You are on page 1of 40

An Introduction to the Study of Social Movements


Source: Social Research, Vol. 52, No. 4, Social Movements (WINTER 1985), pp. 749-787
Published by: New School
Stable URL:
Accessed: 23-02-2016 20:49 UTC

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content
in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.
For more information about JSTOR, please contact

New School is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Social Research.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
An Introductionto
the Study of
Social /
Movements / byALAIN TOURAINE

A he notionof social movement,like most notionsin the

social sciences,does not describepart of "reality"but is an
elementof a specificmode of constructing socialreality.Too
many studiesof socialmovements are dangerouslynaive.Too
often,authors,whiletheythinktheyare describingcollective
actionsor historicalevents,expressverycrudelytheirown
opinionsor ideologies.The limitedvalue of moststudiesof
socialmovements becomeseven moreconspicuousif we com-
pare different periodsof intellectual
and socialhistory.Social
movementsin the postwarperiod were mainlyconsideredas
disruptiveforces;even "liberals"like L. Coser1werereadyat
bestto grantthatconflicts can be functional forsocialintegra-
tion.Afterthesixties,socialmovements, on thecontrary, were
identified withthecounterculture, thesearchfor"alternative"
formsof social and culturallife. In the early eighties,the
subjectmatterlosesground.How is itpossibleto overcomethe
obviousprejudiceswhichso oftenmake discussionsabout so-
cial movementsuselessbecause theyinformus mainlyabout
social opinionsof some limitedsectorsof academia?
To overcomethisnaive and illusorypositivism, each social
scientistmustmakeclear the meaningof thewordshe or she
uses, situatingthemin a more generalintellectualframeof
reference.But to explain "whatI think"is not enough: it is

1 L. Coser, The Functions Social

of Conflict(Glencoe, 111.:Free Press, 1956).

SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Winter 1985)

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

indispensableto compare one's own categorieswith other

typesof construction of social reality.The aim here is not to
separateand definevarious Weltanschauungen but, on the
contrary, integrate various approaches intoa generalrepre-
sentationof sociallifewhichgivessome amountof autonomy
to each approach.It is truethatsuchan integratedand diver-
sifiedview is itselfrelated to specific"theories"and is not
entirely objective.The problem,however,is not to pursuean
abstractpureobjectivity butto pushbackthelimitsof ideology
and to make discussionsamong social scientists more mean-
ingful.If we eschewthiscriticalself-appraisal of our ideas and
results,we fallinto pretentious and uselessexpressionsof our
personalor nationalpreferencesand representations.
Manystaysin different partsof the worldhave convinced
me of the necessityto build an internationally transferable
knowledge which cannot be identified with categoriesused by
the actorsthemselvesin any partof the world.The timehas
gone when ideas correspondingto importantsectorsof "ad-
vanced"countrieswere able to spread all over the worldand
to be transmitted by dependentor imitativesocial scientists.
For thesereasons,and to help eliminatesuperficialcritiques
and artificial
discussions,I willtryto identify whatI mean by
"'social movement"and to relate it to a broader frameof
referencewhichshould at the same time providespace for
othernotionsand otherapproaches.

TypesofSocial Conflicts

There is an almostgeneralagreementthatsocialmovements
shouldbe conceivedas a specialtypeof socialconflict.Many
typesof collectivebehaviorare not social conflicts:panics,
crazes,fashions,currentsof opinion,culturalinnovationsare
not conflicts,even if theydefinein a preciseway whatthey
react to. A conflictpresupposesa clear definitionof oppo-
nentsor competiting actorsand oftheresourcestheyare fight-

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

ing foror negotiating to takecontrolof. Such an elementary

definition leaves the wayopen to manydifferent approaches,
butitalreadydrawstwolimitswhichshouldnotbe trespassed.
A socialconflictcannotbe analyzedentirelyas a featureof a
socialsystem.If a "society"feelsthreatenedor even no longer
wantsto survive - some exampleshave been describedin Af-
ricain particular- the manifestation of thissocietalcrisiscan-
notbe analyzedas a socialconflict.The agentsof thisconflict
mustbe identifiedas specificsocial categories.On the other
side, if a collectiveactor cannot define its goals in social
terms - if for example a group wants its specificity to be
recognized its strugglefor freedomor identitycannot by
itselfcreatea socialconflict.Even whentheconflictis veryfar
frombeinga zero-sumgame,it mustbe definedby a "field,"
thatis, by "stakes"whichare valued and desiredby two or
moreopponents.So all kindsof socialconflicts have in com-
mon a referenceto "real"- thatis, organized - actorsand to
ends which are valued by all competitorsor adversaries.
Withinthisbroaddefinition, it is necessaryto separatevarious
kindsof social conflicts.
(1) A firstand easilyperceivedcategoryof socialconflictis
thecompetitive pursuitofcollective In itsmostextreme
form, opposes individualsor groups who wantto maximize
theiradvantageson a market.In a moreclassicalsociological
tradition,it is defined as the expressionof a relationship
betweenactors'inputsand outputsin an organization, or of
theirrelativedeprivation.If employeesof a companybring
high or low inputs(measuredby skill,for example) and re-
ceive highor low rewards(in termsof incomein particular),
the hypothesishas been elaboratedthatfour main typesof
behaviorwillappear. The highestprobability of conflict
when low rewardscorrespondto high inputs. When both
inputand outputare high,competition willreplacegrievance.
On the contrary,a low input associatedwithlow rewardis
likelyto producewithdrawal, and a low inputwhichreceives
highrewardsleads to passiveconformity. The actorshere are

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

defined by their positions on a hierarchical scale, and the

"stakes" of the conflictsare organizational rewards. This "ra-
tionalist"view of collective behavior has been well presented
by A. Obserschall.2
(2) Both similar and opposed to the firsttype is the recon-
struction of a social,cultural,or politicalidentity.
Here the oppo-
nent is defined more as a foreigner or invader than as an
upper class, a power elite, or management. The actor defines
himselfas a communitywhose values are threatenedby inva-
sion or destruction.Messianic movementsin Brazil at the time
of abolition of slavery,for example, expressed firstof all the
defense of rural communitiesagainst the domination of trade
and urban interests.C. Tilly, analyzing the Vendean counter-
revolutionarymovement in France, instead of interpretingit
as an aristocraticreaction, sees in it the communitarian de-
fense of a rural societywhich is threatenedby a risingurban
During recent years, many strikes have expressed, in de-
clining industries, or in sectors which are upset by new
technologies,the resistance of occupational groups. This sec-
ond type of conflictcan be called defensive, while the first
one- the pursuitof collectiveinterests - is offensive.Smelser's
idea that collective behavior corresponds to the crisis of an
element of the social systemand effortsto reconstructit fits
with the definitionof the second type of social conflict.4The
Chicago school has analyzed gangs and ghettos as forms of
defense of dominated social and ethnic groups.
These two typesof conflictbehavior are located at the same
level: they"respond" to an organizationalstatusand to organi-
zational change. Their analysis is generally made in terms of
"system"more than in terms of actors. But they are opposed
in most ways to each other. The firstone can be called instru-
mental,the second expressive. Both can easily driftout of the
2 A. Oberschall, Social
Conflictand Social Movements(Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:
Prentice-Hall, 1973).
3 C.
Tilly, La Vende:Rvolutionet contre-rvolution
(Paris: Fayard, 1970).
4 N. Smelser,
Theoryof CollectiveBehavior(New York: Macmillan, 1963).

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

limitsof definition of socialconflict. If thefirstone is reduced

to rationalbehavior,it stopsreferring itselfto a socialconflict
becausetheenvironment is describedin nonrelational, purely
competitive terms, and actors in competition have no common
cultural or social orientationexcept their own interests.
Sociologyhas constantly remindedus thatHomosociusis not
just a varietyo Homooeconomicus. If thesecondone is reduced
to a propheticdefenseof values and communities, it equally
stopsreferring to a social conflictbecause it opposes culture
and barbarism, Good and Evil,in a purelymilitary waywhich
excludesthedefinition of anykindof referenceof bothcamps
to commonvalues.
(3) A politicalforceaims at changingthe rulesof the game,
not just the distribution of relativeadvantagesin a given
organization. In this case, the definition of the actorsand of
the stakes of theirconflictseems easy, because either the
conflictis stronglyorganizedor it has a great capacityfor
mobilization. In bothcases,each camp clearlydefinesitself,its
opponent, and theaspectof thedecision-making processor of
therulesof thegamewhichshouldbe changedor maintained.
Most studiesof industrialrelationsreferthemselves,often
to suchan imageof socialconflict.
explicitly, The sociologyof
organizations analyzed in an even broader waytheefforts
of variouscategoriesor individualsto controlwhatM. Crozier
calls "zones of uncertainty" and act accordingto whatMarch
and Simonhave labeled "limitedrationality."5 These authors
among others have demonstrated that many conflicts which
were considered "organizational"are in fact "political."
Studyingstrikes, E. Shorterand C. Tillyfollowthe same line:
insteadof consideringstrikesas responsesto "relativedepri-
vation,"they observe that they are closelyconnectedwith
sharp progressesor declines in the politicalinfluenceof

5J. G. March and H. Simon, Organizations(New York: Wiley, 1958).

