Analysis of New Social Movement Theory
Works Cited Not Included
In Johnston, Laraña, and Gusfield’s discussion of New Social Movement (NSM) theory, they identify the concept as a “double-edged sword,” in that is has both related itself to the changing shape of society but also overemphasized the newness of its model, almost divorcing itself from previous social movement theories instead of acknowledging and assessing the similarities between them and integrating what is useful from theories of the past. As its basic framework asserts that social movements now are not as linked to class as they were in the time of the emergence of Marxism and at the height of industrialist society (as Resource Mobilization Theory might stress), new social movement theory succeeds in fitting itself to post-modern and post-industrialist social structure while it fails to explain the situations and changes that it describes. It makes the important point that a new and different society incites new and different movements. However, the language of the theory has a “tendency to ‘ontologize,’” as it tries to claim “more explanatory power than it empirically warranted,” which occasionally makes it an obstacle rather than a tool to analyze the modern face of social movements (Buechler & Cylke 276).
Johnston, Laraña, and Gusfield proceed to break down social movements and attribute to them eight characteristics which help clarify what defines a “new social movement.” The first of these characteristics is the frequently discussed observation that social movements are no longer homogenous in the category of social class, which Johnston, et al. describe as an NSM not bearing a “clear relation to the structural roles of its participants” (Buechler & Cylke 277). For instance, members of the environmental and GLBT rights movements need not share the same socioeconomic standing.
The second characteristic of NSM’s is tied to the first, in that groups no longer tend to share an over-arching ideological framework, whereas in Marxist discourse, such a shared frame was the “unifying and totalizing element for collective action” (Buechler & Cylke 277). Ideological unity has been supplanted by “pragmatic orientations” where movement members seek “institutional reform” to attain greater power in decision making processes, promoting a “‘democratizing dynamic’” in social movement discourse.
The third characteristic describes the mode of identity formation that is predominant in NSM’s, whose center tends to be “cultural and symbolic issues,” in contrast to the mobilization around economic grievances in other social movements (Buechler & Cylke 277). The shared symbols and cultural meanings of members of NSM’s serve to redefine daily life in the context of the movement.
A blurring between public and private action or “relation between the individual and the collective” is the fourth and a very prominent trait of NSM’s (Buechler & Cylke 277). The “hippie” movement...