Change as the exogenous cause or endogenous origin?

I read Melucci’s article “The New Social Movements: A theoretical approach”(Thank you, Molly) before I got the email saying we can reflect on other articles, so I will just summarize some of his points and write about some thoughts coming to mind while reading this article.

Melucci first identified two camps on social movement theories, Marxism and functionalist sociology. The primary concern of marxist analysis is that it overemphasizes the importance of the structural capitalist system, underestimating the internal articulation (mobilization, organization, leadership, ideology) and the transformation of the movements. The functionalist approach finds the key explanation of the behaviors of collective actions is in the magnitude of the actors’ beliefs that mobilize the actions, and the beliefs come from the the disturbance of the equilibrium of the social movement. I think his critique against functionalist analysis is from the perspective of class relations, mode of production and appropriation of resources, and in later parts when he develops theories on new social movements he primarily uses this perspective. (Is it also Marxism I think?)

Then he defines different types of collective actions through the dimensions of deviance, conflict-based action. As can be seen from the figure in his article: As the level of conflict and deviance of movements increase, the organizational movement and political movements transform into class movements. In the transformation, there are an increase in the symbolic content and a decrease in divisibility of the stakes. Specifically he refers to the class movement as a high level of identity movement and low possibility of negotiation between stakes.

Then his analysis on the origins of the class movement turns very philosophical and abstract. He defines “A class movement is a movement involved in a conflict over the mode of production and over the appropriation and orientation of social resources.” The conflicts exist in the essence of the man’s works and the production of one’s work implies a social relationship. Classes are born out of the unbalanced production between the dominant and the dominated groups.

Melucci criticized theories that treat change or factors that activate collective actions as given factors without explanation, but he also denied change as endogenous factor in some other theories. He claims the central difficulty lies in the failure of distinguishing between synchrony and diachrony, between structure and change. For him the synchronic approach explains the structural conflict within the system, and he introduces the concept of contradiction to explain how a structural conflict turns to diachronic forms of behavior. As he stated, “the contradiction functions like a catalyst on the latent antagonism.” From this perspective, he further set up the mechanisms of conflicts between the classes in motion and detailed the interactions (appeal, repress, adjust, etc.) in the process.

In his last part, after setting up all the framework, he finally answers the question of what aspects of changes in the production system have led to new class conflicts. The new class conflicts are no longer the unfair exploitation of labor force, but “rather by the manipulation of complex organizational systems, by control over information and over the processes and institutions of symbol-formation, and by intervention in interpersonal relations.” The production here is no longer the material products but “rather the production of the individual’s biological and interpersonal identity.” The new social movement is the “defense of the identity, continuity, and predictability of personal existence.” In this process, the deprivation from the dominant group makes the dominated speak up their identities, and the originally thought private spheres are now become public. Their focus is not on political system but rather in the process “solidarity as an objective is the characteristic of the new movements. They reject representation but embrace direct participation. He also identified two other characteristics of the new social movements: the centrality of the body and the strong component of religion.

This article spent most of its pages on the layout of his framework of production and social relations, and his analysis is very theoretical. I still think his framework is largely based on classic Marxist analysis on social production and maybe he could have made this part more concise and spent more pages on his creation of the definition of new social movements. Another critic from me is that listed many characteristics of the new social movements, and I agree with him that actors of new social movements are identity mobilized, but I cannot see how centrality of body and religion are particular to this type of action, and how they relate to the theories of production and social relations. My final critic for his article is that perhaps he did not specify where the contradiction comes from. Since one of his most important tasks is explanation of the source of change, he just brought up the concept of contradiction as the internal factor, and for me I wonder if the contradiction needs other factors to trigger.


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