6 E. Shorter and C.
Tilly, Strikesin France, 1930-1968 (Cambridge: Cambridge
UniversityPress, 1974).

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

(4) In the same way,as the defenseof an identityis the

oppositeside,thenegativeequivalent,of thecollectivepursuit
of interest,the defenseof a statusor privilegesis the negative
equivalentof a politicalpressure.P. Schmitter, followingan
idea introducedbyJ. Linz, has demonstrated the importance
in Europe and in Latin Americaof neocorporatist policies
whichappear whenan interestgroupis incorporatedintothe
State in which it defends its interestsby emphasizingits
functionalimportance, its usefulnessfornationallife.7Farm-
ers or teachers,insteadof defendingtheirincome directly,
proclaimthat a high priorityshould be recognizedfor ag-
ricultureor education.At a broaderlevel,politicalmovements
can expressthe fearof crisisand a call to a nationalintegra-
tion whichdefendsmoral or communitarian values and de-
nounces dangerous minorities.Since the end of the nine-
teenthcenturyour politicaland intellectual lifehas been re-
peatedly influenced by the fearof a mass societywhichoften
expressesthe protectionof normsand interests whichcan no
longer efficiently defended by usual institutional
In Latin America,the factthatmanyimportanteconomic
decisionsare takenby foreigncompaniesor the international
bankingand trade systementailsas anvindirect consequence
theextremeautonomyof thepoliticaland ideologicalforcesin
relationto economicinterests.This mechansim,whichI call
"disarticulation,"weakensrepresentative democracy.The re-
sultis thatpoliticalmovements are oftenorientedbya defen-
sive nationalismwhichgivesa priorityto the defenseof na-
tionalintegration againstforeigninfluenceand "dualization"
of the countryover the organizationof directlyconflicting
(5) Abovethispolitical,institutionallevelof analysis,existsa
different typeof socialconflict, whosestakeis thesocialcontrol
of themain culturalpatterns, is, of the patternsthrough

7 P. Schmitter,
"Corporatism and Policy-Making in Contemporary Western
Europe," ComparativePoliticalStudies,April 1977, pp. 7-38.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

whichour relationships withtheenvironment are normatively

organized. These cultural patterns are of three mainkinds:a
modelof knowledge,a typeof investment, and ethicalprinci-
ples. These representations truth,production, and morality
depend on thecapacityof achievement, of self-production, of
is to
a givensociety.Society opposed community, because a
whichhas a highcapacityto act upon itselfand to
transform itselfis necessarilydividedbetweenleadersor rul-
ing groups,whichimposesavings,deferredgratification pat-
terns,abstractideas, and moral principlesand at the same
timeidentifytheirown interestswiththeseuniversalprinci-
ples, and "people" or "masses,"whichare bothsubordinated
to thecontrolof culturalvaluesbyrulinggroupsand eager to
eliminatethisdominationand to identify themselves withthese
culturalvalues.This centralconflictis endlessand cannotbe
solved. If the masses win, theytransforman activesociety
into an immobile,reproductivecommunity;if the elite im-
poses its identification withvalues, it transforms the "self-
production society" into private interests and entrepre-
neurshipinto speculationor privileges.
(6) These lastremarksmakeclearhow shortthedistanceis
betweenthis "positive"conflictbehaviorand the "negative"
ones whichcorresponddirectly to them.Creation ofa neworder
is the oppositeof the conflict-loaded self-production of soci-
ety. The most extreme form of such a action"
"critical is
revolution,whichalwaysaims at recreatinga community, es-
tablishinga new socialorder, more rational or more national,
but definedby its integrationand its capacityto eliminate
conflicts,a capacitywhich is rapidlydemonstratedby the
police. The rulinggroup,in a parallelway,tendsto impose
orderas a precondition foreconomicdevelopment, but order
oftenbecomesan end in itselfand an instrument forprotect-
ing privileges.The influence of the French and Russian revo-
lutionshas long imposedthe idea thata revolutionwas the
politicalexpressionof a popular class movement.This con-
tinuityfromsocial mobilizationto revolution,whichis still

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

acceptedby Tilly,has been efficiently criticizedby historical

studies.WhileV. Bonnelldemonstrated thatthedevelopment
of labor movementin Russiabefore1914 was quite indepen-
dentof revolutionary politicalgroups,8T. Skocpolemphasized
in an important book thatrevolutions are notdirectresultsof
a socialupheavalbut mustbe explainedfirstof all bya break-
downof theStateand of thepoliticalsystem.9 Earlier,F. Furet
had criticizedthe traditionalimageof the FrenchRevolution
and of its "natural"radicalizationfrom1789 to 1794.10This
majortransformation of politicalanalysisis obviouslya conse-
quence of the disenchantment withthe politicalregimeborn
fromthe 1917 revolution.
The six typesof conflictbehaviorwhichhave been rapidly
describedcorrespondon one side to three levels of social
life- organizationalprocesses,politicalinstitutions, and cul-
tural orientations - which cannot be separated from"class"
conflicts, and, on the other side, to two opposed and com-
plementarytypesof conflicts - offensiveand defensive.The
firsttypedistinguishes conflicting actorsand impliesa some-
whatautonomousexpressionof the stakesof thisconflict;the
secondtendsto identify an actorwithsocialand culturalvalues
and to exclude the opponentas an externalenemyor as a
None of thesetypesshould be confusedwithotherswhich
are no longerdefinedbya certainlevelof sociallifebutwhich
manifestconflicting effortsto controla processof historical
change, thatis, the passage fromone culturaland societaltype
to anotherone. In moreconcreteterms,we mustseparatethe
internalconflicts of an industrialsocietyfromconflicts which
are linkedto the processof industrialization. This distinction
is stillsomewhatdifficult to acceptforWesterncountriesbe-

8 V. Bonnell, RootsofRebellion:Workers' and

in St. Petersburg
Politicsand Organizations
Moscow,1900-1914 (Berkeley: Universityof California Press, 1983).
9 T. A Comparative AnalysisofFrance,Russia and
Skocpol, Statesand Social Revolutions:
China (Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress, 1979).
10F. Furet, Penserla rvolution franaise(Paris: Gallimard, 1978).

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

cause theirspecificexperienceis thattheirown industrializa-

tionhas been mainlyendogenous,rootedin science,technol-
ogy,education,"achievementmotive,"and the open market,
so thattheircentralimage of themselvesidentifiedfunction-
ing and change, modernityand modernization.Modern
societieswere defined,fromthe Enlightenment on, by their
capacity destroy traditions, and
particularisms, religionsand
to open the way to Reason and its achievements.
But aftera longcenturyof developmentpolicies--thatis,of
voluntaristic actionsof States againstthe politicaland eco-
nomicdominationexertedby foreigncountriesand resulting
in the growingdualizationof society,actionsthatreinforce
traditionalsocial and culturalcontrolsand impede protest
movements - the distancebetweeninternalendogenouspro-
cesses of change and State-ledor foreign-ledmodernization
has becomeobvious.We are even sometimestemptedto give
up the idea of internal,structuralconflicts, and to consider
that all social problemsshould be understoodas parts of
processesof change.Such a viewis as erroneousas theoppo-
site identificationof structuralproblemswithmodernization
A complete typologyof conflicts should elaborate a
classificationof "historical"conflicts,parallel with the one
whichhas been presentedfor "social" conflicts.Diachronie
conflictsbelongto the same categoriesas synchronie conflicts.
They are locatedat a certainlevel of social life,and theyare
offensive or defensive.But itis sufficient
hereto mentiononly
the twotypesof "historical" conflictswhichcorrespondto the
highestlevelof socialconflicts,in bothitspositiveand negative
(7) It is appropriateto give a veryconcretename to the
positivehistoricalconflictsat theirhighestlevel: theyare na-
because the identity and continuity of a chang-
ing,developingcountry cannot be based on social actorsand
socialrelationswhichare preciselytransformed, destroyed, or
createdby the processof historicalchange- forexample,of

