Between Old and New: Social Movements and Cultural Change
View PDF Version
Social movements challenge authorities on behalf of people whose needs and interests are not catered for in society. To do this, they have to accomplish a contradictory task, i.e., frame the cause of the excluded in interpre-tive packages that are contrary to the dominant views in society while at same time struggle to make these contrary views part of the dominant culture. Therefore, SMOs initiate public discourses on these interests out of which cultural changes may proceed, and if they succeed, they act as producers of new meanings. At the same time, however, the interpretive packages have to resonate with extant cultural views in order to be convincing for movement participants as well as authorities and publics. In other words, these packages have to be contrary to and correspon-ding with dominant views. How do movement actors succeed in this seemingly impossible task? Our review of cultural studies of social movements points to two strategies: (1) linking controversial topics like abortion with generally accepted and valued notions like basic rights; (2) associating their interpretive packa-ge, such as protecting the ecology, with an existing theme, such as harmony with nature, that as an alternative cultural context may legitimate their package. We use a case study, the movement against the slave trade in Great Britain, to test these propositions. The case material confirms their utility, but also reveals a third strategy: relating the package to cultural themes that are on their way to dominance. The material points to the importance of this strategy and of the role the - changing - cultural context plays in producing new meanings. The findings lead to a discussion about the role of movement actors, the cultural context, and the changes therein in the production of meaning.
- slave trade
- movement actors