New social movements
The term new social movements (NSMs) is a theory of social movement
Social movement
Social movements are a type of group action. They are large informal groupings of individuals or organizations focused on specific political or social issues, in other words, on carrying out, resisting or undoing a social change....

s that attempts to explain the plethora of new movements that have come up in various western
Western world
The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident , is a term referring to the countries of Western Europe , the countries of the Americas, as well all countries of Northern and Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand...

 societies roughly since the mid-1960s (i.e. in a post-industrial economy) which are claimed to depart significantly from the conventional social movement paradigm.

There are two central claims of the NSM theory. First, that the rise of the post-industrial economy is responsible for a new wave of social movement and second, that those movements are significantly different from previous social movements of the industrial economy. The primary difference is in their goals, as the new movements focus not on issues of materialistic qualities such as economic wellbeing, but on issues related to human rights
Human rights
Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian . These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in both national...

 (such as gay rights or pacifism
Pacifism is the opposition to war and violence. The term "pacifism" was coined by the French peace campaignerÉmile Arnaud and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress inGlasgow in 1901.- Definition :...


Thinkers have related these movements with the postmaterialism hypothesis and New Class Model as put forth by Ronald Inglehart
Ronald Inglehart
Ronald F. Inglehart is a political scientist at the University of Michigan. He is director of the World Values Survey, a global network of social scientists who have carried out representative national surveys of the publics of over 80 societies on all six inhabited continents, containing 85...


The new movements

Numerous social movements from mid-1960s differed from their precursors, such as the labor movement, which had previously been seen as focused on economic concerns
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

. The new movements instead of pushing for specific changes in public policy emphasize social change
Social change
Social change refers to an alteration in the social order of a society. It may refer to the notion of social progress or sociocultural evolution, the philosophical idea that society moves forward by dialectical or evolutionary means. It may refer to a paradigmatic change in the socio-economic...

s in identity, lifestyle and culture.

Thus the social aspect is seen by the NSM as more important than the economic or political aspects. Some NSM theorists, like F. Parkin (Middle Class Radicalism, 1968), argue that the key actors in these movements are different as well, as they are more likely to come from the "new middle class
Middle class
The middle class is any class of people in the middle of a societal hierarchy. In Weberian socio-economic terms, the middle class is the broad group of people in contemporary society who fall socio-economically between the working class and upper class....

" rather than the lower classes. Unlike pressure groups that have a formal organisation and 'members', NSMs consist of an informal, loosely organised social network
Social network
A social network is a social structure made up of individuals called "nodes", which are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, kinship, common interest, financial exchange, dislike, sexual relationships, or relationships of beliefs, knowledge or prestige.Social...

 of 'supporters' rather than members. Paul Byrne
Paul Byrne
Paul Byrne may refer to:*Paul Byrne , Irish footballer*Paul Byrne , Irish footballer, former Celtic and Southend United player*Paul Byrne , South African footballer, former Port Vale player...

 ('97) described New Social Movements as 'relatively disorganised'.

Protest groups tend to be single issue based and are often local in terms of the scope of change they wish to effect. In contrast, NSMs last longer than single issue campaigns and wish to see change on an (inter)national level on various issues in relation to their set of beliefs and ideals. A NSM may, however adopt the tactic of a protest campaign as part of its strategy for achieving wider-ranging change.

Examples of those new movements include the women's movement, the ecology movement
Ecology movement
The global ecology movement is based upon environmental protection, and is one of several new social movements that emerged at the end of the 1960s. As a values-driven social movement, it should be distinguished from the pre-existing science of ecology....

, gay rights movement and various peace movement
Peace movement
A peace movement is a social movement that seeks to achieve ideals such as the ending of a particular war , minimize inter-human violence in a particular place or type of situation, often linked to the goal of achieving world peace...

s, among others.

