What's New about New Social Movement in a Time of Economic Crisis? Reflections about the Portuguese Disabled People's Movement

Monday, July 14, 2014: 5:00 PM
Room: 301
Distributed Paper
Fernando FONTES , Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal
Until the 1960s, social movements were comprised mainly of workers’ movements, focused on class and economic issues, highly organised in trade unions and political parties and using strikes and demonstrations as their main action tactic. The 1960s and 1970s witnessed, however, an increased variety of social conflicts beyond the workforce, particularly in Europe and North America, and the subsequent emergence of numerous social movements around new ‘post-material’ issues. The emergence of these new social movements (NSMs) did not only push for a multitude of issues based on identity, but also the investment on civil society as its key location, organised in non-hierarchical structures and networks and embracing direct action and protest.

As with other social groups, the failing of disabled persons by the welfare-state made them especially active since the 1960s. This was especially true of the UK and USA, where disabled people struggled “for equality and participation on an equal footing with other citizens” (Driedger, 1989: 1). This action was made possible by the creation of the Disabled People’s Movement composed of diverse organizations of disabled people. Most current debates on the Disabled People’s Movement included the discussion of whether this is a new or an old social movement.

Drawing on my PhD about social citizenship and the Disabled People’s Movement in Portugal (completed at the University of Leeds – UK), this paper investigates the ways in which this case study may contribute to the theoretical dispute between old and new social movements. I will begin by examining significant characteristics of the Portuguese Disabled People’s Movement. Then, I summarize the theoretical dispute within disability studies on whether the disabled people’s movement is an old or a new social movement. In the last part, I explore the ways in which the Portuguese case study may contribute to this theoretical dispute.