A little word about the approach…

For this project I plan to apply the theoretical apparatus set out by Charles Tilly in his books Social Movements 1768-2004 and Social Movements, Old and New and will give a brief description of the framework in this first blog, seeing as I intend to apply it throughout the course. Tilly claims that the fundamental elements making up a social movement are as follows:

  • Power Holders (objects) i.e. Those that hold power such as governments.
  • Activists (claimants) i.e. the leaders, participants and supporters of those making the claim
  • Subjects (beneficiaries) i.e. those who stand to benefit from an activists claim despite not being involved in the claim making.

Most importantly though Tilly suggests that there are three fundamental factors that have to be in play in order to qualify as a bona fide social movement:

  1. A ‘Campaign’ – i.e. a sustained and organised public effort that makes collective claims on target audiences.
  2. A ‘Repertoire’ – i.e. the employment of means in order to express claims within a campaign.
  3. Public displays of W.U.N.C which stands for , Worthiness, Unity, Numbers and Commitment.

These Tilly claims developed in the West after 1750 and are the common link that makes a social movement a social movement. He defines ‘social movements as a distinctive form of contentious politics – contentious in the sense that social movements involve collective making of claims that, if realized, would conflict with someone else’s interests, politics in the sense that governments of one sort or another figure somehow in the claim making, whether as claimants, objects of claims, allies of the objects, or monitors of the contention.’ (Tilly, p. 3.) As well as Tilly’s theoretical structure it is also worth considering what analysts and participants began calling ‘new social movements’ (NSMs) after 1968. (Calhoun, p. 173.)

These NSMs ‘worked outside formal institutional channels and emphasized lifestyle, ethical, or “identity” concerns rather than narrowly economic goals.’ (Calhoun, p. 173.) NSM theorists are not concerned with the nineteenth and early twentieth century working class or labour movement because the world we live in now, it could be argued, is a post-modern and post-industrial industrial period in which ‘the transcendence of capitalism is no longer plausible’ and people enjoy a relative affluence and high standard of living. (Calhoun, p. 178.) People and social movements now then are not concerned with fundamental social transformation as they used to be, but are geared towards more specific isolated goals, such as ‘the gay movement, the animal rights movement and the antiabortion and prochoice movements,’ for example. (Calhoun, p. 173.) NSM theorists then would claim that the ideas of Tilly are out of date for studying social movements of the 20th century. However, in ‘‘New Social Movements” of the Early Nineteenth Century,’ Craig Calhoun argues that NSMs instead of being an isolated phenomenon of the late 20th century, do actually apply usefully to social movements of the early nineteenth century as well. So there is some sort of a cross over here.

In fact, ‘all movements in their nascent period-including the labour movement and social democracy-tend to fit certain aspects of the NSM model.’ (Calhoun, p. 174.) By not isolating such a study into a postmodern or postindustrial framework one can understand more widely the whole modern history of social movements. Calhoun turns specifically to a list of the most widely cited distinguishing features of late 20th century NSMs and gives examples of how such features are in fact also relevant to earlier social movements:

  • Identity, Autonomy and Self-realization
  • Defense Rather Than Offense-defensive orientations
  • Politicization of Everyday Life
  • Non-Class or Middle-Class Mobilization
  • Unconventional Means
  • Partial and overlapping Commitments

There is not enough space to go into detail but Calhoun comments on how identity politics were also a feature of earlier feminist ideology. Indeed, Mary Wollstonecraft was concerned with a redefinition of gender and the claiming of an autonomous identity. So too was Owenite socialism. Within, the ‘Identity, Autonomy and Self-realization’ category Calhoun also cites the New England Transcendentalists, early 19th century nationalism and the Marxist identity of a ‘worker’ as historical examples of how the NSM model also applies to older social movements. (Calhoun provides many examples for each category.)

Seeing as there is some sort of theoretical flexibility here, I will choose to use Tilly’s theoretical framework as my main basis for the historical study of London social movements but also (maybe) incorporate elements of NSM theory if necessary. Having now read this Calhoun chapter, I think it could end up being extremely useful to incorporate certain elements, such as Identity politics, the politicization of everyday life and indeed all the above categories listed by Calhoun that make up NSM theory into my research if relevant.

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