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Movement-relevant Theory: Rethinking Social Movement Scholarship and Activism

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The dominant American social movement scholarship has become detached from the concerns of actual social movements. But the dramatic growth of social movement activity in recent years, especially the global justice movement, is creating the conditions for an emerging new direction in social movement scholarship which prioritizes the relevance of such work to the movements themselves. A problem in the current social movement literature is that the different schools of thought tend to overemphasize particular variables and pit them against one another. Rather than simply seeking to emphasize a different variable in the lifecycle of a social movement, a movement-relevant approach has the potential to transcend these schisms (such as structure versus culture). At the same time, this approach does not categorically reject earlier theoretical perspectives, but instead seeks to glean what is most useful for movements from these earlier works. Likewise, this emergent direction entails a dynamic engagement with the research and theorizing already being done by movement participants. In this paper, we explore this growing convergence of movement-relevant scholarship, identifying the academic work being used by movement participants as well as the analysis taking place within the movements themselves, with a particular focus on the global justice movement.

Keywords: Social movement theory; activism; anti-globalization movement; global justice movement; political process theory; relevance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of California, Department of Sociology, USA 2: University of California, History of Consciousness Department, USA

Publication date: December 1, 2005

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