University of Leeds

Workshop Paper No 20
Prepared for Workshop Five
Conceptual Developments
Friday 5 May 2000

Greg Martin



This paper arises out of a perceived need to create a synergy between social policy and social movement theory. In social policy, there has long been a recognition that social movements have been important to policy formation yet there is a poverty of theory relating to social movements and little attention has given to generating concepts that might help us understand the role of social movements in social policy and welfare. Generally speaking, conceptions of social movements appear as add-ons or as afterthoughts. Alternatively, theorising has been quite tentative as there seems not to be the analytical tools in social policy to make sense of collective action (see Harrison, 1993/4: 30ff). A similar trend is also observable in sociology whereby the concept of social movement is used to describe a variety of phenomena for want of other alternatives (see Hetherington, 1998). There is now, however, what might be described as a subdiscipline in sociology that is devoted to the study of social movements. And, it is part of this literature that I wish to draw upon and relate to current issues and debates in social policy.

The most important area in this respect is that which analyses the so-called new social movements (NSMs). Ever since its emergence in the early 1980s this area has been the subject of much controversy. Nevertheless, some interesting work has been undertaken by NSM theorists. They have been influenced greatly by the development of postmodern tought which has enabled them to transcend traditonal categories. Thus, instead of being interested in class-based movements and processes of interest intermediation, NSM theory is equipped to assess a plurality of lifestyles and identities and the movements about which they revolve. The main problem with such a theory, however, is that it tends to preclude the possibility that movements might mobilize around 'traditional' struggles or, indeed, newly relevant issues which arise in a changing landscape that is perhaps not as full of promise as NSM theorists make out.

While they are interested in the changing nature of the relationship between NSMs and the welfare state, NSM theorists have no concern specifically with social policy. Social policy, on the other hand, has traditionally been concerned with the issues that NSM theory appears to have aboandoned, i.e. issues over material redistribution, structual inequality and so on. Moreover, there has been a reluctance, even a hostility, on the part of some scholars in social policy towards postmodern ways of thinking. There appears, then, an impasse between NSM theory and conventional social policy. However, a 'critical' social policy has been developed that adopts postmodernism and retains a concern for traditional 'bread and butter' issues.

In this paper, I argue that a social policy that is concerned with issues of identity, diversity and difference ought to consider some of the concepts and analytical devices used by NSM theorists. Equally, though, NSM theory ought to take seriously a social policy approach that integrates issues of welfare and culture. Indeed, this may provide a better way of looking at all contemporary movements which may combine, albeit to varying degrees, an identity politics with social policy goals. I believe that the creation of a synergy between social policy and NSM theory will work to the advantage of both as it will nullify their respective limitations.

Social Movement Theories

As I pointed out in the introduction, there is now a plethora of work devoted to the study of social movements. In fact, the field is so large that it can be divided into several specialist areas (see, for instance, della Porta and Diani, 1999). So, here, I provide only a selective account of social movement theories and offer some criticisms that are pertinent to current issues in social policy. Despite the fact that there are many approaches, the analysis of social movements within sociology has only received systematic attention in the past twenty years (Buechler, 2000: 3). Moreover, during these twenty years or so, two areas have come to dominate and these are resource mobilisation theory (RMT) and new social movement (NSM) theory developed in the States and in Europe respectively. I wish to begin by providing an outline of RMT because it has a direct bearing upon some of the NSM theories that have emerged in Europe. I shall then discuss NSM theory before going on to discuss its significance for social policy and vice versa.

Resource Mobilisation Theory

RMT was inspired by the work of Mancur Olson (1965); a neo-classical economist whose work consisted in a version of 'rational choice theory'. According to this theory, self-interested individuals act rationally in order to maximise their benefits and minimise their costs. Olson's famous problem was that of the 'free-rider'. Thus, if an individual receives all of the benefits of collective action without participating in it then it seems rational not to become involved and to free ride instead. The problem for Olson was that, put this way, collective action appears to be irrational. There have been a number of reactions to Olson's thesis. However, the central problem for sociologists is that this highly individualistic approach is unable to make sense of solidary action, or action whereby people act collectively out of a sense of solidarity and not merely out of self-interest. RMT provides a framework for understanding the organisational dynamics of collective action and, as such, it departs from the micro level of analysis that Olson works at.

Zald and McCarthy (1987) are among RMT's principal proponents. RMT cannot only be thought of as a critique of Olson but also of the theories of collective behaviour that preceded it (see Turner and Killian, 1957). Collective behaviour theory tended to regard social movements as comprised of irrational, riotous individuals who are thrown together by circumstance and, in a state of panic, develop a herd-like mentality. RMT, on the other hand, is not concerned with the behaviour of irrational individuals but with the strategies by which social movements organise their reseources (e.g. people, materials, ideas) in order to successfully achieve their goals. In this sense, social movements are seen as rational collective actors. RMTs, therefore, study the processes by which social movement organisations become successful. A successful movement is one which mobilises and organises its resources effectively. For example, the US civil rights movement was successful, in part, because it had the support of many church groups. These provided the movement with a pre-existing set of resources in the form of networks, organisations and constituents.

