Citizenship and Social Change

Part of the French Politics, Society and Culture Series book series (FPSC)


How are contemporary French movements to be interpreted or understood? Where should they be situated in relation to current theories and debates? A considerable amount of attention has been devoted to the task of defining what social movements are and describing the role that they assume within political and social life. This question has spawned a truly dizzying array of theories, models, paradigms and approaches, each of which proposes a different understanding or viewpoint on what the social movement is.1 Suffice it to say, there is no agreement as to what constitutes a social movement. Some may recognise sporadic acts of protest as evidence of emerging movements within society, whereas others may refuse to accept all but the most structured and institutionalised entities as genuine examples of movements. Whether a powerful force for change or a weak ephemeral phenomenon, a cultural instrument or a political tool, a subversive and dangerous element or a civic and democratic symbol, the meaning of social movements is as varied and conflictual as the movements themselves: The meaning of contentious collective action has itseif always been open to contention.’2 French sociologists, for their part, have made a rich and pivotal contribution to this body of literature, particularly through the work of prominent intellectuals such as Alain Touraine and more recently, Pierre Bourdieu.3


Social Change Social Movement Contemporary Society French Revolution Individual Citizen 
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  1. 1.
    In the vast body of literature on social movements, theorising has proved to be more popular than empirical research. Current theoretical perspectives include new social movement theory, resource mobilisation theory, the cyclical approach and political opportunity structures. For a useful overview of these theoretical approaches, see O. Fillieule and C. Péchu, Lutter ensemble: les théories de Faction collective (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1993)Google Scholar
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    See A. Touraine, The Voice and the Eye (Cambridge University Press, 1981); and The Return of the Actor: Social Theory in Postindustrial Society (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988); and also Pourrons-nous vivre ensemble? Egaux et différents (Paris: Fayard, 1997).Google Scholar
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  9. See also P. Bourdieu, In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990); Contre-feux. Propos pour serx’ir à la résistance contre l’invasion néo-libérale (Paris: Liber-Raisons d’Agir, 1998); and ‘Les objectifs d’un mouvement social européen’, Le Passant Ordinaire, no. 33 (Feb.-March 2001), pp. 24–5. A recently formed research grouping within the Institute of Political Science in Paris, GERMM (Group for the Study and Research of Transformations in Activism) brings together leading French specialists on social movements and alternative politics, including Nonna Mayer, Olivier Fillieule, Sophie Duchesne. Since 1994, this group has focused on an analysis of new social movements within contemporary French society. Researchers from GERMM contributed to the publication of a special issue of the Revue Française de Science Politique, vol. 51, no. 1–2, (Feb.-April 2001) with articles on the Human Rights League, Médecins sans Frontières, DAL (Droit au Logement), the ecologists and SOS Racisme. Google Scholar
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    See S. Bouamama, A. Cordeiro and M. Roux (eds), La Citoyenneté dans tous ses états. De l’immigration à la nouvelle citoyenneté (Paris: CIEMI et L’Harmattan, 1992)Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Sarah Waters 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of FrenchUniversity of LeedsUK

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