logo

Cosmos

The Centre on Social Movement Studies

logo

Geoffrey Pleyers – “Conceptualizing Social Movements”

Picture description

Is “#MeToo” a social movement? Is Nuit Debout a social movement or just an event? Are trade unions still social movements? Local food network who dedicate most of their time and energy to local food distribution to their members. Does it mean that they are not a social movement but a self-help network?

“Is it a social movement?” PhD students have raised the question about their research object in each seminar and course on social movements I have taught. Over the year, I have seen many of them struggling for months with this question and its underlying normative stances. I had myself been trapped by this question and the inevitable analytical dead ends it entails.

  1. First, such a question cannot have a simple answer, as concrete social actors are never as simple as a concept. Dealing with the question require us to discuss the use of concept and in particular the relation between concrete actors and the concept of social movement.
  1. Second, the question puts social scientists on a pedestal. S/he delivers a judgement on an actor, strengthening or challenging social legitimacy by asserting it is or it is not a social movement. Is it the role of social scientists to attribute good or bad points to social actors based on their correspondence to the criteria they consider in their definition of a social movement? This stance has led to long but little insightful debates on ongoing struggles (e.g. Touraine et al., 1996). The question “Is it a social movement?” inevitably leads to discuss (and challenge) the stance of the researcher towards its object that it entails. Beyond a particular definition, I would like to defend an analytical approach, a way of dealing with social reality that allow us a better understanding of social actors and their contribution to social change.
  1. Third, every leading sociologists of the field comes up with her own definition of the concept. Before asking “Is it a social movement?”, we need to provide an answer to the question “What is a social movement?”.

The problems raised by these three set of epistemological and analytical dead ends and the strong normative assertion that have been associated to the concept by some scholars have led most of scholars of the field to abandon the concept of social movements, replacing it by “collective actions”, “protests”, “contentious politics”, “resistance” among other alternatives.

In this adverse context, I would like to make a plea for the concept of social movement. It is certainly not a good timing to defend the concept, as it is currently under harsh criticisms by all sides of the research field, from resource mobilization theories to resistance studies and the epistemologies of the South. A talk at COSMOS, the main center of social movement studies in Europe, is however the best occasion to start the discussion and make the point that to remain insightful in social sciences and society, the concept of “social movement” requires an update, based on elements that are already present in the literature as in the way researcher and actors use the concept and experience social movements in the 21st century.

In my presentation, I will argue that considering the concept of social movement as a specific meaning of action allows us to get rid of these analytical dead ends and opens an insightful and comprehensive approach of contemporaneous social movements that need to be understood beyond the classic dichotomies between individual or collective, public or private, political or cultural. I will illustrate this definition and the analytical approach it entails by applying it to two cases: local food movements and indigenous movements.

Allegati

Download the COSMOS Talks Calendar

News

08/04/2018

Austeridad, capitalismo y conflicto social. Nuevas tendencias en el estudio de los movimientos sociales - An interview with Donatella della Porta

alt
An interview with Donatella della Porta realized by COES - Centro de Estudios de Conflicto y Cohesión Social

12/03/2018

"Standing up for Science" - a documentary by Dieter Rucht

alt
A documentary by Dieter Rucht on the 2017 March for Science in Washington, D.C. - now available on YouTube.

24/02/2018

COSMOS Talks Calendar - Second Semester 2018

alt
Read here the full calendar of the COSMOS Talks Series

Publications

Edited Volume - 2018

Solidarity Mobilizations in the ‘Refugee Crisis’. Contentious Moves

Donatella della Porta (ed.)
This edited volume ddresses a gap in research on social movements that has disregarded the origins of discontent and overlooks protest as a resource of the powerless; it offers insight into how the movement of refugees across the European Union and elsewhere activates political opportunities; it explores claims to citizenship made by refugees within processes of knowledge production and the mobilization of emotions

Monograph - 2018

I movimenti animalisti in Italia. Strategie, politiche e pratiche di attivismo.

Niccolò Bertuzzi
Il volume si focalizza su coloro che in Italia si occupano di benessere, cura, diritti e liberazione animale all'interno di contesti organizzativi. Grazie alla somministrazione di una survey, interviste agli attivisti e analisi dei frame, emergono una notevole varietà di strategie, pratiche e riferimenti valoriali, la contemporanea presenza di lobby e conflitto, e la natura complessa di un fenomeno al centro dell’attenzione mediatica ma ancora poco studiato in termini sociologici.