The theory

Buechler argues that there is in fact no single new social movement theory, but a set of new social movement theories, each a variant on general approach to "something called new social movement", which he cautiously defines as a "diverse array of collective actions that has presumably displaced the old social movement of proletarian revolution
Proletarian revolution
A proletarian revolution is a social and/or political revolution in which the working class attempts to overthrow the bourgeoisie. Proletarian revolutions are generally advocated by socialists, communists, and most anarchists....


According to Kendall, new social movement theory focuses on movement culture
Organizational culture
Organizational culture is defined as “A pattern of shared basic assumptions invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration" that have worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to...

; it also pays attention to their identity
Cultural identity
Cultural identity is the identity of a group or culture, or of an individual as far as one is influenced by one's belonging to a group or culture. Cultural identity is similar to and has overlaps with, but is not synonymous with, identity politics....

 and on their relations to culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

, ideology
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things , as in common sense and several philosophical tendencies , or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to...

 and politics
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...


Important contributors in the field include sociologists such as Alain Touraine
Alain Touraine
Alain Touraine is a French sociologist born in Hermanville-sur-Mer. He is research director at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, where he founded the Centre d'étude des mouvements sociaux . He is best known for being the originator of the term "post-industrial society"...

, Ernesto Laclau
Ernesto Laclau
Ernesto Laclau is an Argentine political theorist often described as post-Marxist.He studied History in Buenos Aires, graduating from the Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires in 1964, and received a PhD from Essex University in 1977.Since the 1970s he has been Professor of Political Theory at the...

, Chantal Mouffe
Chantal Mouffe
Chantal Mouffe is a Belgian political theorist.-Work:Chantal Mouffe studied at Louvain, Paris and Essex and has worked in many universities throughout the world . She has also held visiting positions at Harvard, Cornell, Princeton and the CNRS...

, Claus Offe
Claus Offe
Professor Claus Offe is a political sociologist of Marxist orientation. Once a student of Jürgen Habermas, the left-leaning German academic is counted among the second generation Frankfurt School...

, Immanuel Wallerstein
Immanuel Wallerstein
Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein is a US sociologist, historical social scientist, and world-systems analyst...

 and Jürgen Habermas
Jürgen Habermas
Jürgen Habermas is a German sociologist and philosopher in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He is perhaps best known for his theory on the concepts of 'communicative rationality' and the 'public sphere'...



The most noticeable feature of new social movements is that they are primarily social and cultural and only secondarily, if any, political . Departing from the worker’s movement, which was central to the political aim of gaining access for the working class with the extension of citizenship and representation, new social movements such as youth culture movement concentrate on bringing about social mobilization through cultural innovations, development of new life-styles and transformation of identities. It is clearly elaborated by Habermas that new social movements are the ‘new politics’ which is about quality of life, individual self-realisation and human rights whereas the ‘old politics’ focus on economic, political, and military security. This can be exemplified in the gay liberation, the focus of which broadens out from political issue to social and cultural realization and acceptance in life-styles of homosexuality. Hence, new social movements are understood as new because they are first and foremost social.

New social movements also give rise to a great emphasis on the role of post-material values in contemporary and post-industrial society as opposed to conflicts over material resources. According to Melucci, one of the leading new social movement theorists, these movements arise not from relations of production and distribution of resources but within the sphere of reproduction and the life world, as a result of which, the concern has shifted from the sole production of economic resources directly connected to the needs for survival or for reproduction to cultural production of social relations, symbols and identities. In other words, the contemporary social movements are rejections of the materialistic orientation of consumerism in capitalist societies by questioning the modern idea that links the pursuit of happiness and success closely to growth, progress and increased productivity and by promoting alternative values and understandings in relation to the social world. As an example, the environmental movement that has appeared since the late 1960s throughout the world, with its strong points in the United States and Northern Europe, has significantly brought about a ‘dramatic reversal’ in the ways we consider the relationship between economy, society and nature .