Two significant criticisms have been levelled at RMT. Firstly, and as Scott (1990: 110-111) argues, any sociologically adequate account of mobilisation needs to consider the sources of solidarity that are the pre-conditions for collective action as well as the instrumental aspects of movement activity. Therefore, analyses must focus upon the expressive and affectual dimensions of social movements. This is only achieved by studying the cultural face of movements along with their purposive orientations. The second criticism relates to the 'middle-range' analysis of RMT. While RMT overcomes many of the problems associated with Olson's micro theory, it is unable to deal with macro-structural issues. Both of these criticisms are addressed by NSM theorists.

New Social Movement Theory

NSM theory revolves around a number of key ideas. Firstly, it is perceived that a 'crisis of Marxism' arose out of the development of 'welfare capitalism' whereby the labour movement was seen to have compromised its revolutionary goals by being co-opted into the Keynesian state infrastructure (through trade unionism, for instance). Related to this is a second point. For those of a more optimistic persuasion this was seen as a major achievement of the labour movement as it extended citizenship rights, opened up avenues for political participation and increased economic security for a greater number of people than ever before. This has, in turn, led to a widening of the parameters of politics.

It is believed that we have witnessed a 'silent revolution' in Western societies which has given rise to the emergence of social movements that articulate what Inglehart (1977) has termed 'post-material' values. These movements are no longer concerned with 'old' issues such as material well-being and political inclusion but are of a cultural nature and oriented about struggles over the meaning and quality of life. It is a fundamental assumption of NSM theory that these new movements build upon the accomplishments of past movements (read, the labour movement) and thus emerge in a world where there is a surplus of resources, opportunities and choices (see Martin, 1998: 742).

NSM theory is also premised on a version of Habermas' notion of 'the colonisation of the life-world'. Put simply, this theory posits that our daily lives are subject increasingly to bureaucratic rules and procedures and that NSMs emerge to resist this intrusion. For Habermas, conflicts in advanced Western societies now deviate from the welfare state pattern of institutionalised conflict over distribution. They are no longer a matter of material reproduction and are not channeled through political parties nor integrated into the system. Instead, they are manifest in extra-institutional forms of protest and are the result of the erosion of communicative spheres of action.

The question is not one of compensations that the welfare state can provide. Rather, the question is how to defend or reinstate endangered life styles, or how to put reformed life styles into practice. In short, the new conflicts are not sparked off by problems of distribution, but concern the grammar of forms of life. (Habermas, 1981: 33)

Habermas argues that the new conflicts arise at the seam between the system and the life-world (Habermas, 1981: 36). He shows, for instance, how clients' relation to public services is being restructured according to the participatory model of the self-help organisation. According to theoreticians, this should produce an informal sector that is not geared towards profit and which will counter the party system with new forms of democracy and expressive politics (Habermas, 1981: 36-37).

Barry Adam's (1993: 321) syncretic account of the origins of the NSMs points to the influence of Habermas showing how his portrayal of them as essentially defensive is widely endorsed by NSM theorists. He also shows how this defense is levelled against the gradual encroachment of the system into everyday life. Thus, the way in which various crises of advanced capitalist societies have been 'managed' by the modern Keynesian state through the ossification of electoral and party systems, combined with the bureaucratisation of trade unions has displaced political activity onto new sites which are subject to the 'monetarisation and bureaucratisation of the spheres of action of employees and of consumers, or citizens and of clients of state bureaucracies' (Habermas, 1987: 386).

Touraine (1981), too, builds his theory of NSMs on a version of 'inner colonisation'. He argues that society is dominated by a central conflict between two warring classes. In industrial society this consisted in the conflict between captial and labour. However, we are now living in the transition from industrial to post-industrial society; or what he calls a 'programmed society'. In other words, society is no longer dominated by economic or material conflict but, with the proliferation of micro-electronics, biomedical technologies and the mass media more and more areas of everyday life are being opened up to bureaucratic or 'technocratic' control. For Touraine, NSMs attempt to resist this systemic invasion. Therefore, the stakes of these new struggles are self-management against technocratic control. Although Touraine believes that no one social movement presently exists that is capable of challenging this technocratic management he hopes that by deploying his method of 'sociological intervention' he and his team of researchers will help movement actors realise this goal.