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

industrialization.State and nation are the only actors which

can maintain their identity and proclaim their continuity
throughout a process of change. In all countries, conflicts
about the controlof change are conflictsabout the State. That
indicatesthe necessityto separate the politicalsystemas repre-
sentative of internal economic, social, or cultural interests
from the State as central agent of historicaltransformation.
Here again, the experience of "central" countries and espe-
cially of the hegemonic ones, like Britain in the nineteenth
centuryand the United States in the twentieth,is misleading,
or has been ideologically misrepresentedwhen the State was
identified in these countries with a ruling class, with the
people, or with the balance of social forces. The separation
between highestlevel social and historicalconflictscan be rep-
resented by the opposition between class conflictand national
conflict which has dominated contemporary history since
Austro-Marxists tried to combine them and the First World
War demonstratedthe limitsof "proletarian"internationalism.
(8) The negative equivalent of national conflictis neocom-
munitarianism, the effortto reject a historicaltransformation
which comes from abroad and destroystraditionalvalues and
formsof social organization. It could be called an antirevolu-
tion,and it is as importantat the end of the twentiethcentury
as the revolutionarymovements were a century ago. From
limited Western neocommunitarian tendencies or sects to
fundamentalist,nativist, indigenous ideologies and to the
powerful Islamist movement, the planet is more dominated
today by the opposition between social and democratic move-
ments on one side and neocommunitarianStates or political
groups on the other than by the internal social conflictbe-
tween capitalismand socialism. The Leninistrevolutioncorre-
sponds to the hinge which permitted the passage from the
central role of social conflictsand ideologies to the predomi-
nance of historical,State-orientedconflicts.
Behind this cold classification,it is easy to perceive hot
ideological and politicalproblems. For example, the verydefi-

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

nitionof the leftistintellectual,

especiallyin France,sincethe
Dreyfuscase, is one who proclaimsthe convergenceof liberal
reforms,class conflicts,revolutions,and nationalliberation
movements. Jean-PaulSartrewas themostinfluential of these
intellectuals:he definedhimselfas a petitbourgeois - thatis,
as a defenderof Westerndemocracy - but located himself
withinthe untrespassable horizonof Marxismand supported
activelythe Algerian independence movement.These in-
tellectualsopposed colonialismor "imperialist" wars,at the
same timethattheywere supportingleftistreformsin their
own country.But it became more and more difficultfor
people who approvedthe Vietnameseliberationmovementto
supportthe Hanoi regime,withoutmentioningCambodia,
and it is impossibleto considerStalinistregimesas expression
of proletarianrevolutions. So the convergencebetweenliber-
ties and liberationappears more and more contradictedby
historical experience.The separationof variouskindsof social
and historicalconflicts help us to understandthe conflicts or
tensionswhichoppose themto each otherand whichconfront
each of us withdifficult, sometimesimpossiblechoices.
It is relativelyeasy to see that many analysesof "social
movements" limitthemselves to one typeof conflict,generally
becausethistypeis predominantin a giventypeof society.It
is difficultin manyThird Worldnationsto analyzeclasscon-
flictswhere anti-imperialism struggles,neocommunitarian
movements, and the creationof a "Statebourgeoisie"are the
more visibleforces.In an opposite way,manyWesternob-
serversdiscovered"socialmovements" onlyin the sixtiesand
weremainlypreoccupiedto understandhowsocialintegration
could be restoredeitherby reformor by a neoconservaitve
But suchrelativistremarkscan be misleading.It is necessary
to proposea generalinterpretation ratherthanto
of conflicts
limitourselvesto classifying and separatingtypes.So we must
nowproceedto a moredifficult task,whichis to givea general
analysisof the differences and relationsamongvarioustypes

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

of conflicts.More concretely,thatmeans thatwe mustnow

introducethe notionof socialmovement, a termthatwe have
until now carefullyavoided using in the strictsense. Two
solutionsare possible.The easiestone is to considera social
movementas a genericcategorywhichincludesall kindsof
socialand historical Butwhatis theuse ofsucha wide
notionwhichis onlysynonymous withcollectiveconflicts?
To proposea moreelaborateanalysisof conflicts, we must
integratethe previousclassification
intoa generalhypothesis
whichgivesa different to
importance variousconflicts. From
the beginning,we actuallyhad to introducesuch a hierarchi-
zationwhenwe constructed a typology whichopposespositive
and negativemovementand threelevelsof conflicts, an image
whichclearlygives a priorityto the "highest"level, where
are organizedaround the controlof centralcultural
patternsand resources.

The UnityofSocial Conflicts

To make myhypothesisquite clear,I willuse the concept

"socialmovements" onlyto referto conflicts around the social
controlof themainculturalpatterns, thatis,type5. This is an
arbitrary semanticdecision.Othersmaypreferto keepa much
widerand morevague definition of socialmovements, but,if
theydo so, theyrun the riskof fallingintothe confusionwe
criticizedat the beginning.
(1) A privilegecan be given to a specifictype of social
conflictif othertypesof conflictcan be consideredas disin-
tegratedor partialformsof the centraltype. The type of
conflictI willfromnowon call a "socialmovement" is defined
by a clear interrelation betweenconflicting actors and the
stakes of their conflict.These three components,which I
identifiedlong ago as the definition of the identity(i) of the
actor,the definition of the opponent(o), and the stakes,that
is, the culturaltotality(t) whichdefinesthe fieldof conflict,

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

belongto the same universe;theyexpressthe centralconflict

of a societaltype.11 For example,in an industrialsocietyman-
agementand workersare in conflict aboutthesocialcontrolof
industry. These three components,management, workers,in-
dustry, are homogeneous;moreover,theyare interdependent:
industry neverexistsper se- thisculturalmode of investment
is alwaysmanagedbya rulinggroupwhichhas thecapacityto
impose on workerssome formof divisionof labor. On the
contrary, a politicalpressure representsa morelimitedintegra-
tion of its components:there is no directinterdependence
betweenpoliticalforcesand politicaldecisions.Politicalparties
are generallymultidimensional, particularlyin representative
democracies, and their aims are defined by strategiesand
tacticsas muchas byprinciplesor directly expresseddemands.
Competitive parties do not a
represent permanentopposition
likethe couple management- workersdoes. That can be sym-
bolizedbywritingthata socialmovementis i-o-t and a politi-
cal strugglei-t, o-t, or i-o. The collectivepursuitof interests
correspondsto an even lower level of integrationof these
elements:the actorsare self-centered and the fieldof their
competition or conflict can even be definedas a market,which
is definedindependently fromactors.That correspondsto i,
o, t,where each element is separatedfromtheothers.So politi-
cal pressureand defenseof interestmustbe definednotonly
by theirspecificnaturebut as nonintegrated and lower-level
social movements.
This hypothesishas an importantconsequence: political
pressureand collectivepursuitof interestare alwayscom-
pletedby expressionsof a nonactualized,virtualsocial move-
ment.A politicalpressureis notjust partof a politicalgame; it
refersto interestand, at a higherlevel,to a social movement
thatit represents, and it affirms thatitsown actionwillnever
entirely reachits goal. Most negotiatorsreferto nonnegotiable

11A. Touraine,TheSelf-Production
ofSociety of ChicagoPress,

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

demands, to basic rightsof workers,or, on the other side, to

superior interestsof the industryand of the nation. What a
social movement expresses directly and practicallyappears
here as principles, ideas, or convictionswhich are relatively
separate fromactual practices.The same holds for the defense
of interests.Before the First World War, in Western Europe
and in the United States,business unionism was predominant,
but its instrumentalorientationwas completed by intellectual
and politicalradical movementswhich created myths,like the
Sorelian idea of the general strike.That does not mean that
every form of defense of interest reveals a possible social
movement,but rather that the defense of interestis always a
combination between rational economic behavior and social
movement.In a parallel way, a politicalpressure is intermedi-
ate between a social movement and a strategy.Here we go
much beyond our classification;we introduce the hypothesis
that social movementsin a given societycan be observed not
only directlybut indirectly,in partial,disintegratedforms,or,
to put it more precisely,thatsomecomponent of social move-
ment must be found in all social conflicts.Theonly limithere
of the penetrationof social movementis the territoryof Homo
oeconomicus, but where this territorybegins, if it really exists,
social conflictactuallydisappears, is displaced by the triumph
of economic rationality.
(2) "Negative" conflictbehavior, as has already been sug-
gested, can be analyzed as overintegrated forms of social
movements. Here the actor identifies himself with values,
eliminatesthe idea of an internalstructuralconflict,and pre-
sents the image of an homogenized communityto opponents
who are transformedinto enemies. A revolutionrefersfirstto
an internal conflict which, after its triumph, builds a new
social and political order, looks for purity,and wages war
against external enemies and traitorswho undermine the new
community.Thus everyrevolutionarycreation of a new order
is led to destroythe social movementit is based on. Saturn ate
his children,revolutionseat theirfathers.This self-destruction