Further, new social movements are located in civil society or the cultural sphere as a major arena for collective action rather than instrumental action in the state, which Claus Offe characterises as ‘bypass the state’ . Moreover, with its little concern to directly challenge the state, new movements are regarded as anti-authoritarian and resisted incorporation in institutional levels. They tend to focus on single issue, or a limited range of issues connected to a single broad theme such as peace and environment. Without the attempt to develop a total politics under a single focus, new social movements set their stress on grass-roots in the aim of representing the interests of marginal or excluded groups. Paralleled with this ideology, the organization form of new collective actions is also locally based, centred on small social groups and loosely held by personal or informational networks such as radios, newspapers and posters. This ‘local- and issue-centred’ characteristic which does not necessarily require a highly agreed ideology or agreement on ultimate ends makes these new movements distinctive from the ‘old’ labour movement with a high degree of tolerance of political and ideological difference appealing to broader sections of population.

Additionally, if old social movements namely the worker’s movement presupposed a working –class base and ideology, the new social movements are presumed to draw from a different social class base, that is, ‘the new class’, as a complex contemporary class structure that Claus Offe identifies as ‘threefold’: the new middle class, elements of the old middle class and peripheral groups outside the labour market . As stated by Offe, the new middle class in association with the old one is evolved in the new social movements because of their high levels of education and their access to information and resources that lead to the questions of the way society is valued; the group of people that are marginal in terms of labour market such as students, housewives and the unemployed participate in the collective actions as a consequence of their disposable resource of time, their position in the receiving end of bureaucratic control and disability to be fully engaged in the society based on employment and consumption. The main character in old social movements, the industrial working class, nonetheless, is absent here in the class base of new social mobilizations.


Some sociologists, like Paul Bagguley and Nelson Pichardo, criticize NSM theory for a number of reasons, including:
  1. the movements concerned with non-materialistic issues existed (in one extent or another) during the industrial period and traditional movements, concerned with economic wellbeing, still exist today,
  2. there are few unique characteristics of the new social movements, when compared to the traditional movements,
  3. differences between older and newer movements have been explained by older theories,
  4. there is doubt in terms of whether contemporary movements are specifically a product of postindustrial society,
  5. NSM focuses almost exclusively on left-wing movements and does not consider right-wing,
  6. the term "new middle class" is amorphous and not consistently defined, and
  7. might be better viewed as a certain instance of social movement theory rather than a brand new one..

List of New Social Movements

  • Abahlali baseMjondolo
    Abahlali baseMjondolo
    Abahlali baseMjondolo , also known as AbM or the red shirts is a shack-dwellers' movement in South Africa which is well known for its campaigning for public housing. The movement grew out of a road blockade organized from the Kennedy Road shack settlement in the city of Durban in early 2005 and now...

     (South Africa)
  • Anti-nuclear movement
  • Free software movement
    Free software movement
    The free software movement is a social and political movement with the goal of ensuring software users' four basic freedoms: the freedom to run their software, to study and change their software, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. The alternative terms "software libre", "open...

  • Landless Peoples Movement
    Landless Peoples Movement
    The Landless People's Movement is an independent social movement in South Africa. It represents rural people and people living in shack settlements in cities. The LPM boycotts parliamentary elections and has a history of conflict with the African National Congress...

     (South Africa)
  • Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Brazil)
  • Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign
    Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign
    The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign is a non-racial popular movement made up of poor and oppressed communities in Cape Town, South Africa...

     (South Africa)
  • Zapatista Army of National Liberation
    Zapatista Army of National Liberation
    The Zapatista Army of National Liberation is a revolutionary leftist group based in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico....

  • Jhola Aandolan, (A mass movement against plastic carry bags use) (India)

Further reading

  • Steven M. Buechler, New Social Movement Theories, Sociological Quarterly, Volume 36 Issue 3, Pages 441 - 464, 1995.
  • Interface: a Journal For and About Social Movements
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