Skip to main content

Social Movements in Global Politics

Social Movements in Global Politics

David West

ISBN: 978-0-745-67198-7

Jan 2014

224 pages



Social Movements in Global Politics is a timely new account of the unconventional, ‘extra-institutional’ activities of social movements.

In the face of impending global crises and stubborn conflicts, a conventional view of politics risks leaving us confused and fatalistic, feeling powerless because we are unaware of all that can be achieved by political means. By contrast, a variety of recent social movements, ranging from those of women, gays and lesbians and anti-racists, to environmentalists, the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring, demonstrate the enormous potential of political action beyond the institutional sphere of politics. At the same time, religious fundamentalists, racial supremacists and ultra-nationalists make clear that movements are not necessarily progressive and are often at odds with one another.

West highlights the many ways in which national and global institutions depend on a broader context of extra-institutional action or what is, in effect, the formative dimension of politics. He explores some of the major contributions of social movements: from the genealogy of liberal democratic nation-states, sixties’ radicalism and the ‘new social movements’ to the politics of sexuality, gender and identity, the politicization of nature and climate, and alter-globalization. The book also considers current theoretical approaches and sets out the basis for a critical theory of social movements. This is a fresh and original account of social movements in politics and will be essential reading for any students and scholars interested in the challenges and the unpredictable potential of political action.

Acknowledgements page x

A Political Preface: Social Movements, Global Crisis and the Failure of Institutional Politics xi

1 The Crisis of Institutional Politics xi

2 Plan of the Book xviii


1 Introduction: What Are Social Movements? 3

1.1 What is Politics? The Scope of Social Power 3

1.2 The Institutional View of Politics: Social Power as Authoritative Governance 7

1.3 Beyond Institutional Politics: The Challenge of Social Movements 11

1.4 Extra-Institutional Politics: A Preliminary Survey 16

1.5 Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible! Between Realism and Utopianism 20

2 The Role of Social Movements in the Making of Modern Politics 27

2.1 Social Movements and the Formation of Contemporary Institutions 27

2.2. The Formation of the Modern Nation-State: Religious and Nationalist Movements 30

2.3 Liberalizing the State and Commerce: Bourgeois Social Movements 35

2.4 Movements for Equal Citizenship, Social Justice and Democracy 40

2.5 Social Movements Hidden from History? 44


3 Illusions of Stability: The Surprising Emergence of New Social Movements 53

3.1 Introduction: A New Politics? 53

3.2 The Deceptive Stability of Western Liberal Democracy 55

3.3 Welfare State Capitalism: Farewell to the Working Class? 59

3.4 Cracks in the Image: Extra-Institutional Politics of the 1960s 64

3.5 From the Events of 1968 to New Social Movements 70

4 Politics of Culture and Identity 77

4.1 Introduction: Features of the ‘New Politics’ 78

4.2 The Politics of Identity 79

4.3 Strategy and Tactics of Identity Politics 84

4.4 Varieties of Identity Politics 89

4.5 Controversies and Critique 95

5 The Politics of Survival 103

5.1 Introduction: What Is the Politics of Survival? 103

5.2 Ecological Thought: Nature as Subject of Politics 106

5.3 The Place of Ecology in the Green Movement 111

5.4 Strategy and Tactics of Green Politics 118

5.5 Controversies and Critique 123

6 The New Politics of Exploitation 127

6.1 Introduction: A New Politics of Exploitation? 127

6.2 What is Globalization and Why is it (Sometimes) a Problem? 129

6.3 The Contested Politics of Neoliberal Globalization 134

6.4 Another World is Possible: Alternatives to Neoliberal Globalization 138

6.5 Strategy and Tactics of the Alter-Globalization Movement 142

6.6 Controversies and Critique 146


7 Theories of Social Movements: I. Normative and Formal Approaches 153

7.1 The Normative Shift: Recognizing the Legitimacy of Extra-Institutional Politics 153

7.2 Explaining Social Movements as Irrational Collective Behaviour 158

7.3 Explaining Social Movements as Rational Collective Action 163

7.4 Beyond Rationality and Irrationality: Cognitive Practice, Framing, Culture and Emotion 167

7.5 From Formal to Substantive Theories of Social Movements 172

8 Theories of Social Movements: II. Historical and Substantive Approaches 175

8.1 What Is To Be Done? Substantive Theories of Social Movements 175

8.2 New Social Movements as Agents of the New Politics 178

8.3 Jürgen Habermas: Social Movements and the Incomplete Project of Modernity 183

8.4 Alain Touraine: Social Movement as Agent of Autonomy in Postindustrial Society 187

8.5 From Modernity to Postmodernity 193

8.6 The Limits of Substantive Explanation 196

9 Conclusion: A Critical Theory of Social Movements? 201

9.1 Introduction: Social Movement Theory Between Modernism and Postmodernism 201

9.2 The Concrete Limits of a Critical Theory of Social Movements 206

9.3 The Potential Contributions of Theory to Practice 211

9.4 Ideology Through the Looking-Glass 217

9.5 Towards A Common Framework for Contemporary

Social Movements 221

Bibliography 226

Index 242

""This is an excellent book which, unlike many dull texts about social movements, actually relates them to two of the most important issues of the day, namely the 'crisis of politics' and the question of 'globalisation.' West does an admirable job in linking these issues and the end result is a much better book about social movements than most of the competition.""
Ray Kiely, Queen Mary University of London

""Combining normative theory and empirical research, David West demonstrates the important role social movements have played and play in an increasingly global politics. An interesting read for social movement scholars and practitioners.""
Donatella Della Porta, European University Institute

""This is an excellent, timely and instructive guide to politics outside formal political institutions. At a moment when states – both democratic and non-democratic – reveal themselves to be desperately unable to manage prevailing economic, social and political crises, David West reminds us not simply that “another politics is possible”, but that it has always been there under the surface of established structures of power. Social Movements in Global Politics is an excellent resource for students and will stand as a leading text for many years to come.""
James Martin, Goldsmiths University, London