Social movement studies beyond the instrumental reductionism
For most researchers, sociological analysis and social movement studies continues to be dominated by instrumental and utilitarian perspectives that overlook the role of values as organising principles of society. Social movements are depicted as aggregations of interested individuals sharing resources to achieve certain “public goods”. A great deal of the attention is paid to the nature of organizational structure and their degree of efficiency in mobilising people, regardless of the actual “content” of the politics that is proposed, the subjectivity of the actors and with little interest in the cultural, subjective and personal dimensions of social processes. To overcome this situation more attention has be brought back to the claims, political visions, values, cosmovisions, and ethos that are at the core of contemporary social movements.
It leads to revisit one of the most classic of sociological distinctions is the one between instrumental and value-oriented put forward by Max Weber at the beginning of the 20th century. People – famously argued Weber - do not act in certain ways only in order to achieve certain aims (that is instrumentally) but also because of their adherence to axiomatic values that orientate their action. This discussion of values has constituted a key theme in much sociological discussion, from Ronald Inglehart analysis of the shift from materialism to post-materialism, to the analysis of the present culture of individualism, self-reliance and entrepeneurship in neoliberal times.
We need to recuperate a view of social movements as the spaces and actors that forge new identities and values and thus the privileged place where we can observe some historical and cultural direction of society.