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There is a tension in social movement literature between explanations that stress structural constraints
and those that stress cultural variables. This relationship has always been difficult, as shown in the views
of two founders of social science: Marx, for whom structures (economic conditions) determine culture
(ideology); and Weber, for whom culture (Protestant ethic) comes before structures (capitalism).
1. Classical approaches: collective behaviour theory examine social movements under prism of
social disorganization and psychological strain.
2. Resource mobilization theory: In reaction to above in 1970s, underscored almost exclusively
structural factors, with social networks and political institutions becoming new pivots in the
theories of social movements.
3. New models now pay attention to the role of cultural formations in social movements.
Structure in Social Science Theory: Two concepts of structures.
1. Structure as a frame within which human action takes place. Stems from European sociological
tradition, in particular Marxist theory on social classes and Weberian approach to bureaucratic
a. Outside-In conception of structures.
b. Individual behaviours are channelled by a series of structural constraints. Institutions,
particularly political institutions, are among the principal sources of structural
constraints – neo-institutionalism.
c. The political process approach to social movements – what Tarrow calls statist – is
grounded in this neo-institutionalist view of society.
2. Structures as networks of social relations. Stems from American sociology.
a. Inside-out conception of structures.
b. Aims to explain behaviours and institutions by looking at the relations between social
actors and organizations.
c. Theoretical origins: Georg Simmel. Gained legitimacy in 1980s as a result of the
development of methodological tools and statistical techniques that allowed for the
empirical applications of its theoretical principles.
d. Resource mobilization theory follows this, stressing role of social networks and
mobilizing structures.
Culture in Social Movement Literature: Three approaches.
1. Value-orienting:
a. Theoretical roots in Weberian and Durkheimian sociological traditions. Both put forward
the idea of ``symbolic configurations or formations that constrain and enable action by
structuring actors` normative commitments and their understandings of the world and
of their own possibilities with in it`. If Weber considered culture as a set of internalized
norms and values that guide individual action, Durkheim was bent on defining how
collective representations solidify social solidarities.
b. Especially in Europe, the new social movement approach relates macrostructural
changes in Western societies to new cultural orientation in these societies (e.g. Melucci
1996) so that the emergence of new types of social movements over the last few
decades are linked to the emergence of new individual needs, to the internalization of
certain (postmaterialist) values in the course of socialization, or to the individuals'
identification with values carried by certain social classes. (Inglehart could fit here).
2. Framing
a. Rests on meso and mico levels.
b. Theoretic origins in Ervin Goffman (1974) concept of `schemes of interpretations` which
has been applied to study of social movements.
c. Stress is on the links between existing interpretations of objective facts and events on
the one hand and participation in social movement activities on the other hand—that is,
between collective action frames, or master frames and protest. This has the advantage
of turning our attention to the relationship between cultural elements and their
transposition into action and the discursive aspect of social movements.
d. McAdam et al define framing process as: “conscious strategic efforts by groups of
people to fashion shared understandings of the world and of themselves that legitimate
and motivate collective action”.
3. Social-psychological
a. Focuses on social construction of protest primarily at individual level. level—that is, on
the modalities through which social actors are led to act collectively because of feelings
of injustice, individual effectiveness, or shared identities (Gamson, 1992, and in
Johnston and Klandermans, 1995).
b. Cognitive processes through which individuals become involved in social movements are
at center stage – e.g. emotions and sexuality.
To avoid reifying Structure and Culture, we should explore their interpenetration in concrete social
relations, acknowledging them not as warring entities but as different abstractions from the same
observations. Cultural determinism should not replace structural determinism or vice versa.