In Defense of the Concept of Social Movement. Social Movements As Meanings and As a Dimension of Action

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Geoffrey PLEYERS, FNRS-CriDIS/UCLouvain & CEMondiales, Louvain-la-Neuve, Choisir, Belgium
The concept of "social movement" has been criticized by all sides for different and sometimes opposite reasons. In the global North, scholars have suggested replacing it by "mobilizations", "contentious politics" or, more recently, "protest". These concepts focus on the contentious relationship with the state and street protests as the core of movements’ activities. Conversely, some scholars of the global South see "social movements" as too closely associated with institutional actors and the idea that the state is the main actors of social change and thus propose to replace "social movements" by "resistances", a concept aimed at shedding light on popular resistances and daily life.

This paper draws on a Weberian perspective to revisit the concept of social movement as it was used by Alain Touraine and other leading sociologists of the field and suggest to use it as an analytical concept defined as "a specific meaning of action that challenges a society major normative orientations". Similarly to ideal types, a social movement is never fully embodied by an actor but is a meaning shared by a range of actors. The paper will show how this definition contributes to solve a series of epistemological challenges faced by scholars who study movements as diverse as food movements, Nuit Debout, citizens' movements in Romania and student movements in Latin America.