We are all familiar with the stories of suffragettes burning their bras, and environmental enthusiasts breaking into labs and liberating rats back to the wild. But what caused women to abruptly rip of their pinnies, tell dad dinners in the dog and start running around without appropriate underwear? What caused contented homemakers to leave the cosy warmth of their gas fires in favour of chaining themselves to trees? And are such people an eccentric minority, or have they profoundly affected the way we live and think in the western world today?
To address these questions I will begin by defining New Social Movements (or NSMs). To follow I will break down a few movements in more detail, first discussing what they stand for, and then examining how they originated and matured. In the latter section I will try to determine the scope and boundaries of their influence on contemporary society. Quite strict guidelines have emerged as to what a New Social Movement is, and the kind of characteristics a political movement must have to classify as an NSM. Dalton and Kuechler suggest:
A set of opinions and beliefs in a population that represents preferences for changing some elements of the social structure and/or the reward distribution of society. However, by this definition anyone with any concern for any aspect of pollution, nuclear power, the quality of life and many other issues is a member of the social movement. Most writers agree there are more definitive ways of identifying an NSM. They have ideological, organisational and tactical aspects. (Lovenduski and Norris, 1996)
The ideological side is the most ambitious and romantic: social movements are challengers which seek to change the agenda of the system in which they work. They advance ideas which, to be realised, would require fundamental and widespread change in policies and in values change which may be partially achieved through government action and legislation, but can not be wholly achieved in this way. They raise issues which question the dominant values that constitute the political culture of their society, and hence have a political and cultural dimension. They aim to change people attitudes on a personal as well as public level.
The organisational side is more practical, being the administration. This may be formal or informal, but the key element is networks. These must successfully organise strong turnouts for activities, exchange information and show solidarity. The stronger the networks the stronger the movement The tactical characteristic is the aspect which sets social movements apart from other forms of political action. All movements engage in at least some action outside of the institutional or legal channels of political access. (Lovenduski and Norris, 1996).
There is a diverse range of NSMs fighting for causes from the environment to women to the elderly to the blacks. For the purposes of this essay I will inspect only a couple in detail, but it should be retained that they are examples of a bigger wave. Two of the best known movements are the environmental or Green movement, and the Womens movement. Both have evolved over the past hundred years into strong and extremely influential political leagues. Both have the ideological aspect, wanting to change the general publics approach to their respective causes the environment and equality between sexes.
They also have the organisational factor, with now impressive and far reaching channels of communication. And finally they have the tactical factor, having utilized many different methods of expressing and arguing their opinions. The Green movement has distinct personal and public fields, campaigning for specific issues such as pollution, renewable energy sources while also questioning the basic values of a developed industrial society which assumes the innate desirability of economic growth and technological progress.
In the women’s there is also a clear two tier effort. Equal opportunities and parity of representation in the everyday is a clear objective, but as important, is the struggle against patriarchy and the desire for the difference of women to be recognised, rather than just equality in contemporary society. There is speculation that these gallant movements fighting for a better world are actually not so angelic after all. RM or rational choice theory states that: . . . political dissatisfaction and social conflict are inherent in every society.
Therefore, the creation of a social movement organization is not primarily a reflection of political grievances in society; instead, it depends on the presence of sufficient resources and entrepreneurial expertise to create and sustain the movement. (Dalton 1994). However, reassuringly for humanity, this is insufficient for describing the movements. Firstly because of the non-centralized nature of NSMs and further because they are fighting for social, cultural and quality of life issues which run more deeply than basic political dissatisfaction.
It is clear that an unusual combination of social ferment and political events are required to create new political organisations. If you are looking for social ferment and unusual political events, then the sixties are an obvious contender. And indeed, it was in the sixties when New Social Movements appeared with vigour, although it was not the beginning of various social movements themselves. Both the Green and Womens movement have their roots around seventy years earlier, about the 1890s to the 1900s.
However, these waves are not classed as NSMs. They existed more as elite pursuits of small groups than widely encompassing ideological movements. The fact that a number of NSMs emerged at the same time points to the conclusion that it was a particular coincidence of many external factors necessary for expression that made NSMs able to take such a hold generally, as opposed to simply support for one particular cultural aspect being outstandingly strong. There was an upsurge in the interest in revolutionary socialism in the late 1960s.
This is loosely referred to as the student movement, and it could be said this was the foundation for all the other movements to split and grow from. These children of Europes post war economic miracle were the foundations of modern environmentalism. The new generation of environmental groups were dedicated to a more ideological and politicized view of environmental policy. Because they had seen the success of protests in other causes, such as the student movement and they were prepared to use more assertive tactics in support of their cause. In the 1970s the surge turned into an explosion.
Memberships were doubling and tripling as the environmental NSM broadened and became a major influence. The Green movement gained subsequent momentum with new books and television productions, adding depth and a new level to the networks. The establishment of Friends of the earth and Greenpeace was when environmentalism really took shape as a New Social Movement, more than just an elite minority pursuit. A consideration when examining the growth of NSMs is increasing globalisation and international communications, which the NSMs used to their advantage.
In environmentalism, first with the establishment of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and followed by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The Womens movement also gained strength through expansion across the globe, although they have never had a single overall representative body. The closest was the Womens Liberation Movement in the early 1970s. Another factor is the way in which the governments position had shifted. They were now expected to hold more social responsibility.
