Towards a Western European “Social Movement Society”? An Assessment: 1981–2009


Abstract


Some social movements scholars argue that contemporary democracies are becoming “social movements societies”: citizens are often mobilized to make claims; protest actions are progressively becoming part of institutional politics; and protest has diffused to new constituents. In other words, participants in protest activities are more difficult to be identified. This article aims to provide an updated assessment of the “social movement society” thesis in Western Europe, with a focus on the expansion, institutionalization, and, in particular, to the diffusion of political protest to new groups. Using the European Values Study, which spans from 1981 to 2009, it is found that in Western Europe forms of protest are more popular than in the past, that a partial institutionalization has occurred, and that traditionally disengaged individuals protest more compared to the past. However, the process of “normalization” of the political protester has yet to be completed, given that differences in the levels of engagement still exist among social groups.

Keywords: Social movement society; normalization of political protest; political action; Western Europe; multilevel analysis

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