While Melucci's (1992) method of engaging in movement activity resembles Touraine's interventionist approach and his arguments are also based on a version of internal colonisation, his other ideas are somewhat different. For instance, he does not wish to discover the central movement of post-industrial society (Melucci, 1989: 80). He also argues that NSMs are identity-based rather than class-based. Consequently, they are not made up of a homogeneous group of people who share the same social location. Rather, they are heterogeneous and consist of a plurality of meanings and orientations (Melucci, 1985: 794). The challenge for Melucci is how social movements achieve unity in the face of this diversity. However, he is also concerned with why NSMs have emerged in Western societies. A number of social movement scholars have tried to synthesise American and European approaches (Klandermans and Tarrow, 1988; Tarrow, 1991; Canel, 1992) but, in my view, it is Melucci who has provided the most successful and influential attempt to go beyond the dualism that pervades social movement studies whereby RMT focuses on how movements achieve organisation and, in turn, realise their goals and a largely European tradition focuses on why movements emerge in the first place.

Like Touraine, Melucci believes that we now live in a society that is very different from industrial society. He argues that we live in 'complex society' where material production is increasingly replaced by the production of signs, symbols and social relations (Melucci, 1989: 45). Contemporary social movements are correspondingly heterogeneous, fragile and complex (Bartholomew and Mayer, 1992: 142). Moreover, they pose symbolic challenges to the dominating logic of the system. They do this at a subterranean level or at the level of everyday life. In this way, movements act as 'cultural laboratories' (Melucci, 1989: 60) where experiments in alternative ways of living are carried out. By living out alternative lifestyles, movement actors ask us to recognise and accept their right to be different and thereby expose the homogenising logic of the system. Thus, in a world where power is increasingly masked by operational codes, formal rules and bureaucratic procedures contemporary movements 'act as "revealers" by exposing that which is hidden or excluded by the decision-making process' (Melucci, 1989: 175). In other words, they make power visible by exposing the dominant operational logic of the bureaucratic/technocratic system. And, they do so by practicing alternative lifestyles which overturn dominant cultural codes. It is this that represents the symbolic challenge.

For Melucci, then, it is through their culture or organisational form that social movements communicate to the rest of society the possibility of difference. This is summed up in the maxim, 'the medium is the message' (Melucci, 1984: 830). It is for this reason that building a collective identity is so important as it enables movements to communicate a coherent message. This is no mean feat, however. In order to study social movements this way Melucci adopts a constructivist approach which analyses the processes involved in the formation of a collective identity (see Melucci, 1995). He believes that the conflicts and tensions that are inherent in social movements will only be resolved if the individuals and groups that constitute them interact with one another in order to resolve these problems. Only by solving these problems will movements be able to form a collective identity. Not unlike Touraine, Melucci sees it as the job of the researcher to get involved in this process by employing focus groups and other such techniques. He has, however, developed a sensitive research methodology and is especially careful to avoid the missionary role that is often assumed by social movement researchers (see Melucci, 1996: ch. 20).

A final key area of concern for Melucci, as well as for others with an interest in social movements, revolves around the concept of autonomy. Giddens (1991: 155) argues that social movements must always be connected to 'institutionally immanent possibilities'. Or, in other words, they must have some recourse to the wider political system. This is also so for Melucci, who states that successful mediation provides the yardstick for measuring democracy. However, he argues that the demands of contemporary movements also 'exist beyond political mediation and independently of its results' (Melucci, 1996: 216). This view is echoed in his earlier work since the democratisation of everyday life is signalled by the recognition and acceptance of difference through the establishment of autonomous social movements:

A new political space is designed beyond the traditional distinction between state and "civil society": an intermediate public space, whose function is not to institutionalise the movements nor to transform them into parties, but to make society hear their messages and translate these messages into political decision making, while the movements maintain their autonomy. (Melucci, 1985: 815)

There are clear similarities between the work of Melucci and Habermas, here. Indeed, Melucci, like Habermas, addresses the issue of overintrusive state intervention which may trigger off either a defensive reaction or an action that denounces deficiencies in the welfare system, or a combination of the two. Thus, where public welfare policies are regarded as being both deficient and intrusive a resistant form of communitarianism may emerge which increases opportunities for participation, allows people to express their membership of and sense of belonging to a civil community, and is designed to offset the shortcomings of the welfare system (Melucci, 1996: 168-169).

Criticisms of New Social Movement Theory

Before I show how social movement theory may be applied to current debates about welfare and social policy I wish to outline two principal criticisms of NSM theory both of which will be relevant to this discussion. The first criticism relates to what Steinmetz (1994: 179) has identified as the small academic cottage industry that has grown up around the project of proving that the NSMs are not really new at all. Employing historical analyses these social scientists provide examples of past movements that resemble the 'new' movements. Calhoun (1994: 22-24) argues that it is fallacious to talk of the women's movement as a NSM because it has a long and deep-rooted history, stretching back at least two hundred years. Moreover, he claims that the novel features of NSMs are features of all movements in their nascent period (Calhoun, 1995: 174). That is, before they undergo institutionalisation, incorporation and so on all movements have radical grassroots organisation and appear distrustful of established political actors.

