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New Social Movement Theory

Steven M. Buechler

Subject Politics
Sociology » Social Movements, Sociological and Social Theory

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


New social movement theory (NSMT) emerged in the 1980s in Europe to analyze new types of social movements that appeared from the 1960s onward. These movements were seen as “new” in contrast to the “old” working-class movement identified by Marxist theory as the major challenger to capitalist society. By contrast, new social movements are organized around race, ethnicity, youth, sexuality, countercultures, environmentalism, pacifism, human rights, and the like. NSMT is a distinct approach to the study of social movements, albeit with significant internal variations ( Cohen 1985 ; Klandermans 1991 ; Larana et al. 1994). The distinctiveness of NSMT became evident when it was transplanted into US sociology where it contrasted sharply with resource mobilization theory and shared some affinities with social constructionism. Both NSMT and social constructionism signified a cultural turn in social movement theory. NSMT emphasized culture as both the arena and the means of protest. As an arena, this meant a shift from conventional instrumental struggle in the political sphere to contests over meanings, symbols, and identities in the cultural sphere. As a means, this meant that activists were less concerned with accumulating material resources and more interested in promoting expressive, identity-oriented actions whose very form challenged the instrumental rationality of political elites. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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