Rise of the New Social Movements and Their Effect on Contemporary Society

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What factors account for the rise of new social movements and what effect have they had on contemporary society?

We are all familiar with the stories of suffragettes burning their bras, and environmental enthusiasts breaking into labs and liberating rats back to the wild. But what caused women to abruptly rip of their pinnies, tell dad dinner's in the dog and start running around without appropriate underwear? What caused contented homemakers to leave the cosy warmth of their gas fires in favour of chaining themselves to trees? And are such people an eccentric minority, or have they profoundly affected the way we live and think in the western world today?

To address these questions I will begin by defining New Social Movements (or NSMs). To follow I will break down a few movements in more detail, first discussing what they stand for, and then examining how they originated and matured. In the latter section I will try to determine the scope and boundaries of their influence on contemporary society.

Quite strict guidelines have emerged as to what a New Social Movement is, and the kind of characteristics a political movement must have to classify as an NSM.

Dalton and Kuechler suggest:
‘A set of opinions and beliefs in a population that represents preferences for changing some elements of the social structure and/or the reward distribution of society'.

However, by this definition anyone with any concern for any aspect of pollution, nuclear power, the quality of life and many other issues is a member of the social movement. Most writers agree there are more definitive ways of identifying an NSM.

‘They have ideological, organisational and tactical aspects.' (Lovenduski and Norris, 1996)

The ideological side is the most ambitious and romantic:
‘ . . . social movements are challengers which seek to change the agenda of the system in which they work. They advance ideas which, to be realised, would require fundamental and widespread change in policies and in values – change which may be partially achieved through government action and legislation, but can not be wholly achieved in this way. They raise issues which question the dominant values that constitute the political culture of their society, and hence have a ‘political' and ‘cultural' dimension. They aim to change people attitudes on a personal as well as public level.'

The organisational side is more practical, being the ‘administration'. This may be formal or informal, but the key element is networks. These must successfully organise strong turnouts for activities, exchange information and show solidarity. The stronger the networks the stronger the movement

The tactical characteristic is the aspect which sets social movements apart from other forms of political action. ‘All movements engage in at least some action outside of the institutional or legal channels of political access.' (Lovenduski and Norris, 1996).

There is a diverse range of NSMs fighting for causes from the environment to women to the elderly to the blacks. For the purposes of this essay I will inspect only a couple in detail, but it should be retained that they are examples of a bigger wave.

Two of the best known movements are the environmental or ‘Green' movement, and the Women's movement. Both have evolved over the past hundred years into strong and extremely influential political leagues. Both have the ideological aspect, wanting to change the general public's approach to their respective causes – the environment and equality between sexes. They also have the organisational factor, with now impressive and far reaching channels of communication. And finally they have the tactical factor, having utilized many different methods of expressing and arguing their opinions.

The Green movement has distinct personal and public fields, campaigning for specific issues such as pollution, renewable energy sources while also questioning the basic values of a developed...
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