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The focus of our discussion of social movements will be on movements since the late 1960s when some authors spoke about the beginning of a new type of collective action in civil society known as new …
The focus of our discussion of social movements will be on movements since the late 1960s when some authors spoke about the beginning of a new type of collective action in civil society known as new social movements (NSMs). Unlike old formations, such as trade unions or political parties, NSMs were often based on a holistic approach that stresses identifying with the cause of the movement and living within it. Think of the environmental movement, or the gay or women’s rights movements, in which activists espouse a lifestyle rather than just a political attitude. Theorists have proposed therefore that identity is a crucial aspect of NSMs.
Since the heyday of the NSMs in the 1970s and 1980s what has happened? Many of the movements have become more and more professional in their approach, so that theorists such as Keck and Sikkink have spoken about Transnational Social Movement Organisations. These are organisations that may have begun as relatively local social movements, but have grown and expanded across borders. Many of them, such as Amnesty International employ hundreds of staff, membership is indirect rather than direct, and they are more and more involved in lobbying. Some of these organisations are those we think of as NGOs today. In contrast, many of the original NSMs have disappeared over time because changes in the way politics and collective action is conceived has changed and made them redundant.
However, new forms of social movements (new NSMs?) are growing up in their place. In particular, the Global Justice Movement, sometimes called the movement of movements has been important since the late 1990s. Events such as the World Social Forum and the various protests against a host of institutions such as the WTO or the G8 have become commonplace. Theorists argue that there is a direct connection between the local and the global, with the slogan ‘Think globally, act locally’ becoming evermore important.