Calhoun also shows how the 19th and early 20th century working-class movement was more multidimensional than NSM theorists such as Melucci care to acknowledge. It was not 'just one collective actor in a single social drama' (Calhoun, 1995: 179), he argues. There was not only mobilisation over wages but also over women and children working, community life, the status of immigrants, education and access to public services. In this sense, Melucci does not heed his own critique of social movement analysts who treat collective action as a 'unitary empirical datum' (Melucci, 1988: 330). Tucker (1991) argues a similar point to Calhoun, showing how the formation of a shared cultural identity related to autonomy in the work place and possession of skill was one of the central goals of French syndicalism during the 19th century.

Secondly, analysts have argued that some contemporary social movements seem more 'old' than they do 'new'. In other words, they are not so much concerned with post-material struggles over the quality of life as with 'traditional' issues such as material distribution, political opposition and citzenship rights. Tom Shakespeare (1993: 258-259) has argued that the disability movement is one such movement that is still concerned with liberation rather than with post-material issues. He shows how, along with women and black people, disabled people are concerned with the continuing inequalities that exist in access to politcal and economic power (see also Fagan and Lee, 1997: 158).

Importantly, though, a variety of movements have sprung up as a reaction to economic and social restructuring processes born out of a crisis in the post-war growth model. For these movements, the quality of life has not so much to do with noise pollution and traffic congestion as with survival (see Mayer, 1991). Consequently, they 'reflect and develop their collective identity around unemployment, homelessness or similar newly relevant survival issues' (Bartholomew and Mayer, 1992: 150). Therefore, research must focus on this section of the contemporary movement scene along with the more 'privileged' sector which NSM theorists tend to confine their analyses to.

Critics expounding this view argue that we are now witnessing a shift, not only from instrustrial to post-industrial society, but from Fordism to post-Fordism. Although it has a number of variants (see Bagguley, 1991) scholars working within the field of social movements usually come from the 'regulation school' of post-Fordism. This is because movements are believed to play a role in the transformation and regulation of the social system. Regulation theory stipulates that each historical bloc comprises two essential elements: a regime of accumulation and a mode of regulation. The first refers to the way in which capital is accumulated and the second relates to the various institutional forms, social relations and forces necessary to secure this. For instance, under Fordism, the state intervened to enforce the technical conditions of profitable production and to meet the 'social prerequisites' for capitalist production such as a workers' skills and family structures. A Keynesian form of the state was thus 'a necessary counterpart of the Fordist form of intensive accumulation' (Hirsch, 1988: 48). The development of corporatist relations also heralded the labour movement's involvement in stabilising the mode of regulation through trade unionism.

Although the subject of much speculation, it is argued that a new regime of accumulation is emerging some of the principal features of which include an escalation in the intensity of international competition through processes of globalisation, increased flexibility and casualisation of labour which is polarising the workforce (and out-of-workforce), and fiscal crises leading to retrenchment. In Britain, attempts to resolve the 'crisis of Fordism' elicited a neo-liberal response via Thatcherism. Indeed, the political response of many Western governments was to adopt monetarist policies designed to 'streamline' the welfare state which amounted to a reversal of many of the labour movement's earlier achievements (see Turner, 1986: 104-105). This has meant that a growing number of 'marginalised groups are no longer socially incorporated in the traditional (i.e., welfare state) ways' (Mayer, 1991: 109). The question thus becomes what relevance does post-Fordism have for social policy and, more importantly, what role do social movements now play in welfare?

It has been argued that post-Fordism is not sensitive to welfare. This because it overemphasises capital accumulation and focuses exclusively on social class. It thus ignores other social relations, such as gender and 'race', which constituted vital elements in the construction of Fordism and are now equally important as we move towards a post-Fordist welfare state (Williams, 1994; Carter and Rayner, 1996). However, of the post-Fordist explanations, regulation theory is best positioned vis-à-vis the role of welfare and social policy because it offers a holistic account of change which sets out the relationships between economic accumulation, the state and social formations (Carter and Rayner, 1996: 350-351, Penna and O'Brien, 1996: 47). In this way, it is able to consider not only the part that social movements might play in generating a new mode of regulation but also what shape welfare may take. It is also capable of examining the contribution made by social movements to welfare provision and social policy albeit that this would, in the final analysis, be limited to servicing the needs of capital accumulation.

