Acting for Others: the Solidarity Movement

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


A prevailing view of contemporary France is that society is gripped by a growing apathy and disaffection and a widespread indifference towards social or political causes. French citizens have apparently retreated from the public sphere and are motivated by private interests and desires alone. For many observers, a ‘new individualism’ now pervades every aspect of public life, leading to a disintegration of collective social bonds.2 However, one of the most important social movements to develop in France during the contemporary period appears to display a markedly different set of features. French society during the 1980s and 1990s was characterised by a rise of collective action that had a social or humanitarian purpose, that was directed in some way towards ‘helping others’ in society and confronting problems of social inequality or injustice. There is evidence to show that French citizens were increasingly taking part in action designed to alleviate social suffering, to further human rights or to defend a humanitarian cause. Moreover, many of those involved seemed to find such action more worthwhile, meaningful and socially useful than conventional forms of engagement within the political system. The term ‘solidarity movement’ was coined by some French social scientists to take account of this unique social trend.3 This movement seemed to embody a distinct kind of political identity, a specific-form of collective action that set it apart from other movements within society.


Collective Action Social Movement Public Sphere French Society French Revolution 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    The most influential proponent of this viewpoint is G. Lipovetsky, 1983, op. cit. (chapter 1, note 19). See also P. Birnbaum and J. Leca (eds), Sur l’individualisme (Paris: Presses de la FNSP, 1986).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Recent sources on the French solidarity movement include O. Fillieule, ‘Dynamics of Commitment in the Sector known as “Solidarity”. Methodological Reflections Based on the Case of France’ in M. Guigni and F. Passy, Political Altruism? Solidarity Movements in International Perspective (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001)Google Scholar
  3. S. Paugam, ‘La dynamique de l’engagement humanitaire’ in MIRE Produire les solidarités. La part des associations (Paris: MIRE, Rencontres et Recherches, 1997)Google Scholar
  4. M. H. Soulet, (ed.), Urgence, souffrance, misère. Lutte humanitaire ou politique sociale? (Fribourg: Editions Universitaires, 1999).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See M. Olson, The Logic of Collective Action (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1965).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See J. Hayward, ‘The official social philosophy of the French Third Republic: Léon Bourgeois and solidarism’, International Review of Social History, 6 (1961), 19–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. S. Hazareesingh, Political Traditions in Modem France (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    See E. Archambauit, Le secteur sans but lucratif Associations et fondations en France (Paris: Economica, 1996); O. Fillieule, 2001, op. cit.; and M. H. Soulet, 1999, op. cit. (note 3). A new research grouping, GERMM (Groupement d’étude et de recherche sur les mutations du militantisme), based within the French Association of Political Science, analyses forms of political activism based on solidarity within a range of French associations and social movements (Human Rights League, SOS Racisme, MRAP, Ras l’Front, Act Up, Amnesty international and so on). Similarly, the French Ministry of Social Affairs and the Fondation de France recently funded a new research project entitled ‘Produire les Solidarités’.Google Scholar
  9. 29.
    C. Péchu, ‘Les générations militantes à Droit au logement’, Revue Française de Science Politique, vol. 51, no. 1–2 (Feb.–April 2001), 75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 35.
    J. Smith, C. Chatfield and R. Pagnucco, Transnational Social Movements and Global Politics, Solidarity Beyond the State (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  11. 43.
    See A. Melucci, 1996, op. cit. (chapter 1, note 1); D. Rucht, R. Koopmans and F. Neidhart (eds), Acts of Dissent. New Developments in the Study of Protest (Berlin: Sigma, 1998)Google Scholar
  12. J. Downing, Radical Media. Rebellious Communication and Social Movements (London: Sage, 2001).Google Scholar
  13. 47.
    R. Cohen and S. M. Rai (eds), Global Social Movements (London and New Brunswick, NJ: Athlone Press, 2000), p. 41.Google Scholar
  14. 48.
    B. Hours, L’Idéologie Humanitaire ou le spectacle de l’atténté perdue (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1998).Google Scholar
  15. 55.
    Whereas MDM employed two permanent members in 1984, it now employs 250. Likewise, the budget of MSF was 19 million French francs in 1981, against 330 today. J. Siméant, ‘Entrer, rester en humanitaire. Des fondateurs de Médecins sans frontières aux membres actuels des ONG médicales françaises’, Revue Française de Science Politique, vol. 51, no. 1–2, (Feb.–April 2001), 47–72.Google Scholar
  16. 59.
    See D. della Porta, H. Kriesi and D. Rucht (eds), Social Movements in a Globalizing World (London: Macmillan — now Palgrave Macmillan, 1998).Google Scholar
  17. 65.
    See R. L. Hoffmann, More than a Trial. The Struggle over Captain Dreyfus (New York: Free Press/Macmillan, 1980).Google Scholar
  18. 69.
    E. Agikoliansky, La Ligue des droits de l’homme (1947–1990). Pérennisation et transformations d’une entreprise de défense des causes civiques (PhD thesis, Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, 1997), p. 15. According to Agrikoliansky, the League developed rapidly, with 8000 members in 1899 and 80,000 in 1908. It became a mass-based organisation during the interwar years, attracting between 150,000 and 200,000 supporters in 1933. During the Second World War, its headquarters were pillaged by the occupying forces and its president Victor Basch was assassinated. It was only at the beginning of the 1990s that its missing archives were rediscovered in Moscow where they had been seized by the Red Army. The League is no longer a mass-based organisation and has never again succeeded in reaching its pre-war peak. In contemporary France, it has a membership of approximately 10,000.Google Scholar
  19. 71.
    According to Eric Hobsbawm, the ‘rights of man’ is not an abstract or unchanging notion, but is subject to historical circumstances and evolves over time. See E. Hobsbawm, Worlds of Labour (London: Weidenfeld & Nicoison, 1984)Google Scholar
  20. 75.
    E. Agikoliansky, ‘Carrières militantes et vocation à la morale: les militants de la Ligue des droits de l’homme dans les années 1980’, Revue française de Science Politique, vol. 51, no. 1–2. (Feb.–April 2001), p. 37.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Sarah Waters 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of FrenchUniversity of LeedsUK

Personalised recommendations