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Building Bridges: Social Movements and Civil Society in Times of Crisis

Abstract

Social movement studies and studies on civil society and, related to them, studies on voluntarism and the third sector, are burgeoning fields of knowledge, which have, however, only rarely interacted with each other. In fact, social movement scholars have devoted little attention to the concept of civil society, not even when addressing issues of “social capital”. Vice versa, civil society scholars have, with few exceptions, not considered social movements as cognate phenomena. This is all the more puzzling as there is instead ample theoretical and empirical overlapping, which calls for the building of bridges between these fields of study. In political and media discourse some organizations, individuals or events are defined interchangeably as linked to either social movements or civil society. In the social sciences, however, the core conceptualizations have pointed towards different elements as characterizing these phenomena. In particular, social movement studies can contribute to the literature on voluntarism a toolkit of concepts and theory oriented to understand social and political conflicts, learning from the literature on voluntarism about conceptions and practices of solidarity. In this article, I will address some (potential) interactions between the two fields, looking at differences and similarities in the conceptualizations of the two phenomena as well as in their empirical analysis as they have developed in time. I will first of all address conceptualizations in these cognate fields with attention to their theoretical developments. Then, I will point towards some recent trends that have blurred the distinction between social movements and civil society, voluntarism and third sector policies, looking in particular not only at more established analyses of NGOization of social movements, but also, and especially, of what can be defined as an SMOization of civil society—that is, the hybridization of more established civil society organizations into social movement organizations, especially when facing politicization in times of crises and increasing criminalization of solidarity activities.

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Correspondence to Donatella Della Porta.

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Della Porta, D. Building Bridges: Social Movements and Civil Society in Times of Crisis. Voluntas 31, 938–948 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-020-00199-5

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Keywords

  • Social movements
  • Civil society
  • Voluntarism