RQ: Why do social movements emerge and what is their impact on political systems?
The aim of this review essay is to compare and contrast the main schools of thought specialised in social movements, the comparative case studies chosen and the relevant literature. The time frame in which my final essay will be embedded goes from 1960 onwards, with social movements becoming a permanent component of western democracies. With regard to the theoretical frame, my starting point is the differentiation of two main approaches, the American and the European, regarding literature from authors like Della Porta and Mario Diani. Then I will focus on the four currently dominant perspectives and in the way they approach the reason for social movements to emerge, also in what their impact is on political systems. Finally, in an attempt to present empirical data to support the theory, I will use two case studies regarding current social movements and their impact on political systems.
Like with other sociological phenomenon there is not a neat answer to what a social movement is, but scholars like Blumer have managed to create definitions that enable future scientific research. As an example as I consider it to have many similarities with what, before reading more deeply about the topic, would be my description of a social movement:
Social movements can be viewed as collective enterprises seeking to establish a new order of life. They have their inception in a condition of unrest, and derive their motive power on one hand from dissatisfaction with the current form of life, and on the other hand, from wishes and hopes for a new system of living. The career of a social movement depicts the emergence of a new order of life.
But even with this definition, debates between scholars emerge and movement analysts discuss for example, the notion of an existing link between dissatisfaction and movement emergence. Another important point is the comparison between a social movement and a revolutionary movement. According to J. Goodwin and James M. Jasper, a social movement is a collective, organized, sustained and non-institutional challenge to authorities, power holders, or cultural beliefs and practices, versus a revolutionary movement, which seeks at least, to overthrow the government or state.
In respect to the theoretical frame we have various perspectives. According to Della Porta, the movements of 1968 raised questions and exposed the difficulties experienced by the two main theoretical models of interpretation of social conflicts at that time, which were the structural-functionalist model and the Marxist model, in explaining the reawakening of collective action as they did not fit any of the existing theories. The first one led to emergence of three new perspectives in America: Collective behaviour, resource mobilization and political process. The second lead to the development of the “new social movements” in Europe. According to Nick Crossley,...