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

mechanism is supportedbytheideal of a homogeneoussystem

thatwe call sect at a microsociological level and totalitarian
regimeat a macrosociological level.These systems are notjust
communities, preciselybecause their main logicis the destruc-
tionof socialconflicts, of all kindsof socialrelations,and, by
way of consequence,of all actors.So social movementsare
limitedon one side byHomooeconomicus and, on theother,by
Big Brother.
(3) The subordinationof "historical"and particularly na-
tionalmovements to socialmovements is evenmorevisibleand
has been for a long time at the verycenterof the world's
politicaltransformation. We are firsttemptedto recognizethe
separation and parallel importanceof what is generallyex-
pressedas classand nationalmovements, becauseour century
has been dominatedby nationalliberationmovementswhich
have dominatedor destroyedclass-oriented action.The Alge-
rian example shows clearlythe defeat of Marxist-oriented
MessaliHadj or even of revolutionary populistBen Bella and
the triumphof the armyheaded by Boumedienne.In a dif-
ferentcontext,FidelCastro,whowas eventually goingto build
a Marxist-Leninistregime,gave in theSierraa totalpriority to
guerrillawaroversocialdemonstrations and strikesorganized
by the July 26th movement which had a broad socialbasis in
Havana. Communismand nationalismhave often joined
forces,but neverhas a social movementdevelopeditsauton-
omousactionin a national-revolutionary regime.Nevertheless,
such a separation,whichimpliesa totaldominationof social
bynationalmovement, is nevercomplete.In manydependent
countries, especially in Latin America, "mixed" three-
dimensionalsociopoliticalmovementspredominatewith a
class,an anticolonialistor anti-imperialist,and a nationalinte-
grativedimension.There is no clearseparationbetweensocial
movements,politicalforces,and State intervention, so it is
necessaryto analyze "national-popular"regimesas indirect
expressionsof social movements.In countrieswithstronger
Statetraditions, the movements or warsof nationalliberation

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

are not just national; on the contrary,they are similarto

revolutionary movements.They create a new politicaland
social order by rejectingwhat they call imperialism,colo-
nialism,or decadentbourgeoislife.In moregeneralterms,it
is difficultto completelyseparate structuralconflictsand
politicalprocessesof historicalchange.The processof indus-
trializationis not independent of peasant, plebeian, or
working-class socialmovements. So "historical"
movements are
alwayscontradictory mixturesof socialmovements and of the
risingpower of a new State. Here a
appears thirdand last
limitof social movements:the intervention of an absolute
State, "absolute" referringhere to a pure definitionof the
Stateas agentof historical
developmentand notas a centerof
the institutionalsystem.
(4) If we combinethesethreelinesof analysis,we are able
to defineall typesof conflictby referenceto the centraltype
whichhas been called social movement(Figure 1). This pre-
sentationindicatesthe threeprocessesof transformation of a
social movementinto more instrumental action,into more
integrativeand communitarian movement, and intohistorical,

Figure 1.
HomoOEconomicus Totalitarian systems
N, s
Collective pursuit of Reconstruction of
interests identity
(Sub-movements) >v >j* anti-movements)

Political pressure Defense of privileges

National^ movements > Neo-communi

tari an

Pure State

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

especiallynationalmovements. And it drawsthelimitsbeyond

whichthe influenceof a socialmovementis destroyed,in the
firstcase byeconomicrationality, in thesecondbythelogicof
a totalitarian
system, and in the third case by a Statewhichis
essentiallyan agent of economicdevelopment.

The CentralRole ofSocial Movements

in SociologicalAnalysis

The main meaningof thisreconstruction of the analysisof

is not to isolateand underlinethe importance
of socialmovement as a specifictypeof collectivebehaviorbut
to reorganizeour representationof social life around the
notionsof social movement,structuralconflict,and cultural
The bestwayto understandthe proposeduse of the term
social movementis to compare the theoreticalapproach it
implieswithothers,each of whichactuallycorrespondsto one
of theformsof disorganization of a socialmovementwe have
just encountered.
(1) There is a clear opposition between a sociological
analysiswhichis organizedaroundthenotiono society or even
socialsystemand a sociologywhichgivesa centralrole to social
movements. The firstimpliesthatactors'behaviorsare inter-
preted as indicatorsof the internalprocessesof differentia-
tion,integration, and pattern-maintenance of a socialsystem.
An absenceof correspondence betweeninstitutional rulesand
socializationagencies,asynchrony betweensectorialchanges,
gaps between cultural values and institutionalchannels,or
more simplyinequalityor upward and downwardcollective
social mobilityproduce conflictsand crises whichare both
disruptiveand adaptative.The consciousnessof the actor is
interpretsin actor-centeredtermssituationsand behavior
whichmustbe conceived,accordingto it,as elementsofa social
systemand as effectsof itsinternalproblems.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Nobodywillchallengethe superiority of such an approach

to a "subjectivist" sociology which identifies itselfwith the
actors'opinionsand is unable to explainthevisiblediscrepan-
cies and contradictionsbetween various actors' represen-
tations.But who is temptedto defendsuch a naivesociology
whichreducestheanalystto theroleof a tape recorderor of a
"historianof the king"?The conceptof social movementim-
plies a differentview of social life. Instead of analyzingthe
social systemas a set of transformations and specifications of
culturalpatternsinto institutional normsand formsof social
and culturalorganization, it emphasizesthe structural conflict
in a given"society,"especiallywhenit has a highcapacityof
modernizationand achievement,around the controlof the
instruments of transformation and "production"of sociallife.
Accordingly,all aspects of social and culturalorganization
manifest, insteadof generalvalues,bothculturalpatternsand
power relations,and the social movementswhich express
them.This antipositivist viewof modernsocietiesopposes to
the image of a rationalized,integrated,and flexiblemodern
societythegrowingimportanceof socialmovements and, even
more directly,the consequencesof an insufficient level of
integrationof conflictsinto a centralsocial movement:wild
conflictsof interests,pseudocommunitarianwithdrawal,
arbitrary power,and violence,whichis the oppositeof social
Our approach is centeredon the representation of social
actorsas both culturallyorientedand involvedin structural
conflicts.Actorsin a modern society - that is, in a society
whichhas a highcapacityof achievement - are neitherpurely
rationalnor identifiedwithcommunitarian values. None of
themcan be identified withmodernity or, moreprecisely, with
the set of cultural patterns - epistemic, economic, and
ethical- thatI call historicity.
Managersare not more rational
than workers,professorsthan students. Differentsocial
categoriescan participatemore or less in centralcultural
orientationsand organizesocial movementsbut can equally

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

developdefensiveattitudesor createsubmovements and even

(2) In an opposite way, the structural Marxistschoolhas
recentlydiffusedthe idea thatactors,insteadof being inte-
gratedin a societybyinternalizing itsvalues,are submittedto
a logic of dominationand are unable to be real actors.This
idea was alreadypresentin Lenin'sWhatIs toBe Done} Work-
ers cannotliberatethemselves becausetheyare prisonersof a
system which limits their spontaneousaction to reformist
negotiations.In the sixties and seventies, disenchanted
Leninistsrecognizedthatthe revolutionary and scientificin-
telligentsiawhichwas supposed to build a new and liberated
society forthe workershad transformed itselfintoaparatchiki
of a totalitarianStateand thatthe sacrificedgenerationwas
followedby manyothers.So a new typeof Marxist,ex- or
para-Marxists, builtthe image of a closed society,in which
conflictsand protestsare no longer possiblebecause of the
growingcapacityof intervention and manipulation of a central
power. Afterthe pioneering work of H. Marcuse, a groupof
French social thinkers,L. Althusserand N. Poulantzas,P.
Bourdieuand M. Foucault,the latterwithgreattalentand a
complexand changingintellectual personality, diffuseda kind
of criticalfunctionalism for whichsocietyis dominatedby
ideological apparatuses of the State or by omnipresent
powerssymbolizedby Bentham'sPanopticonor is identified
with its mechanismsof reproduction.The decline of the
labor movement, the transformationof Third Worldnational
liberationmovements intooppressiveor even fanaticregimes,
the influence of Soviet dissidents, had destroyed the
traditionaleschatologicalconfidence in some movements
whichwere supposed to be popular and libertarian.Disillu-
sions withall kindsof revolutionary forcesled theoriststo
substitutethe idea of an all-powerfullogicof dominationfor
the abandoned hope of liberatingsocial movements.At the
same time,thesesocialphilosophersrefusedto exchangetheir
ancientcreeds for a neoliberalismmore and more satisfied

