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The term new social movements (NSMs) is a theory of social movements that attempts to explain the plethora of new movements that have come up in various western societies roughly since the mid-1960s (i.e. in a post-industrial economy) which are claimed to depart significantly from the conventional social movement paradigm.[1]

There are two central claims of the NSM theory. First, that the new social movements are a result of the development of the postindustrial economy and, second, that those movements are unique and different from previous social movements of the industrial economy.[1] The NSMs concentrate not on issues of economic wellbeing, but on less materialistic qualities of life (ex. gay rights or pacifism).[1]


The new movements

Many social movements that appeared in from mid-1960s differed from traditional social movements that had previously been seen, following Marxist paradigm, as centered on economic concerns, such as the labor movement.[2][1] The new social movements were less concerned with economical issues. Examples of those new movements include the women's movement, the ecology movement, gay rights movement and various peace movements, among others.

New social movement theory looks at various collective actions, their identity and on their relations to culture, ideology and politics.[3] Buechler argues that there is in fact no single new social movement theory, but a set of new social movement theories, each a variant on general approach to "something called new social movement", which he cautiously defines as a "diverse array of collective actions that has presumably displaced the old social movement of proletarian revolution".[2]

The theory

Thinkers have related these movements with the postmaterialism hypothesis as put forth by Ronald Inglehart. Important contributors in the field include sociologists such as Alain Touraine, Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, Claus Offe, Immanuel Wallerstein and Jürgen Habermas.

Many of these NSMs tend to emphasize social changes in identity, lifestyle and culture, rather than pushing for specific changes in public policy or for economic change.[1] Thus the civic aspect is seen by the NSM as more important than the economic or political aspects.[1] Some NSM theorists, like F. Parkin (Middle Class Radicalism, 1968), argue that the key actors in these movements are members of the "new middle class", or service-sector professionals (such as academics).[1]

Unlike pressure groups that have a formal organisation and 'members', NSMs consist of an informal, loosely organised social network of 'supporters' rather than members. Paul Byrne ('97) described New Social Movements as 'relatively disorganised'. Protest groups tend to be single issue based and are often local in terms of the scope of change they wish to effect. In contrast, NSMs last longer than single issue campaigns and wish to see change on an (inter)national level on various issues in relation to their set of beliefs and ideals. A NSM may, however adopt the tactic of a protest campaign as part of its strategy for achieving wider-ranging change.


Some sociologists, like Paul Bagguley and Nelson Pichardo,[1] criticize NSM theory for a number of reasons, including:

  1. the movements concerned with non-materialistic issues existed (in one extent or another) during the industrial period and traditional movements, concerned with economic wellbeing, still exist today,[1]
  2. there are few unique characteristics of the new social movements, when compared to the traditional movements,[1]
  3. differences between older and newer movements have been explained by older theories,[1]
  4. there is doubt in terms of whether contemporary movements are specifically a product of postindustrial society,[1]
  5. NSM focuses almost exclusively on left-wing movements and does not consider right-wing,[1]
  6. the term "new middle class" is amorphous and not consistently defined, and
  7. might be better viewed as a certain instance of social movement theory rather than a brand new one..

List of New Social Movements

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Picardo 1997
  2. ^ a b Buechler 1999
  3. ^ Kendall 2005


  • Steven M. Buechler, Social Movements in Advanced Capitalism, Oxford University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-19-512604-1, Google Print, p.46
  • Diana Kendall, Sociology In Our Times, Thomson Wadsworth, 2005, ISBN 0-534-64629-8 Google Print, p.533
  • Nelson A. Pichardo, New Social Movements: A Critical Review, Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 23: 411-430, 1997. [1]

Further reading

  • Steven M. Buechler, New Social Movement Theories, Sociological Quarterly, Volume 36 Issue 3, Pages 441 - 464, 1995.


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