though such views had previously only had marginal status within the movement. Philip Lowe and David Morrison show how the media and media attention have significantly affected the tactics and the aims of British environmentalist organizations (Lowe and Morrison 1984). Unlike the SDS, environmentalist groups have for the most part received favorable coverage in the media, especially as long as environmental issues remain free from partisan politics. This explains why environmental activists have been at pains to steer free of political parties. Lowe and Morrison go so far as to suggest that modern environmentalism, as opposed to the earlier conservation movement, would never have achieved its influence without its creative use of the media.
No modern movement can hope to gain influence without taking into account the centralized state and its form of discourse and organization, and no modern movement can afford to ignore the mass media. And just as taking the state into account entails paying the price of becoming organized and centralized, media attention has its own price. In this way modern social movements are shaped by various key aspects of modernity at the same time that they play a significant role in the development of modernity.