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

tionalitywhile they were torturingin Algiersor dropping
napalmon Vietnamesevillages.This double rejectioncreated
a totallynegativeimage of social lifein whichalienationand
heteronomous integrationcould be challengedonlyby margi-
nal revoltsor by individualist aestheticculture.Such a social
philosophyplayed an importantrole in the historyof ideas
and ideologies,but it has been highlydestructiveof social
analysis.The necessarycritiqueof a decliningor corrupted
typeof socialmovementended up arbitrarily in theimageof a
societywithoutactors.The image of our societiesas entirely
dominatedby systemsof controland manipulationis so far
fromobservablefactthatit lured manysociologists to replace
fieldstudiesby doctrinaireinterpretations. It transformed it-
self in some countriesinto the dominantideologyof a self-
destroying intelligentsia.
(3) A sociologyof social movementsand more generallya
sociologyof actioncan be moreconcretely definedbyopposi-
tion withanothersociologicalapproach forwhichany refer-
ence to "structural" problemsor conflictsshould be deleted.
We no longerlive in a social system,says thisschool,but in
situationswhichcannotbe definedexceptas a diversified flow
of changes. They take so seriouslythe ideas of modernity,
achievement, and developmentthattheydefinesocial actors
entirelyby their strategies,by theirroles and relativeinflu-
ence in theprocessof change.The mostconspicuousexample
of thisapproach is the critiquemade againstscientific man-
agement,as definedbyTaylor,Ford, and business schools,in
thenameof a strategic viewof management. Symbolically,the
Japanese model replacesthe American model of management.
This sociologyproposesa pragmaticviewof actorsand con-
flictsand rejectsany referenceto a "center,"be it definedin
termsof culturalvalues, of a logic of domination,or as a
centralsocialmovement.Whatis generallyknownas sociology
of organizationshas been the stronghold of thistheory,which
actuallydestroys concept organizationand replacesit
the of

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

withconceptslike decisionand strategy.It recognizesas a

centralvalue not reason and its general principlesbut the
capacityto elaboratean efficientstrategyin a movingenvi-
ronment.Like structural Marxism,thispoliticalviewof society
deservescreditbecauseit contributed efficientlyto destroying
both analysis of industrial conflict, which had been
transformed into ideologiesor even myths,and the naive
identificationof our own society with universal values.
Moreover,whencollectiveconflicts are stilllooselyformulated
and organized,thestrategic approachis a kindof spontaneous
naturalsociologyof theelitegroupswho are richor powerful
enoughto elaboratecomplexstrategies in a highlycompetitive
world.But it does not correspondto the experienceof most
people, who resistthe initiativeof the elite groupsby with-
drawingintoan individualistic, hedonisticsearchforidentity
or intomarginality or fighting back in the name of traditions,
principles, or alternative views of social life.
The notion of resource mobilizationhas been used to
transform the studyof socialmovements intoa studyof strat-
egies as if actorswere definedby theirgoals and not by the
social relationshps- and especiallypower relationships - in
whichtheyare involved.Such a transformation is sometimes
acceptable when apparently radical or ideologicalmovements
are actuallyinstrumentally orientedinterest groups.But in too
manycases, thisnotion is used to eliminate enquiriesaboutthe
meaningof collectiveactionas if resourcemobilization could
be definedindependently fromthe natureof the goals and
the social relations of the actor, as if all actors were
finallyled by a logic of economicrationality.
(4) If we considertheworldtoday,themostdynamicrepre-
sentationof sociallifeis neitheroptimistic functionalism,pes-
simisticstructuralMarxism,nor pragmaticstrategicconcep-
tionof social actionbut the call foridentityand community.
Througha seriesof meetingsand programsorganizedbythe
United Nations Universityin Tokyo, especiallyunder the
leadership of Anouar Abdel Malek, can be perceived a

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

passionatedefenseof the specificity of different nationalor

regionalcivilizations,12 is directlyopposed a univer-
approachand theprivileges it givesto Zweck-
rationalitt.Of course wide differencesexist between in-
tellectualswhogivetotalpriority to culturalpluralism - thatis,
tothestruggle againstculturalcolonialism - and socialscientists
who tryto combinetheuniversalistic valuesof development -
science,technology, - withrespectforor revivalof
culturaland nationalspecificity. But all of themare linked
withthe neocommunitarian movementswhichare the "nega-
tive"formof nationalmovements and developan idealistand
oftenreligiousview of social life.
(5) This reviewof fourschoolsof socialthoughtwhichare
differentfrom a sociologyof collectiveaction and social
movementsraises the problemof the relationships between
themand the sociologyof social movements.Here we must
followthe same principleof analysisas before.Each of these
sociologicalschoolsmustbe granteda certainautonomy,but
at thesametimeitcorrespondsto a specificformof disorgani-
zationof a sociologyof action,whichdeservesa centralplace
preciselybecauseof itscapacityto understandand reinterpret
The four schools we opposed to a sociologyof action-
functionalism, structuralMarxism,"strategic," and "civiliza-
tional"schools- correspondto the formsof decomposition of
socialmovements whichhave been representedin theschema
When we pass fromsocial movementsto submovements,
beforecrossingthe frontier of sociologicalanalysisand enter-
ing the territoryof Homo oeconomicus, we tend to use a
functionalistanalysis,because the actors of a politicalpressure
or of the defenseof collectiveinterests are definedno longer
as "producers"of socialorganization butas "consumers" - that

12A. Abdel Malek, in a Changing

Projecton SocioculturalDevelopment
World:Final Report(Tokyo: United Nations University,1985).

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

is, by theirlevelof participation. Insteadof analyzinga form

of social life as the resultof a centralconflictand of its
institutional,politicalconsequencesand solutions,functionalist
approachesidentify valuesand normswithformsof organiza-
tion and processesof integrationor disintegration. But a
sociologyof actionobjectsthatno situationcan be reducedto
institutionalrulesand hierarchizedstatutes:thereis alwaysa
certainamount of uncertainty, negotiation,conflict,trans-
The structuralMarxistschoolrightlyunderlinesthe constant
transformation of an open conflictbetweenopposed social
movementsinto a "closed"order whichhas a certaininertia
reinforced bymechanisms of socialand culturalcontrol.What
we objectto is thatno societyis completelyclosed,and cer-
tainlynotindustrialand democraticsocieties,so thatthe main
errorof thisapproach- whichcan transform itselfintoa self-
fulfillingprophecy when it is -
predominant is to deny and
ignoretheubiquitousexistenceof actors.WhenI metHerbert
Marcusein thestreetsof Parisin May 1968,nearmassdemon-
strationsand barricadesbuilt by middle-classstudentsin
the heart of the city,I was entitledto express to him my
misgivings about his idea thatour societiesmade movements
of protestimpossible.At thesame time,studentsand blacksin
theUnitedStates,sometimes inspiredbyMarcuse'sideas,were
demonstrating his excessive pessimism.
The "strategic"schoolis not directlyincludedin the general
schemapresentedabove because its representation of social
lifeas a complexflowof changewithoutanystructural conflict
is the directoppositeof a sociologyof social movementsand
cannotbe consideredas one of its formsof decomposition.
But social actorsare not orientedonlytowardtheirenviron-
ment;theyare not only agentsof change; theybelong to a
certaintypeof sociallife,of productionand culture.A sociol-
ogy of strategies is rightlypredominantin the studyof inter-
nationalrelations;it cannotbe centralin the studyof social
relationsin general.It is arbitrary to mergestructural prob-

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

lems and historicaltransformationsinto one central category,

social change, and it is excessive to react against functionalist
and structuralMarxist theories by isolating the actor from a
systemwhich is reduced to an environmentin which the actor
is oriented by his interest.
Finally, the sociological school which gives priorityto na-
tionalcultureand the defense of the specificityof civilizations
which are threatened by the cultural and economic im-
perialismof universalist-oriented countries,capitalistas well as
communist,maintainsthe long traditionwhich was created by
the German historicalschool of law and other forms of his-
toricistthought.Our main critiqueagainst it is thatit identifies
social life with ideologies and political philosophies and ne-
glects the real social actors. It is dangerous to identifyEgyp-
tian peasants or Moroccan workers with Islam or Japanese
white-collaremployees with Buddhism, even if it is necessary
to give the greatestimportance to the specificityof each civili-
zation. Cultural orientationscannot be separated from social
relations and in particular from relations of power or domi-

TheNatureofSocial Movements

Let's now present more directlysome principlesof analysis

of social movementswhich have been already implicitlyintro-
(1) Social movementsare always defined by a social conflict,
that is, by clearly defined opponents. Actors often live their
own actions firstof all as a rupture withpredominantcultural
values or institutionalrules. Alberoni insisted on this opposi-
tion between institutionand movement.13But many revoltsor
uprisings can be nothing but signs of an internal crisis and
reorganizationof a social system.A social movementcannot be
defined by its intensity, its emotions, or its "volcanic"
13F. Alberoni, Movimentoe istituzione(Bologna: II Mulino, 1977).