One problem that derives from this economic determinism inherent in regulation theory relates to its functionalism and the teleology that bedevils this form of explanation. According to this formulation, then, it would seem that social movements inevitably become incorporated or normalised into a mode of regulation. Thus, there is no room for the autonomous social movements that Melucci and Habermas talk about. A possible solution to this problem comes from within the regulation school itself. Mayer and Roth (1995: 311) point to the contradictory nature of NSMs showing how in highlighting the costs of Fordism they also contributed to its crisis. However, they do not think the activity of these movements will end in their mere incorporation. Rather, future analyses of social movements must focus on their ambivalent development, showing how they challenge as well as contribute to new forms of regulation and a new regime of accumulation (Bartholomew and Mayer, 1992: 157; Mayer and Roth, 1995: 314). Research from Germany, for instance, shows how the crisis of the bureaucratic welfare state, which necessitates a more flexible approach to welfare provision, has led local governments to draw upon the innovations of NSMs by, for instance, co-opting self-help programs and workers' collectives (Mayer, 1991: 121; Mayer and Roth, 1995: 312).

Social Movements and Social Policy

Over recent years the concept of 'social movement' has seeped into the discipline of social policy. For instance, Ellison and Pierson's (1998) excellent treatment of developments in British social policy includes three chapters on the subject where gender (Pascall, 1998), 'race' (Solomos, 1998) and ecology (Barry, 1998) movements' relation to social policies are assessed. Similarly, Langan (1998: 14-16) regards NSMs as part of a wide-ranging radical critique that emerged in the 1970s around the welfare's state incapacity to provide for the growing needs of a diverse society. One significant element of this critique was the emergence of a variety of self-help organisations whose aim it was to articulate specific welfare demands and to express dissatisfaction with existing services. Langan argues that the most coherent and comprehensive challenge came from the women's movement which 'demanded extensive reforms to make welfare services more responsive to women's needs' (Langan, 1998: 15).

These forces challenged the welfare state as reproducing the forms of inequality and oppression of the wider society. They exposed the universalist propositions of welfare provision as incapable of meeting the needs of different social groups. From a proposition that recognised inequalities among groups, activists from these movements identified the welfare provision as having a key role in replicating disadvantage and discrimination. (Langan, 1998: 15)

Langan says that the disability movement has pursued a similar approach. Indeed, it is the disability movement that has attracted most attention within social policy circles and is frequently referred to as a NSM. This characterisation of the disability movement seems to have originated in the work of Paul Oliver (1990) who regards it as a NSM because it is internationalist; it aims at empowerment, consciousness raising and offers a critical evaluation of society; and it is located on the periphery of the traditional political system (Oliver, 1990: ch. 8; Campbell and Oliver, 1996: ch. 9). Crucially, he argues that the movement is also post-materialist because it is concerned with the quality of life of disabled people. However, he goes on to say that issues of material deprivation and social disadvantage, which are still pertinent to many disabled people, are also central to the movement (Oliver, 1990: 122). To me, this seems similar to Shakespeare's argument which I set out above. For, while he is critical of Oliver, he does show how some features of the so-called new movements may be related to the disability movement. Ideas about autonomy and independent living, for instance (Shakespeare, 1993: 261).

In a more recent account, Hughes (1998: 80-83) also discusses the disability movement in terms of it being a NSM. However, his portrayal of it seems quite unlike the NSMs that are studied by Melucci and other analysts. Hughes argues that disabled people are 'socially, politically and legally oppressed' and are involved in 'concrete struggles both to change the law and use law to overcome discrimination in areas of social policy, such as employment, welfare rights and housing' (Hughes, 1998: 80). This appears not to fit the idea of NSMs which are involved in post-material struggles, symbolic challenges and aschew traditional politics and other conventional forms of mediation.

I do not wish to become embroiled in a discussion specifically about the disability movement and whether it is new or not, suffice it to say that it appears to contain both traditional and novel elements. What I will say, however, is that it is not only the social movements themselves that appear complex but there also seems to be some confusion within the field of social policy, apropos the disability movement, regarding the nature of NSMs and debates surrounding their 'newness'. One exception, though, can be found in the work of Fagan and Lee (1997) who use the case of the disability movement to show how relevant social movement theory is to social policy. Although their analysis has its limits, it is not hard to see how NSM theory in particular might be applied successfully to the disability movement.

For instance, the profuse fragmentation and diversity that they see as characteristic of the movement could be addressed through use of Melucci's contructivist framework as the formation of a collective identity will enable a movement of disabled people to become autonomous and have a common voice. It is also clear that the disability movement has distinctly 'old' characteristics. Fagan and Lee show how while a change in consciousness is needed in order to overcome deep institutional discrimination against disabled people, the disability movement's concern with anti-discrimination legislation suggests that it is also 'the latest manifestation of a very old social movement aimed at securing an equal opportunity for all to participate fully in society through their status as equal citizens' (Fagan and Lee, 1997: 160).

Fagan and Lee's piece also represents a more general attempt to connect NSM theory with the development of a 'critical' social policy. They argue that the NSMs had little impact upon welfare discources prior to the late seventies because social policy was still confined within a conservative Fabian framework (Fagan and Lee, 1997: 143). Moreover, conventional analyses focused on the struggles of the labour movement to influence welfare policy for male workers (Fagan and Lee, 1997: 140-141). More recent radical scholarship, however, has shown how the policies formed on the back of the successes of the labour movement were 'built on a white, male, able-bodied, heterosexual norm' (Williams, 1992: 206) and they thus militated against the interests of women, various ethnic groups, disabled people, and lesbians and gay men. Fagan and Lee (1997: 146) propose that to understand the part NSMs might play in social policy formation it is necessary to consider the role that the politics of advocacy plays in contemporary welfare struggles.

A critical social policy has thus emerged to examine how a 'voice' might be given to those on society's margins or regarded as 'Other'. Postmodernist ideas about identity, diversity and difference are integral to this project but so, too, is a concern with structural inequalities and the distribution of material resources. In this way, a critical social policy fuses the issues that are central to NSM theory to those that are the traditional focus of social policy. Debate has begun about how to reconstruct the 'false universalism' (Williams, 1997: 273) of the post-war welfare settlement in ways which retain notions of equality and fairness yet recognise diversity and difference in providing welfare services. Fagan and Lee (1997: 147), for instance, argue that 'new welfare movements' are concerned with resource allocation but also pose important questions about how resources are to be distributed fairly to a diverse set of groups. These movements, then, could be regarded as 'new' because they are oriented to different lifestyles and identities but are 'old', in that, they have still to do with traditional concerns over welfare provision. Above all they are 'new' because they 'provoke in a heightened form questions that are central to the development of a critical social policy and the role of NSMs therein' (Fagan and Lee, 1997: 148, my emphasis).

It is not only social movements that have challenged the discipline of social policy but also, as suggested above, postmodern thinking which itself was spawned, in part, by social movements such as feminism (Hillyard and Watson, 1996: 331-2). Postmodernism has provoked a great deal of controversy in social policy (see Taylor-Gooby, 1994; Hillyard and Watson, 1996; Penna and O'Brien, 1996). While scholars in sociology and other disciplines have acquitted themselves to understanding postmodern thought, the social policy community has generally been reluctant to consider what possible benefit, if any, postmodernism might have for social policy (Hillyard and Watson, 1996: 321). What postmodernism does do is challenge the modernist roots of social policy by questioning the normative role of the expert, a linear view of progress and universalism (Hillyard and Watson, 1996: 324; Penna and O'Brien, 1996: 42). It has also enabled those working in the field to transcend binary oppositions (Hillyard and Watson, 1996: 333; O'Brien and Penna, 1998: 124) and think in more complex ways which recognise not only the drawbacks of postmodernism but the potential it may offer in theorising welfare.

Thus, by adopting postmodern ways of thinking certain scholars in social policy have been able to incorporate notions of identity, diversity, difference and so forth into their analyses. However, they have retained a concern for the redistribution of material resources, structural inequalities and so on. In this sense, a 'critical' social policy may be said to have the best of both worlds. In sociology, on the other hand, NSM theorists appears to have little regard for inequality and the material conditions of people's existence, seeming more interested in the cultural and symbolic realms of society. And, it is only the post-Fordist critique that serves to temper this. The main problem with this approach, though, is that it suffers from the converse problem; that of economic reductionism (Bagguley, 1992: 28; Williams, 1994: 56). I will to return to these issues in the conclusion but wish now to turn to the work of Fiona Williams who, along with other critical sholars, believes that heeding the voices of those who are marginalised will help us develop a new and dynamic approach to social policy and welfare.

The New Politics of Welfare

Fiona Williams has probably gone furthest in providing an account of welfare and social policy that includes a central role for social movements. Indeed, it is her argument that social movements have been instrumental in bringing about changes in welfare provision through, for instance, self-help and consumer-led groups which challenge the old welfare order. They have thus contributed to the emergence of the active welfare subject as opposed to the passive recipient of benefit (see Williams, 1999: 683). She also acknowledges that wider social, economic and political transformations, such as post-Fordism and postmodernity, have had a direct effect upon welfare which, in turn, is becoming subject to patterns of fragmentation, change and uncertainty as well as complexity and contradition (Williams, 1992). While noting that postmodern thinking appears antithetical to the traditional subject-matter of social policy (which focuses on material conditions and the inequalities that these produce and is concerned with collective forms of provision to meet need) she nevertheless integrates it successfully into her analysis (Williams, 1992: 208).

Williams distinguishes traditional 'top-down' approaches to provision, such as selectivity and targetting, from 'bottom-up' approaches articulated by user movements which emphasise diversity but, at the same time, seek to resist inequalities. For Williams, using the notion of 'diversity' makes it possible for us to see people as defining, determining and expressing their own needs (Williams, 1992: 209). However, it is essential we recognise too that diversity is structured, that is, 'how far the structured conditions of people's existence create these forms of diversity' (Williams, 1992: 208, my emphasis). Thus, the individudal consumer of welfare is not simply free to choose but is someone whose needs and choices are constituted as well as articulated through a plurality of divisions and differences (e.g. class, gender, 'race' and age) that interact with one another in a dynamic relationship (Williams, 1992: 214). The key, for Williams, is how to translate into policy terms a universal service provision that is also capable of meeting diverse and differentiated needs (cf. Young, 1987). For her, the answer may lie in what she terms 'new social welfare movements' which comprise a huge array of groups expressing specific needs collectively (from HIV+ groups to reproductive rights groups), but which are united by a concern with 'the nitty-gritty of empowerment, representation, and ensuring the quality and accountability of user-centred provision' (Williams, 1992: 216).

This concern for the nitty-gritty of policy and provision brings us back to the issue of material conditions and the problem that this poses for the development of a critical social policy that includes an account of NSMs. The question thus becomes how can NSM theory be applied to social policy given the latter's ongoing concern with material/distribution issues and the former's concern with a post-materialism which seemingly consigns these issues to the past? Indeed, this is a central problem for Fiona Williams who has developed an approach which privileges issues of identity, autonomy and equal worth while retaining a concern for the allocation of material resources and distribution rights (Williams, 1999: 673).

Using 'a politics of recognition' developed by Taylor (1994), Fraser (1995) and Honneth (1996) she shows how the NSMs are about struggles for recognition or equal moral worth which, if it is to be sustained, must be mutual, relational and dialogic. Quoting Honneth, Williams argues that these struggles over moral worth move beyond 'interests' based on objective inequalities and the distribution of material opportunities and into 'the web of moral feelings' (Honneth, 1996: 161). There is a caveat, however. That is, recognition struggles comprise the politics of redistribution and recognition (see Fraser, 1995). In Britain, welfare struggles 'demonstrate par excellence that struggles for recognition almost inevitably involve some aspect of redistribution' (Williams, 1999: 675). For example, migrants' struggles around health care, education, community and social care, 'were about claiming cultural respect as well as the redistribution of rights and goods' (Williams, 1999: 681, my emphasis).

Central to Williams' version of active citizenship are social movements which give 'voice' to the users of welfare services and are thus involved in the democratisation of the provider-user relationship (Williams, 1999: 683). This, however, depends upon a radical, pluralist notion of democracy which can both account for and address the competing claims of different groups. Williams proposes that this could be called the politics of differentiated universalism which entails 'developing solidarities based on the respect of difference' or in 'the pursuit of unity in dialogues of difference' (Williams, 1999: 684). This mutual respect of worth and tolerance of diversity must not and, indeed, cannot stand alone because such a politics also has to involve the redistribution of goods:

If groups simply pursue the politics of recognition without addressing socioeconomic inequalities, then they will win social justice for some in their group, but not for other. On the other hand, the singular pursuit of issues of economic inequality can render invisible cultural injustices which render some groups more vulnerable to economic exploitation. (Williams, 1999: 684)

There are stark similarities, here, between Fiona Williams' work on the politics of recognition and Melucci's own work in this area. Melucci argues that a movement's collective identity cannot be seen simply in terms of its self-identification as a collective actor must also achieve social recognition within and as part of a wider external environment. He refers to this as 'the relational dimension of collective identity' (Melucci, 1995: 47-48). Thus, the unity of collective action that is produced and sustained by processes of self-identification 'rests on the ability of a movement to locate itself within a system of relations' (Melucci, 1995: 47). So, Melucci argues that a collective actor cannot construct its identity in a vaccuum. It needs in some way to be recognised by other social and political actors. This recognition may take a number of forms ranging from acceptance, denial or even repression (see Ellison and Martin, 2000). Social policy, then, must examine what happens when mutual respect is not accorded social movements who make claims around welfare needs as well as when it is. It must also explore possible ways of overcoming this. (Endnote on CAVA, Strand 5 - see Williams 1999: 685, note 1).

There are also parallels between Williams' proposition that the structured conditions of people's existence creates diversity and the arguments of some critics of NSM theory. Bartholomew and Mayer (1992: 147) seem to agree, claiming that issues of power and inequality ought not to be too readily discarded in favour of a more Foucauldian approach in which power relations are seen as ubiquitous. For this reason, they are critical of Melucci's conception of 'complex society' as it emphasises pluralised choices and new opportunities which negates an 'understanding of the field as structured by relations of hierarchy and unequal power' (Bartholomew and Mayer, 1992: 148). Both approaches therefore sound a cautionary note. Not only must the dangers of presenting overly voluntaristic accounts be avoided. We must also make sure that the concept of 'diversity' is not decoupled from that of 'inequality' but, instead, connected to it.

While Fagan and Lee proffer a wholly adequate account of NSMs and social policy, it is the work of Fiona Williams that bridges the gap between NSM theory and the post-Fordist criticisms of it. This is because she 'joins up' the material and the cultural, the historical and the contemporary and reconciles the notion of inequality with that of diversity. These arguments ought to be taken seriously as they provide a powerful antidote to the malady that has plagued NSM theory since its inception, namely the questionable novelty of NSMs. It does this by demonstrating that contemporary welfare movements are concerned with structural inequalities which are emergent and/or entrenched and by suggesting that for some groups cultural oppression is just as important as economic hardship (cf. Penna and O'Brien, 1996: 58). Future studies may also profit by considering whether social movements that are ostensibly 'new' raise welfare issues or have implications for social policy. Work has already begun in this area showing how that most lauded of all NSMs, the green movement, expresses an ecological critique of social welfare (see Barry, 1998; Fitzpatrick, 1998).


A discussion of NSM theory, welfare and social policy raises a number of points. The first relates the 'success' of social movements which can be defined in any number of ways. For Eyerman and Jamison (1991: 63), social movements are successful if the ideas and knowledge that they generate are absorbed into political and social processes. For others, like Melucci, a movement is deemed successful if it manages to retain its autonomy and thereby assert its difference. Still for others, such as Alan Scott (1990: 10), the normalisation of previously excluded demands is the telos of movement activity. RMT is different again. As I showed above success, here, is defined in terms of the effective organisation of resources.

Traditionally, social policy has been concerned with the ways in which the labour movement as well as other welfare groups and organisations have achieved political inclusion, material redistribution and legislative change. However, a critical social policy recognises the flaws in the Keynesian model of universal provision which acted effectively to exclude those who did not fit the white, abled-bodied male breadwinner norm. In short, it recognises the diversity of the welfare subject (past and present) and is concerned to show how differences might be respected and autonomy gained by listening to the collective expressions of people's welfare needs. It is in this way that NSM theory in particular could contribute to a better understanding of these issues in social policy. Melucci's processual account of how a collective identity is formed might also be worth close inspection. Unlike NSM theory, though, a critical social policy asks us to take the material dimension of social movements as seriously as the cultural dimension.

Therefore, a fruitful way to examine issues concerning social movements in social policy might come prima facie from those critics of NSM theory who offer a post-Fordist analysis which emphasises political economy, material relations, power and inequality. Certainly, such an analysis of contemporary restructuring is highly compelling and ought to be taken seriously. Social movement theorists have already offered incisive accounts of how movements might interact with others institutions (such as the welfare state) in a post-Fordist mode of regulation. An account of social movements and social policy must consider this too. However, as I showed above, the post-Fordist approach tends only to focus on class and is prone to economic reductionism. These are problems related to the fact that Fordism and post-Fordism are ideal-types and are thus not exemplified in reality. So, while a social policy of social movements ought to consider post-Fordist arguments it would be treacherous to embrace post-Fordism wholeheartedly since this would be like replacing one form of universalism with another. Melucci himself has also answered his post-Fordist critics arguing that while their analyses certainly do contribute towards a better knowledge of new forms of domination they are nevertheless imprisoned by old categories and their obstinate aderence to 'post' notions. This hinders the development of new understandings which Melucci himself has tried to bring about with his working notions of complex society and information society (Melucci, 1996: 90).

This brings us to a further point. One of the biggest obstacles to creating a synergy between social movement theory and social policy concerns the deabte surrounding the novelty of NSMs that has dogged social movement theory and factionalised the field. In my view, the problem arises from the fact that much of the work into NSMs is predicated on a crude post-materialism derived from Inglehart (1977) who drew on Maslow's (1970) idea that there exist hierarchies of human motivation. The thesis proposes that when one set of needs has been met people move on to another level of needs and desires (Byrne, 1997: 54). Thus, people move from having material values to adopt post-material values. This has given rise to an either/or attitude within social movement studies. Movements are either materialist or post-materialist, political or cultural (see Bartholomew and Mayer, 1992). What is needed, then, is an approach which does not regard these terms as mutually exclusive but instead recognises that they necessarily coexist, albeit to varying degrees, within any one movement. It is my argument that investigations in NSM theory ought to acknowledge this possibility.

Finally, there are a number of movements on the contemporary scene that are involved in ongoing struggles over distribution and structural inequality. There are also movements concerned with newly relevant survival issues. However, if social policy is to develop a systematic approach to the study of social movements, as this paper suggests, it should consider movements that raise traditional issues in a heightened form, to use Fagan and Lee's (1997: 148) terminology. That is, movements whose social policy goals are refracted through the new possibilities that flow from the emergence of postmodernism and identity politics. While NSM theory can analyse the politics of identity, a critical social policy can show how this might include a politics of welfare too.