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The Politics of New Social Movements - Why is it difficult to define a "new social movement"?

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The Politics of New Social Movements EUC308 Why is it difficult to define a "new social movement"? When one thinks of "new social movements" (NSM's) it is fair to say that a number of images may spring into peoples' minds. To some, Swampy chaining himself to a tree will automatically be imagined, for others, they may think of the anti-globalisation protests in Seattle or on the streets of London. The fact is that both of these ideas come under this broad title and it is for that reason that it can de difficult to define exactly what is meant by an NSM. This essay will attempt to address why NSM's have come into existence, which sections of society choose to become involved and how these groups operate. Having done this, the essay will then attempt to show why defining an NSM is problematic. It is fair to say that most people who choose to participate in NSM's do so because they feel that conventional politics does not or has not dealt with the issues that they feel are important. It is, therefore, the aim of the NSM's to highlight these issues and bring them to the attention of either the politicians or the general public in the hope that government policy will adopt a different strategy. It has been said that "one repeated motif in the discussion of new social movements is the view that they are, in contrast to older movements, primarily social or cultural in nature and only secondary, if at all, political." ...read more.


Of course, this is a very extreme example of a NSM and when we look at more mainstream groups the structure is less militant but the basic ideas remain the same. On a whole, NSM's attempt to avoid the hierarchical approach of the conventional political parties and instead choose to opt for a more co-operative system. The CND is actually an example of how a structured organisation can exist within the informally organized Peace Movement. It is difficult to describe the structure of an NSM as even the word 'structure' suggests some kind of organisation. Referring to NSM's as groups also causes problems as this suggests that there would be some kind of hierarchy when in fact, as Brand et al. suggest "New social movement theorists maintain that these groups prefer a decentralized, open, and democratic structure that is more in tune with the participatory tendencies of their supporters." (Dalton et al., 1990:13). It is clear that NSM's choose to steer away from creating any formal structure as to avoid becoming the political parties that they are attempting to influence. The structure of NSM's has strong links with their ideology. NSM's are inclined to believe more in a co-operative society where every person has his or her own personal space in which they have the right to exist and the right to choose how they wish to live their lives. ...read more.


Another problem arises when you try to quantify the level of material wealth that constitutes satisfaction and at which point the person decides to give up the search for more money. However, the fact remains that it has become more apparent over the years that it is this new middle class that is the typical adherents to the NSM's but it has not become clear why it is this group. The fact is that these new social movements choose to exist outside the conventional channels of politics. They do not have the same structure as the mainstream political parties as they are not supposed to be as such. They are an ideology that is followed through choice and lead to more extreme measures than usual politics to the extent that adherents make a lifestyle decision. The difficulty in defining NSM's comes from all aspects of their existence. The title of a social movement covers such a diverse range of beliefs and ideas that any kind of set rules will ultimately fail as no statement can be truly all-inclusive. Neither would NSM's want to be able to be defined as it goes against all the ideals for which they stand - the ideals of a hierarchy free alliance where the emphasis is on co-operation and not leadership. This statement itself causes problems, as it is a sweeping generalization of the group of social movements as a whole. The difficulties of defining new social movements appear because of the fact that no two movements or beliefs are exactly the same. ...read more.

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