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

force - imageswhichcorrespondbetterto disruptionswhich

can be betteranalyzedfroma functionalist pointof view.
(2) The mostcontroversial idea whichhas been defended
here is that a givensocietaltypethereis onlyone central
couple of conflicting social movements.This idea seemsvery
near to the Marxistconceptof classstruggleand is constantly
challengedby observerswho describea greatvarietyof con-
flictswhichcannot be consideredas specific"fronts"of a
general war. These observersrejectthe ideologicalor even
eschatologicalconnotationof such a view, which seems to
express a religiousbelief in the end of the prehistoryof
I sharethesecriticisms and agree thatit is indispensableto
eliminate the eschatologicalaspects of many nineteenth-
centurytheories.But theconceptof socialmovementhas very
littlein commonwiththe ideas whichare here rightlycrit-
icized.Social movements are notpositiveor negativeagentsof
history,of modernization, or of the liberationof mankind.
They act in a giventype of socialproductionand organization.
This is the reason whywe emphasizethe priorityof social,
structural conflicts over historicalmovements. Once thismis-
understanding has been eliminated,it becomesclear thatthe
multiplicity of socialconflictsor, moreprecisely, the idea that
thereis no centralconflictcorrespondsto a system-centered
analysis.In the same wayas a car can breakdownfora series
of reasonsand as thereis nothingin commonbetweena flat
tire,a lack of gas, and a brokengearbox,manypeople are
satisfiedwithobservingthat there is apparentlynothingin
commonbetweenethnicminoritiesprotest,women'slib, in-
dustrialunions,urbancrisis,and antiwarmovements. Who is
going deny thatthese conflictsare largelyseparatedfrom
each other?But thispedestrianobservation is no argumentto
reject the idea thata central conflict
exists in a giventypeof
society.And even in industrialsocieties,it was easyto observe
popular culturemovements, municipalaction,and so on.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

If I devotedtheprecedingpages to a ratherlongdefinition
of a givenapproachin relationwithothers,mypurposewas to
get rid of a primitivetypeof social thoughtwhichidentifies
analyticalcategorieswithhistoricalfacts.We have no rightto
say thatthe United Statesis an industrialor postindustrial,
democraticor capitalistcountry,as if all aspectsof American
life should be consideredas attributes of one of these defi-
nitions.Onlyconcreteresearchand discussionscan definethe
degreeof integration of specificconflicts
intoa generalsocial
I devoteda seriesof researchprojectsto theanalysisof what
is oftencalled new social movements, thatis, more precisely,
new socialconflicts. My goal was and still
is to detectwhether
or notthereare somecommonelements insomeofthem,ifthere
is somesocialmovement in conflictswhichhave obviously other
components.What is strikingtodayis thatthishypothesisis
often accepted,even if it is in rathervague terms.Many
observersare aware of the factthatcentralconflicts deal less
withlabor and economic problemsthan withculturaland
especiallyethicalproblems,because the dominationwhichis
challengedcontrolsnot only "means of production"but the
productionof symbolicgoods, that is, of information and
images, of cultureitself.
These briefremarks do not intend to
demonstrate such a generalhypothesis but onlyto makeclear
thatthe precedingpages can help us to understandhow a
centralconflictand social movementcan appear througha
greatvarietyof conflicts in whichothercomponentscan have
more weightand be even predominant.
(3) The reasonwhyso manypeople are spontaneously con-
vincedof the pluralityof conflictsis thattheyidentify social
movementswithoppositionor "popular" movementswhich
challenge"social order." On the contrary,a popular social
movement cannotbe separatedfroma socialmovement of the
"rulingclass," and only theirconflictcan be consideredas
central.Holdersof economicor politicalpowermustbe ana-
lyzed as a social movementinsteadof being identifiedwith

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

centralculturalvalues and social norms.Referringto an in-

dustrialsociety,I wouldconsidermanagementa social move-
mentexactlyin the same wayas labor,and Ford as a move-
mentleader or an ideologistin the same wayas Gompersor
Reuther.So the centrality of social movementsnevermeans
their hegemony,theircapacityto identifythemselveswith
socialorder,modernity, or rationality.
Such an identificationis
neverobtained,even by a "rulingclass,"but onlyby an abso-
lute State,whichdestroyssocial actors,both powerfuland
(4) If we oftenfeeluncomfortable withtheidea of a central
socialmovement, it is becausewe are stillinfluencedbya long
traditionwhichidentifiessocial movementsand politicalac-
tion, that is, organized action aiming at controllingState
power.This confusionhas been centralin European thought
wherethe labor movementhas oftenbeen consideredsynon-
ymouswithsocialism, bothin Communist circlesand in social-
democraticStates.Americanintellectual lifehas provedmore
able to understandthe concept of social movementwhile
Europeansand LatinAmericansfora longtimespokeonlyof
revolutionsor of State-ledreforms.
It is typicalof evolutionistsocial thoughtnot to separate
structureand change, "social" and "historical"movements.
ClassicalsociologydefinedWesternsocietyboth as a system
and as a processof modernization. Durkheiminsistedmoreon
one aspectand Weberon the other,but Parsonsreachedan
extremepointof identification of modernity, as a processof
rationalization and secularization, withprinciplesof unityand
integration of modernWesternsocieties.In the same way,in
Latin America and in other parts of the world today,
sociologicalanalysisis stillidentifiedwiththe studyof the
formation of a nationalState.
The noveltyof the conceptof social movementas I use it
here is thatit opposes itselfto thistypeof socialthoughtand
emphasizesthe analyticalseparationbetweensocial move-
mentsand transformations of theState.To putitin traditional

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

terms,it is based on the eighteenth-century idea of the sep-

arationbetweencivilsocietyand State.That is whytheidea of
social movementinterpretsverypowerfully the attemptsof
"society" to liberateitselffrom "power," to use theexactwords
bywhichSolidarity defineditsactionagainsttheparty-state in
It would be a mistaketo look todayin our countriesfora
politicalprincipleof unificationof social movements.For
Lenin,theclassin itselfwas transformed intoa classforitself
onlyby revolutionary avant-gardeparty.The idea of social
movementis clearlyanti-Leninist and impliesthatthe nature
of a socialmovementcan be definedonlyin termsof cultural
stakesand conflictsbetweensocial,"civil"actors.That obvi-
ouslysupposesthatthewholeof civilsocietyis not"mobilized"
or repressedby an absoluteState.
(5) Three mainkindsof socialmovements shouldbe distin-
guished. Socialmovements, in a strict
sense, representconflict-
ing effortsto controlculturalpatterns(knowledge,invest-
ment,ethics)in a givensocietaltype.Historical movements are
organizedactionsto controla processof passage fromone
societaltypeto anotherone. Here actorsare no longerde-
finedin purelysocial termsbut firstof all by theirrelation-
ships withthe State,whichis the centralagent of such his-
toricaltransformations. Nevertheless,historicalmovements,
as I alreadymentioned,are not completelyseparatedfrom
socialmovements becausetheycombinea classdimensionwith
a nationaland modernizingone, as is visibleboth in Com-
munist movementsand in national-popularregimes. The
same complexity characterizes culturalmovements.They cannot
be reduced to culturalinnovations,which are defined in
purelyculturaltermsas a quarrelbetweenancientsand mod-
erns,to referto an episodein thehistory of Frenchliterature.
A culturalmovement,on the contrary,is a type of social
movement in whichthetransformation of culturalvaluesplays
a centralrole but in whichsocial conflictappears withinthis
process of transformation of values. A good contemporary

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

exampleis thewomen'smovement.It is centrally definedbya

critiqueand transformation of women's statusand image,and
more broadlyby the emergenceof new ethicalvalues,but it
is constantly divided by a social conflictwhichopposes two
ways interpreting women'sprotest:a liberalaction,aiming
at achievingequalityof rightsand opportunities betweenmen
and women,and a more radical tendencywhichrejectsan
equalitywhichappears to be imitativeof the dominantmale
model and assertsthe specificity of women'sculture,experi-
ence, and action.This internalconflict,whichhas been espe-
ciallyvisiblein the United States and France,draws a clear
separationbetweenculturalinnovationand culturalmove-

New Social Movements?

