By Sarah Maddison
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Extra info for Activist Wisdom: Practical Knowledge and Creative Tension in Social Movements
Between the 1920s and the 1950s, the discipline grew apace. It promised to explain disorder and dissent within American borders (Connell 1997: 1535). To this end, it observed reality with painstaking precision. Problems were labelled and catalogued, suggestions were proffered and recommendations were made. Sociology solved problems. It combined the confidence of positivism and the access of Polonius. It advised the powerful about matters of state and society (Connell 1990: 269). The 1960s brought new problems to solve.
Not surprisingly, the new school bred a reaction. Wasn’t all this talk of resources ‘economistic’? Didn’t it overlook the wider world in which movements struggled? Surely social movements were shaped by the opportunities available? How could they be ignored? ( 24 ) Part One: Theory and knowledge In a series of studies, historical sociologist Charles Tilly showed that the form of political opportunities had a decisive impact on the patterns of collective mobilisation (Tilly 1964, 1981). He made ‘opportunity’ a key concept in his 1978 work, From Mobilization to Revolution.
Social movements’ were analysed as external objects. The internal world of the protester was not explored; it was behaviour and success that demanded explanation (Eyerman & Jamison 1991: 2). This scholarship left behind earlier attempts to examine the causes of protest. ‘Grievances’ and ‘social systems’ were rarely studied; rationalisation and mass society passed from debate. After the 1960s, Americans rarely asked ‘why’ social movements appeared. They focused, instead, on ‘how’ they came to prominence (Klandermans & Tarrow 1988: 9).