what is a social movement ?

Today some elements of reflection on the definition that sociology gives of a social movement. For this question, I prefer to benchmark the Sociology of social movements of Erik Neveu, the work of Lilian Mathieu, How to fight ? published in 2004, which are from the items below.

A first fundamental component of a social movement is its collective dimension, the phenomena of individual revolt, that is to say, disconnected from any support or collective framework, are left out by the sociology of social movements. For obvious as it may seem, this collective dimension is not less problematic, and on several points. The first is that it would be hazardous to regard it as self-evident : establish a truly collective is in many cases an issue, and not simple to achieve, for individuals who wish to voice a protest.

The stature of a collective of any engagement is not a given, but both his challenge and his product. The actors who launch a protest are forced to work for the construction of its collective dimension. But even once successfully accomplished, the work of rallying around a cause should not necessarily be regarded as self-evident. Even in the face of a mobilisation that has “taken” which rallied the staff sometimes considerable of the activists, the researcher must question the consistency – of the class thus created

Many definitions of social movements, also associated, according to variable combinations, these different component traits that would be a disruptive dimension, exclusion from the political game ” legitimate “or ” institutional” and an appeal preferred within social layers ” dominated “. The collective action of protest would be one of the few records of intervention in the political game accessible to excluded groups in the political system, a “weapon of the weak” for those without a voice to be heard. This closure would explain the dimension “disruptive” to social movements, whose activists should somehow impose, in the perturbing (if necessary by violence, in a political game controlled by and for a group that is more or less restricted to elites.

A brief glance at the reality of protest, past or present, seems to validate this conception of social movements. The fact that it is a mode of expression of populations located on the wrong side of power relations, first of all. Obviously, it is rather the workers, who were protesting against the relocation of their plant or undocumented immigrants who are demanding their regularization as we see organising demonstrations, occupations or strikes. Conversely, we rarely hear about strikes of entrepreneurs or events of senior civil servants : not that they ever claim to make, but they use other modes of action, more discreet and effective – such as lobbying.

So far, it is appropriate to nuance this vision. First of all, at the level of individuals who are mobilizing, we see that the action of protest is not so much the fact more dominated than those that one might call the” dominant among the dominated “. Engage in a social movement requires, in fact, a number of resources and / or skills that are generally lacking members of populations most dominated or ” excluded “. Most studies on activism indicate that the militants were recruited mostly from among individuals who have a high level of politicization, which is usually correlated to a high degree.

The disruptive dimension or “non-conventional” actions protesters will not constitute a criterion for defining social movements. Not that it is absent from the practice of protest. Number of movements of the disturbance, in addition to an instrument of effective control, a kind of marker of identity : the occupation of empty apartments of the Right to housing (DAL), the requisitions of food in supermarkets to Act together against unemployment (AC !) or even blocking of traffic by the drivers. The difficulty is that this vision remains the footprint of légitimisme : consider that the action of social movements is a form of “non-conventional” political participation, it is put in an adverse report, and of a lesser legitimacy, with the shapes of the supposedly “conventional” – and, above all, fully legitimate participation, that is to say, in the first place, the vote. It is also maintain an outdated view of the place of social movements in our society : if the historical works have shown, for example, that the street demonstration has long kept a dimension of insurrection, at least latent, it is today a form quite trivial and routinisée of political participation.

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