(1) The mostseriouscritiqueof the notionof social move-

ment,as I use it here, is that it corresponds,like all mac-
rosociological concepts,to a specifictypeof society.We cannot
analyze our societies withthe conceptsof caste or Standand
less and less of class.In the same way,is not socialmovement
an abstractname for labor movement,a generalizationof a
giventypeof industrialsociety?Some introducea moreposi-
tivecritique:let'ssubstitute in our vocabulary"minorities"
socialmovements, let'sabandonall references to a newsociety
and recognizethatin our mass societyprotestmovements do
notpretendto becomea majority and to getlegitimatepower
but definethemselvesas minorities. They do not pretendto
transform society;theyare liberalor libertarian, and tryto
lowerthelevelof socialcontroland integration. Theyfightfor
a societydefined by its diversity,adding ethnic or moral
pluralismto politicalpluralismand freeenterprise.The most
extremeformof these critiquesassertsthat all models of
collectivelife should be respectedand the only paramount
value is individualism: the onlypossiblemovementshould be

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

antisocial,pushingback theinvasionof collectivecontrolsand

organizations, destroyingstatusesand roles to freethe indi-
vidual,his desires,dreams,and imagination.
(2) All thesecritiques,excessiveas theysometimesare, help
us to free ourselvesfromsocial and politicalmodels which
wereinheritedfroma decliningtypeof society.I have already
indicated some deep differencesbetween industrialsocial
movementsand present-day conflicts.We mustnow deepen
our analysis.
All social movementsin the past were limited,because the
fieldof theiraction- thatis, the capacityof a societyto pro-
duce itself - was limited,even in the most achievement-
orientedsocieties.What I call historicity, the capacityto pro-
duce an historicalexperiencethroughculturalpatterns,that
is, a new definition of natureand man,was limitedby whatI
call "metasocialguaranteesof social order." Men thought
theylivedin a microcosm includedin a macrocosmwhoselaws
imposeda definitionof human natureand legitimated social
norms.All social movements, at the same timeas theywere
definingstakesand enemies,were referringto a metasocial
principlewhichwas calledorderof things,divinerule,natural
law,or historicalevolution(theidea of modernity is one of the
last metasocialprinciples).In our times,we feel thatour ca-
pacity of self-production,self-transformation, and self-
destructionis boundless. Industrialsocietieswere able to
transform "meansof production"to inventmechanicaldevices
and systems of organization, but our society invents
technologiesto produce symbolicgoods, languages,informa-
tion. It produces not only means but ends of production,
demands,and representations. It is alreadyable to transform
our body,our sexuality, our mentallife.The resultis thatthe
fieldof socialmovements extendsitselfto all aspectsof social
and cultural life. This conclusionis the opposite of the
structuralMarxistidea accordingto whichsocial life is con-
trolledby a centralagency.The publicspace- ffentlichkeit -
strictlylimitedin a bourgeoissociety,was extendedto labor

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

problemsin an industrialsocietyand now spreads over all

fieldsof experience:privatelife becomes public and social
scientistswho announced some yearsago that,aftera long
period of public life,we were withdrawing into privatelife,
did notsee thatthemainpoliticalproblemstodaydeal directly
with privatelife- fecundationand birth,reproductionand
sexuality,illness and death, and, in a differentway, with
home-consumedmass media.
(3) This extraordinarytransformation, which makes all
principlesand rulesproblematic, createstwomainobstaclesto
theformation of socialmovements. The firstone is thedisap-
pearanceof metasociallimitswhichprovidedcollectiveaction
witha principleof unitywhichwas bothnegativeand positive.
Marcuseand othersraisedthequestion:whengods are dead,
when guiltand redemptionlose theirmeaning,whatcan we
oppose to utilitarianism or hedonism?The Westernexperi-
ence can be consideredas a shortand dramaticperiod of
secularization,Entzauberung, which correspondsto the eco-
nomictakeoffbut rapidlyends up in a utilitarianconsumer
society.Big Brotheris not a dangerous enemy for social
movementsin democraticsocieties;egotismis. But here is
exactlythepointwherenewsocialmovements enterthescene.
Past social movementswere linked to metasocialprinciples,
but theyopposed themselvesto the dominationof tradition
and naturalprinciples;new social movementsare threatened
by utilitarianism,but theydefend the self and its creativity
againstinterest and pleasure. Dominationcan no longerbe
challengedby a call to metasocialprinciples;onlya directcall
to personaland collectivefreedomand responsibility can foster
protestmovements.In a parallelway,rulinggroups are no
longermotivatedby a Protestant ethicor its equivalent;only
and creativitycan motivatethemas entrepre-
neurs.Social movements are no longerspurredbytheimages
ofan idealsocietybutbythesearchofcreativity. The utilitarian
traditionis the main limitand obstacleto social movements
todayas religionwas in more traditionalcultures.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

(4) New social movementsare less sociopoliticaland more

sociocultural.The distancebetweencivilsocietyand State is
increasing whilethe separationbetweenprivateand publiclife
is fadingaway.The continuity fromsocialmovementto politi-
cal partyis disappearing;politicallifetendsto be a depressed
area betweena strongerState in a changinginternational
environment and, on theotherside,sociocultural movements.
The main riskis no longerto see socialmovements absorbed
by politicalparties,as in Communistregimes,but a complete
separationbetweensocial movementsand State. In such a
situation,social movementscan easily become segmented,
transform themselves intodefenseof minorities or searchfor
identity,while public lifebecomes dominated by pro-or anti-
Statemovements. That is whatis happeningtoday,especially
in Germanyand the UnitedStates,withpeace movements. It
is possiblethatthroughsuch "historical" movements, new so-
cial movementswill eventuallyachieve a high capacityof
politicalaction,progressingfromBrgeriniziativen to a Green
partyand inventing newformsof politicallife;buta different
of an anti-State
evolutionis equallypossible:the crystallization
movement, more and more distinctfrom scattered sociocul-
turalmovements. This situationcorrespondsto thebeginning
of manyindustrialsocietieswhen anarchist,communist, and
ChristiangroupswerechallengingStateand churchwhile,far
fromthem,weakunions,wildcatstrikes, and riotsexpresseda
confusedmixtureof workers'grievancesand of decline of
preindustrial craftsand cities.
(5) The mainconditionforsocialmovements to takeshape
is the consciousnessthatwe are enteringa new typeof social
life.Duringthe sixtiesand earlyseventies,thecrisisof indus-
trialvaluesprevailedover the notionof postindustrial society.
The firstnewsocialmovements wereso closelylinkedwiththe
counterculture that theycollapsed when risingexpectations
were replacedby shrinkingprospects.Thus, duringthe late
seventiesand even,in Europe,theearlyeighties,our historical
experiencehas been dominatedbythe idea of crisis.Individ-

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

ual and nationallifeseemed to be determinedby unforesee-

able events,like changes in the dollar or the price of oil,
Japanesecompetition or Sovietmilitary pressure.I criticized,
as earlyas in 1969, the notionof postindustrial society,as it
had been conceivedby D. Bell, thatis, as a hyperindustrial
society.Fifteenyearslater,aftera shortperiodof enthusiasm
for the "thirdwave," few observers,especiallyin business
circles,are ready to speak of a postindustrial revolution.A
new industrialrevolutionor a new leap forwardin industrial
productivity seemsto be a moreadequate expression.Ameri-
cans in generalhave been verycautiousin theirjudgments,
whilemorevoluntaristic countrieslikeJapan and Franceare
still speakingof an electronicrevolution,in the firstcase
becauseitis identified withtheprideof a Japanmade number
one, in the second because Frenchgovernment agenciesare
filledwithanguishas theyconsidertheadvanceof theUnited
Statesand Japan in manyhigh-tech industries.
Postindustrial societymustbe definedin a moreglobaland
radicalwaytoday,as a new cultureand a fieldfornew social
conflictsand movements. A broad occupationaldefinitionof
an information society misleadingand cannotjustifythe
idea thata different societyis takingshape. On the contrary,
postindustrial societymust be defined more strictly by the
technologicalproductionof symbolicgoods whichshape or
transform our representation of human nature and of the
externalworld.For thesereasons,researchand development,
informationprocessing,biomedicaiscience and techniques,
and mass media are the fourmaincomponentsof postindus-
trialsociety,whilebureaucratic or productionof felec-
tricaland electronicequipmentare just growingsectorsof an
industrialsocietydefinedby productionof goods more than
bynewchannelsof communications and thecreationof artifi-
cial languages.
Only the organizationof new social movementsand the
development of different
culturalvaluescanjustifytheidea of
a new societythatI preferto call a programmed morethanjust

