New Labour & social movements: Definitions of Sidney Tarrow & Charles Tilly

In Uncategorized on August 4, 2016 by kmflett


(pic)New Statesman

Following Luke Akehurst’s piece in the Guardian (4th August) arguing that the 1997 Labour Government was a social movement I extract below a summary of how two two leading authorities on social movements, Sidney Tarrow and Charles Tilly defined them. Parties in Government do not fit, but a case might be made, in the case of Luke’s article, for a broader New Labour social movement which supported the Government. I’ll blog further on that.


The term social movement was introduced in 1850, by the German sociologist Lorenz von Stein in his book, History of the French Social Movement from 1789 to the Present (1850).

Charles Tilly defines social movements as a series of contentious performances, displays, and campaigns by which ordinary people made collective claims on others. For Tilly, social movements are a major vehicle for ordinary people’s participation in public politics. He argues that there are three major elements to a social movement:

  1. Campaigns: A sustained, organized public effort making collective claims on target authorities
  2. Social movement repertoire: Employment of combinations from among the following forms of political action: Creation of special-purpose associations and coalitions, public meetings, solemn processions, vigils, rallies, demonstrations, petition drives, statements to and in public media, and pamphleteering
  3. WUNC displays: Participants’ concerted public representation of worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitments on the part of themselves and/or their constituencies.

Sidney Tarrow defines a social movement as “collective challenges to elites, authorities, other groups or cultural codes by people with common purposes and solidarity in sustained interactions with elites, opponents and authorities.” He specifically distinguishes social movements from political parties and interest groups.


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