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Cultural Power and Social Movements

Originally published in Social Movements and Culture, vol. 4, 1995
  • Ann Swidler
Chapter

Abstract

In several ways, Swidler provides a more developed analysis of the relationship between culture and social movements than does McAdam. First, she focuses on the ways culture shapes individual beliefs and desires. Thus, culture provides a means by which people make sense of the world. Second, Swidler examines the ways culture provides repertoires of public symbols that structure the kinds of expected responses that individuals develop from their social interactions. A handshake on first meeting a person could be seen as such a symbol: Failure to shake hands once another has been extended is a deliberate insult. Thus, once they have offered it, most people expect that their hand will be shaken. Such an expectation represents cultural knowledge that exists even when no handshake is ongoing. Such assumptions may shape how a social movement acts even if its members are ideologically divided and its contention with the broader society sharp. Third, Swidler pays attention to the ways social institutions shape movement activities: If official organizations and others try to integrate or co-opt a group, for example, the movement is likely to behave differently than if it faces aggressive, perhaps violent, repression. Culture, then, is more than just the private beliefs of individual group members, and it is more than a set of broad principles that can be used for group purposes. It involves a dynamic interaction that shapes private and public acts together.

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Copyright information

© Lane Crothers and Charles Lockhart 2000

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  • Ann Swidler

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