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

a postindustrialsociety. The comparison with the historyof

industrialsocietyis once more useful: in the Western World,
crises of old values and new economic challenges come first
before new social actors and conflictstake shape; new formsof
political life and new ideologies appear even later. This is a
practical reason why sociology today must give a central im-
portance to the concept of social movement- not only to sepa-
rate itselffrom an old definitionof its object as the studyof
society,which should be replaced by the studyof social action,
but, more concretely,because the constructionof a new image
of social life requires, right now, the concept of social move-
ment as a bridge between the observationof new technologies
and the idea of new formsof politicallife. This concept could
not play a centralrole in previous formsof social thought;for
the first time, it can become the keystone of sociological
(6) The danger here is to be lured by voluntaristicassump-
tions. The concept of social movementis useful when it helps
one to rediscover social actors where they have been buried
beneath either structural Marxist or rationalist theories of
strategiesand decisions. During the seventies,the "dominant
ideology" was that ethnic minorities, like all dominated
groups, school students,hospitalinmates,and othershad to be
defined by the exclusion, labeling, and stigmatizationthey
suffered,in other words, as victims.Only an analysisbased on
the idea of social movement can challenge directlyand effi-
cientlysuch a view and help rediscover that these alienated
and excluded categories are neverthelessactors and are often
more able than the "silent majority"to analyze theirsituation,
define projects, and organize conflictswhich can transform
themselves into an active social movement. In the same
way, how many Jews today would accept to be defined with-
out any referenceto Jewishculture or to Israel? A similaruse
of the concept "social movement"can aid in the criticismof an
image of the school systemwhich emphasizes the impact of

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

social inequalityon academicresultsand futureoccupational

achievements. Instead of consideringteachersand pupils as
determinedby social and culturalinequalitiesbeyond their
reach, the emphasismust be put on the autonomyof the
schoolsystem, on itscapacityto increaseor decreaseinequality
of opportunities, so thateducationcan be conceivedas a field
of debatesand projectswhichcan probablynotbe interpreted
as directsocialmovements but,in a morelimitedand indirect
way,as manifestations of a tensionbetweeneducationas so-
cializationand as "individuation,"oppositionwhichexpressesa
moregeneralconflict.In situationswhichare generallyinter-
pretedin termsof participation or exclusion,of conformity
and deviance,the idea of social movementintroducesa dif-
ferentapproach because it triesto evaluate the capacityof
variouscategoriesto transform themselves intoactorsof their
own situationand of its transformation.
But we should distrusttoo simpleimages of social move-
mentsas "consciousand organized"actions.Especiallyin our
times:today,as at thebeginningof the IndustrialRevolution,
itis easierto describemasses,"dangerousclasses,"riots,or the
formation of a newelitethansocialmovements whichare not
yetorganized.Culturalorientations are
and politicalconflicts
more visiblethan social problems,and these are too easily
analyzedin termof marginality and exclusion.It took some
timein the nineteenthcenturyto discoverthe "politicalca-
pacityof the laboringclasses"; we are only approachingan
analogousstage of evolutionof the new social movements.
Let's considerthreemore examplesof the complexnature
of newsocialconflicts. The actionsagainsttheindustrial use of
nuclearenergyhave revealeda new kind of protest,against
decisionmakerswhohave thepowerto shape nationallifefor
a longperiodof timein a "technocratic" way.This actiontries
to fostera grass-roots democracy. But at the same time,they
are orientedby a defensiveand communitarian countercul-
tureoftenloaded withirrationalism. This dualitycan be com-

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

pared with the firststages of the labor movement when an-

ticapitalist protest was mixed with the defense of semi-
independent craftsmendisplaced by industry.
The women's movement,beyond its equalitarian goals, has
destroyed traditionalimages of the "femininenature," but it
has often been linked with an ideology which was inherited
from the labor movement and which imposed upon it
categoriesof analysisand protestwhich did not correspond to
the motivationsof militantwomen.
In a more general way, from the seventiesuntil today, the
displacement of protest from the economic to the cultural
field has been linked withan opposite tendency,the privatiza-
tion of social problems, an anxious search for identityand a
new interest for the body, demands which can lead to the
definitionof new social norms or, in an opposite way, to an
individualism which excludes collective action. It takes few
pages to define and defend the concept of social movement,
but it should take many years for sociologiststo disentangle
various components of complex social and cultural actions,
and to identifythe presence of social movementsin collective
behavior which has many more components.


The factthat many sociologistsare now interestedin "social

movements,"even if this notion is too often used in a loose
sense, reveals the end of a long period of sociological thought
during which the concept of social system played a central
role. This classical sociology is now challenged on one side by
utilitarianswho try to discover economic rationalitybehind
collective action and by analysts of strategies and "limited
rationality"who are interestedin processes of change which
respond to transformationsof the environment; and on the
otherside, not only by neocommunitariansocial thinkerswho
oppose the specificityof each civilizationto a foreign-ledde-
velopmentbut firstof all by sociologistswho refuse to separate

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

culturalorientations fromsocial conflicts,and who give,as I

do myself,a basic role to the notion of social movement,
definedas an agent of conflictfor the social controlof the
main culturalpatterns.These two divergentstreamsof cri-
tiques attacknot only optimisticfunctionalism but, withthe
same strength, structural
pessimistic Marxism.Then the con-
cept of social movement, as I used it here, is part of the
general debate whichopposes the main sociologicalschools
and whichcan be summedup by the schemain Figure 2.
If we acceptthateconomicrationalismand defenseof cul-
foroppositereasons,driftout of thefieldof
sociology,whichis generallydefinedas the studyof social
- thatis, as the explanationof individualand collec-
tivebehaviorby the social relationsin whichthe actorsare
involved- the main debates in sociologycan be definedin
moreconcentrated terms.Each mainsociologicalschoolcan be
defined by its emphasison one of two main approaches:
on one side,itputstheemphasismoreon theactorsor,on the
contrary, on thesystem, and, on theotherside,it insistsmore
on socialintegration These twochoices
or on social conflicts.
are by no meansparallel;on the contrary, theircombinations
definethe main choicesfor sociologists.
A firstschoolgivesa priority to the unityof the system;its
main conceptis socialsystem. A second insistson the internal
conflictof a system;structural Marxismis its mostinfluential
expressiontoday,but it can be more broadlydefinedby the
centralroleitgivesto inequality.A thirdschoolgivesa central
importanceto the managementof change. The conceptsof
Figure 2.
System Actor

Integration Social system Strategy

( functionalism ) ( neo-rat ionalism )

Conflict inequality Social movement

(structuro-marxism) (Sociology of action)

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

organization and decisionhave generallycorrespondedto this

orientation, which is best definedtodayby the centralrole it
givesto the studyof strategies. The lastone emphasizesat the
same timeactorsand conflicts;its viewof social lifeis orga-
nized around the concept of social movement. It should
be added thatthesegeneralapproachescan be used directly
or at a less global level. For example, the idea of social
movement can be replaced by an analysis of political
pressures - as it is the case in manyof Tilly'sworks
- or even
of public opinion transformations. The factthat an author
locateshimselfat a societal,political,or organizationallevel
shouldnot be confusedwithhis generalorientation.
I have triedin this paper to make clear how a sociology
whichis organizedaroundtheconceptof socialmovement can
both recognizethe relativeautonomyof other schools and
criticizethem.But,as a conclusion,it is moreusefulto recog-
nize the existenceand strength of the fourmainorientations
of sociologyand maybeto suggestthattodaythe centralde-
bate opposes the conceptsof strategyand social movements
while twentyyears ago the hottestdiscussionsopposed the
ideas of social systemand inequality.This transformation of
thedebatesshowsthatsociologyas a wholehas movedfroma
studyof social systemand its principleof integrationto an
analysisof social actionand social change.This fundamental
transformation produces deep intellectualcrises. We are
probablystillin a periodof uncertainty aboutwhatis themost
creative paradigm in sociologicalthought,and some are
temptedto abandon not onlythe old functionalist model but
thewholeof sociologyitself,bycallingin nonsociological ideas
or Volksgeist
like Homo oeconomicus (Figure 3).

Figure 3.
Economic Analysis of organizations, Functionalist?) Study of j Defense of
V systems I cultural
, ." ^s* y^ f action I 'and
^ *^ and flnational
' yS social mo-lspecif ici ty
Rationalism Decisions and strategies Structuro-marxism vements

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

The conceptof socialmovementis all themorenecessaryto

the extentto whichit facilitatesthe transcendenceof the
presentweaknessand confusionof sociologyby offeringa
directcritiqueof themodelof analysiswhichis in crisisand by
introducinga new generalapproach,new debates,and new
fieldsof concreteresearch.The worstpossiblemistakewould
be to considersocial movementsas the object of one more
chapterin bookswhosegeneraldesignand orientations would
notbe changed,as if it wereusefulin certainperiodsto insist
on crises and conflictsand, in others,on institutions and
The maturity of a fieldof knowledgecan be measuredbyits
ability organizeitsworksand discussionsabouta fewcentral
problems.Today, the central problem of sociology,in a
rapidlychangingworld,is to understandthe productionand
controlof change, and its centraldebate must oppose the
conceptsof strategyand social movements.These concepts
representto some extentcomplementary approaches,but it is
indispensablefor studentsof each school to trybuildingcom-
petitivegeneraltheories.Only the debatebetweenthesecon-
flictingimages of social life can give back to sociologythe
it seems to have lost.

This content downloaded from on Tue, 23 Feb 2016 20:49:26 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions