Social Movements & Culture

General Introduction

This site provides resources for the study of social movements in the US, including those movements as linked to transnational and global movements. The emphasis is on recent and contemporary movements, but also provides materials on earlier movements.

The site focuses particularly on the cultural dimension of social movements. Despite some excellent work in the last decade or so, the specifically cultural study of social movements remains relatively undeveloped. The cultural study of social movements includes two main elements: 1) social movement cultural texts like protest songs or community murals, and 2) movements as unique subcultures in themselves.

Social movement cultures or subcultures are constituted by such things as rituals and symbolically charged actions; works of art and other expressive forms; unique ideologies and value systems; idiolects, jargons, and other special language forms; and material culture objects (buttons, t-shirts, etc.) peculiar to the movement, among other things. These behaviors and expressions enhance movement solidarity, strengthen movement-bred identities and communicate movement ideas, values and goals inside and outside the movement.

Studying the cultural dimensions of movements means bringing together the best insights of sociology, political science, anthropology, history, cultural studies, American studies, ethnic studies, women's studies, and other fields of social movement analysis, as well as the insights of movement activists themselves.

However, culture does not float free from politics, economics, social institutions, or other structural factors that have previously been privileged in movement analysis. Culture is neither fully autonomous, nor reducible to these other forces, but is interwoven with them in complex, mutually influencing ways.

The site centers on links to historically-oriented and contemporary sites categorized by movement type, and also includes links to online articles, bibliographies, course syllabi, and a glossary of terms for movement analysis.

People interested in social movements and culture should also visit our sister site The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle, based on the book of the same name.