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Power, politics and everyday life: the local rationalities of social movement milieux

Cox, Laurence (1999) Power, politics and everyday life: the local rationalities of social movement milieux. Transforming politics: power and resistance. Paul Bagguley and Jeff Hearn (eds.).

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Abstract

Everyday language readily identifies social movement activity - campaigning, protesting, holding meetings, issuing statements - as "politics"; perhaps not in the sense of parties and parliaments, but politics none the less. Much academic literature shares this view of social movements as "politics by other means", from resource mobilisation and political opportunity structure approaches to analyses of social movements as expressions of economic interests (for an overview, see Diani 1992a). It is interesting, then, that precisely in continental Europe, where contemporary social movements have arguably made the greatest impact on the party system and engaged in the sharpest confrontations with the state, theorists have tended more and more to stress the cultural aspects of social movements. One theme sees movements as rooted in specific sociocultural milieux: largescale, ñlifestyleî responses to structured experience of inequality, with differing issues and priorities (Vester et al. 1993, Hradil 1987); and local ñmovement milieuxî within these, and the shifts in class habiti that can be identified between generations here (MÙller 1990). Another approach identifies a shared culture as a structural element of social movement activity: as an identity enabling the networks between organisations, groups and individuals that make up a movement (Diani 1992a, 1992b); or as ñcognitive praxisî combining worldview, issue-specific knowledge and modes of organisation (Eyerman and Jamison 1991). Thirdly, social movements can be analysed as cultural challenges: movements may struggle to control the cultural definition of ñhistoricityî, societal self-production (Touraine 1981, 1 1985); their structural form may itself be a symbolic message to the wider society (Melucci 1985, 1989, 1992); or there may be a division between ñpoliticalî and ñculturalî movement strategies (Raschke 1985). The "social movements" problematic could then be restated with an emphasis on the culture of movement milieux as the source of mobilisation, of the internal culture of movement activity, and of wider challenges to the social order. The need is then to locate particular forms of engagement with power and the political within particular sociocultural formations. One possible response is the critical theory analysis of movements as defending the communicative rationality of the lifeworld against colonisation by capitalist and state rationalities (Habermas 1984, 1987). Yet while particular, "decommodified" lifeworlds are identified as crucial (Offe 1985), it is a long way from a universal communicative rationality to the specific cultural logics of contemporary lifeworlds. If instrumental rationalisation had specific roots in Calvinist soteriology, so communicative rationalisation must have particular beginnings. A partial remedy is Eder's (1985, 1993) analysis of contemporary movements as expressing the habitus of the petite bourgeoisie and its struggle to impose its cultural definitions; yet this habitus is ascribed rather than examined, read off from the structural position of the class – and unsurprisingly contradicted by the Hannover project’s findings of significant transformations in class habitus within movement milieux (MÙller 1990, Vester et al. 1993). Both critical theory and Eder's approach offer to relate movement activities to movement milieux, but both fail to take account of the cultural specificity of the latter. The issue is then how to theorise, and research, such specificity.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Power; politics and everyday life; local rationalities; social movement milieux;
Subjects: Social Sciences > Sociology
Item ID: 1528
Depositing User: Dr. Laurence Cox
Date Deposited: 14 Sep 2009 09:22
Journal or Publication Title: Transforming politics: power and resistance. Paul Bagguley and Jeff Hearn (eds.)
Publisher: Macmillan/British Sociological Association
Refereed: Yes
URI:

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