One example of this new attitude was the passage of the Town and Country Planning Act in 1947, which granted the state control over planning for all land in Britain. This expansion of accountability could have swung against the NSMs, with its extended authority the government could have attempted to quash pesky activists, however this was not the case, and the governments took on board the demands and attempted to fulfill them. The first government run agencies were established in Britain and Germany and conservation spread into new areas, such as preservation of cultural heritage in Italy.
Further, the government expressed their support by declaring European conservation year in 1970. The overlap between individual movements, and the queries about western society as a whole could be seen all over Europe: Dutch youth cited the problems of pollution and environmental protection as examples of the failure of the economy and the bureaucratic elitism of Hollands consociational democracy. (Dalton 1994) This bond between the specific and general is also visible in the Women’s movement. In 1970 the national Womens Liberation Movement held its first conference.
They had four basic demands; Equal pay, equal education and opportunity, extensive nursery provision, and free contraception and abortion on demand (financial and legal independence werent added until 1974). These may seem specific to women, but they display characteristics for liberation and equality throughout society. It is necessary to understand that NSMs have had an effect on these dual levels when investigating their influence on contemporary society. The NSMs were a part of the wave of revolutionary socialism and libertarianism which is the ideology of what I believe contemporary society is meandering towards.
It was a dramatically endorsed goal through the 60s with the New Social Movements being a large representation of the new priorities of attitudes that must come along with such a rapidly developing society. The resonance of New Social Movements has shaken politics, economics, and culture in society. It has pushed us into a new liberal civilization, in the way we think and what we expect. We demand our rights of free speech and fairness through equality. New Social Movements such as the Womens and various ethnic minorities have claimed the right to equality as a human being, regardless of major or minor physical differences.
Parity of representation and financial freedom are (technically) available to all, now a norm we take for granted, but it did not come easily. The voice of the Womens movement forced the population to think twice about unfair oppression, and this shift of perspective spread to many levels to the advantage of diverse minorities. A parallel of this change in approach was mirrored and reinforced in the Green movement, demanding nations think twice about damaging the environment and insisting they curb industrial development. This has led to more thoughtful communities which question the direction our progress is taking, and its consequences.
Such a transformation of spirit naturally should have a noticeable influence on the government. New Social Movements have changed the political order in two major ways. Many student activists of the sixties went on to be absorbed into the government and play major roles in its shape and orientation of priorities. This is evident in recent legislation supporting the causes of NSMs. Within the past few decades environmental concerns have gained a major voice in political institutions, and now almost every western government has an official department to investigate and represent environmental matters.
This notable phenomenon reveals the extent of the Green NSMs influence on mainstream politics. Secondly, NSMs have forced adjustment of the structure of government. Previously parties and organisation was very formally structured. But as a rule, NSMs are libertarian, calling for decentralization. They have succeeded to a certain extent to deconstruct formal political party organisation. . . . socialist parties in Austria, Netherlands, Switzerland and West Germany experienced tendencies towards organisational devolution when left libertarian activists joined them in the early 1970s.
Dalton and Kuechler 1994) The left condones more local governance and NSMs have caused a swing to a liberal society. This is manifest in the recent decision by the British labour party to begin to decentralize governance in England and grant more autonomy to regional authorities. This would have been unlikely without foundations laid previously by the NSMs. New Social Movements have revised our views of many aspects of our culture, from the traditional family to class, drugs, sex, music, literature and film.
In general this transfer has been in favour of more liberal views towards all of the above. A breakdown of the formal constraints in favour of freedom of expression and choice. The Womens movement caused the responsibilities of females regarding children to be diminished. In his essay The Legacy of the Late Sixties, Harvey Mansfield suggests the collapse of the family comes from the collapse of the double standard which was intended to uphold the family. It is no longer the purpose of a woman to get married and bring up children.
However, this void of responsibility has not been filled by men or daycare, so the traditional family has broken down and the previously socially shunned single parents and various alternatives are now commonplace. Although it was necessary for many different factors to be present for the rise of new social movements, it is clear some were of more importance than others. By definition an ideological issue, the scope for communication and the potentiality to use various tactical methods must all be present for an NSM to form. These foundations were laid by the student movement which was inspired by the idea of revolutionary socialism.
The perception of their success across Europe added to the brew, as others began to see the merits of protesting, and became more inclined to use more assertive methods themselves, and of course there was overlap the same activists supporting various different causes. Americas performance regarding Vietnam and its inspirational civil rights movements contributed to their vigour, and increasing globalisation provided the opportunity for extreme growth and broader and deeper support networks which led to international organisations and further networking.
The shift in the governments position regarding society and its decision in favour of their causes justified and stabilised NSMs. There is now a sway towards socialism and libertarianism as in the new millennium we demand our individual rights and equality, but whether NSMs caused this or were a manifestation of it difficult to be sure about. Most likely they are mutually supporting pillars, but it is undeniable that NSMs have had a profound effect on our society and expectations.
Our culture now accepts the diversity inherent in people and has a more citizen orientated set of interests with a dedication that gives our generation today the impression it has always been the way. A far cry from the slavery and the legal inferiority of women of not so long ago. NSMs have forced a new caution regarding technological and industrial progress, and they have modified the priorities, structure, and position of government. They have liberalised our attitudes towards the family, sex, drugs, film and literature, for better or for worse.