Social Movements in Political Science

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Social Movements in Political Science
   1 Chapter 9 Social movements in political science O ndřej Císař   As stressed by this very volume, social movement research has been constituted as an interdisciplinary field of study. Still, this chapter aims at presenting social movements through the lenses of political science, summarizing political science ‟s most important  contributions to the study of social movements. 1  By taking this perspective, the chapter clearly goes beyond the field of social movement studies as narrowly defined. Moreover, unlike previous reflections on this subject, which either try to provide an exhaustive list of  political science work (Meyer and Lupo 2007) or present a very short overview (Andretta 2012), this chapter focuses on broader research traditions that can be traced back to the founding fathers of the social sciences. Since contemporary mainstream social movement studies as developed especially within US academia are rooted in liberal pluralism (Meyer and Lupo 2007: 113), we need to start with James Madison. Most criticisms of the pluralist paradigm pointed to its inability to capture the power asymmetries in the field of modern politics. Drawing on this insight, the  political science view of social movements generally sees them as an expression of collective  power interacting with other coordinated powers, be they capitalism, state, counter-movements, or the plurality of civil society groups. Based on this and other relevant dimensions, Table 9.1 gives an overview of the particular traditions to be discussed in this chapter. INSERT TABLE 9.1 HERE 1  The author gratefully acknowledges funding from the Czech Science Foundation (grants “Collective Action and Protest in East- Central Europe,” code GAP404/11/0462 and “Protestors in Context: An Integrated and Comparative Analysis of Democratic Citizenship in the Czech Republic,” code GA13 -29032S).   2 In the Marxist view, social movements fight capitalism, envisioning an alternative social arrangement to be built „from below‟ . According to the Weberians, movements are shaped by institutionalized power in the form of the modern state, they provide the tools of collective expression to those not included in the formal decision-making structure. Followers of K. Polanyi see movements as a regulatory reaction to capitalist expansion, they aim at its democratically-based regulation; while participation researchers following in the footsteps of A. de Tocqueville see them as the collective expression of individual political action reflecting unequally-distributed resources within the population. The associations and advocacy groups reflecting the pluralism of modern democratic society form various social movements. Madisonian Roots: Plurality of Interest Groups In line with the general liberal understanding, Madison feared the tyranny that ensues whenever a certain group, especially the majority of society, monopolizes political power, which can thus be used in the oppression of the rest of its citizens. Like virtually every liberal, Madison did not believe in the possibility of finding a single enlightened ruler, but viewed the plurality of various competing groups in civil society, and the division of powers in the institutional arena, as the only safeguards against tyranny. This perspective on democracy as the rule of many minorities based on the principle of open competition, which ensures both their mutual control and the curbing of state power, was further developed by modern American pluralists. Originating in Bentley, and fully expressed by David Truman ‟s pluralism  (1951), interest groups were conceived a collective vehicle in a democratic society, more or less available to every segment of the population, through which citizens aggregate and articulate their preferences and interests. According to this view, the state is institutionally structured   3 and at the same time a neutral arena in which various interest groups interact and try to influence public policies, counterbalancing one another. In this Madisonian view, a plurality of organized groups and open competition among them prevents narrow interests from gaining uncontrolled domination over the state (Dahl 1961). As recalled by S. Tarrow (2006: 7), Truman‟s view of interest groups as interacting within  the state in the sense of being structured by its institutions and rules, was later behind ideas about the state structuring not only political insiders, but also its outside challengers , i.e. social movements. The srcinal  pluralist approach has undergone an important transformation in this process of reformulation. Besides conflating the state with American government, Truman was mostly criticized for his lack of a theory of the state going beyond the group-based interpretation. In fact, pluralism captures the particular American situation more than the general features of modern politics, which include many more configurations of state-interest group relations than the one described by pluralism. Reflecting both the general political science research on the effects of different patterns of democracy (for example Lijphart 1984, 1999) and the structural foundations of social power (for example Lukes 1974), contemporary social movement theory goes well beyond its srcinal pluralist limitations by meticulously theorizing about the general structure of the state, and hypothesizing the effects of its variable configurations across nations, as well as their differing elite strategies towards institutional outsiders. This is basically the main contribution of the political process model, with its central concept of political opportunity structure (see Kriesi et al. 1995, Kriesi 2004 and below). By investing the state with active powers and ideological characteristics, and focusing on their various configurations, social movement theory transformed srcinal Truman‟s model into one with a more Weberian understanding, which views the state as an autonomous source of   4  power in society, stemming from its monopoly of the legitimate use of violence (see Tilly 1978, 1985, 1995). Before coming to this approach, the chapter will focus on a supposedly excluded tradition within the social movement field, Marxism. Although often unrecognized, it has not only shaped the terrain of current mainstream approaches to social movements (see Tilly 1978, esp. ch. 2), but also forms a paradigm of its own (see Hetland and Goodwin 2013 on the disappearance from social movement studies of capitalism in general and the Marxist  perspective in particular). Marx’s Followers: Movements and the (Capitalist) System According to Karl Marx, the modern society‟s class structure was divided between two main social classes, the privileged capitalists and underprivileged proletarians. It was the latter who were expected to help bring about epochal social change in the direction of a truly free society. Regarding social movements, the most important insights derived from Marxism were the class-based interpretation of political conflicts (“class struggle”) , a stress on the structural grievances produced by capitalism leading to their political articulation in the form of movements, and the concept of social movements as the agents of systemic social change voiced “ from below ”  (see della Porta and Diani 2006, Tarrow 2011, Barker et al. 2013). In general, Marxism frames social movements as the expression of an alternative world to established capitalist society. Like Marx, who believed in an emancipatory potential of the working class, his followers have regarded the progressive movements of the 20 th  century as agents of human liberation and emancipation. This has been most forcefully manifested by the paradigm of the new social movements, which were seen as the expression of resistance by the new middle class against a supposedly depoliticized technocratic capitalism (cf. della Porta and Diani 2006: ch. 2). Although the Marxist perspective does not, explicitly at least, dominate the current research agenda on social movements, it has always   5  been present among the most visible approaches to these studies; moreover, the ongoing economic crisis has given the critical Marxist perspective on capitalism an even more  prominent place in the current debate (Barker et al. 2013).  From “ Voices from Below ” to “Another World Is Possible”   In a broadly Marxist perspective, Piven and Cloward (1977) famously argued that extra-institutional protest of the poor is the only tool left to the underprivileged and under-resourced classes in a capitalist society to achieve real change in policy, in opposition to the  power and resources of the economic and political elite. In normal times this elite maintains control over the political output; only in times of crises and upheaval there is a chance for the unprivileged to disrupt business as usual. Such extraordinary times opening up opportunities for political change are very rare; most commonly the situation is under the control of the elite, who strive to coopt any potential disruption through organizational inclusion. Therefore the lesson for the poor is clear: stay unorganized and disruptive, since institutionalization takes away the only weapon you have at your disposal: protest (see Meyer and Lupo 2007: 116-117). Looking at the potential for a genuine transformation of the social order, the neo-Marxist world-systems theory (Wallerstein 2004) also points out the danger of institutional cooptation. Although modern anti-systemic movements such as socialism and feminism srcinally challenged the capitalist hegemony, they ended up reinforcing it. According to Wallerstein, there are two main reasons for this: (1) these movements were unable to establish coalitions; on the contrary, they often spent as much time fighting one another as challenging capitalism; and (2) they relied on “a two - step agenda for action” : first take over the state, then begin political reforms. In this respect, they prioritized attaining the positions of power and working for limited political change (change within the system) rather than a
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