Social movements in theory and practice: how to study activism across state-society boundary?

In the last two decades, social movement scholars have brought the frontiers of the field into question. Some have advocated for the substitution of "social movements" for "civil society", while others have proposed to rename the field as the study of "contentious politics". In both of these cases, the justification is that the field of social movements has become too narrow, empirically as well as theoretically. The article discusses these reformist initiatives and identifies a problem they have in common: the lack of attention to numerous forms of interaction between actors involved with social movements situated both outside and inside the state. We offer a theoretical discussion based on the results of empirical research undertaken in Brazil on this issue, which, we argue, help us better understand the relationship between states and social movements. We also argue that the recent literature on social networks provides analytical clues to think about activism from within state structures.

Social movements; State; Participation; Civil society; Contentious politics


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