internal dynamics of social movements

wesley hogan, bohdan beitz (
Wed, 12 Mar 1997 06:31:24 -0700

I'm working on a dissertation that focuses on the interior social relations
within the black freedom struggle, student new left, and women's movements
of the 60s and 70s. Most studies I've seen have focused on movement
relations to the broader political culture. WHat I'm trying to look at is
the interior dynamics of these movements and how these dynamics shaped
subsequent actions.

Beginning with civil rights, all of the movements of the period had to
confront the same set of issues: were any means justified in pursuing a
worthy cause? What was a worthy cause? Who would decide if any means were
justified, and how would these decision-makers remain accountable to their

In response to these questions, a critical formulation arose in the civil
rights movement, and in the movements that followed -- something I'm
calling a democratic social ethic. Encompassing candor, compassion, and
respect, this democratic social ethic set a standard for the way people
might treat one another inside these voluntary social formations. In
hindsight, this ethic appears as the interior glue of each movement. My
study is best understood as a history or exploration of how this ethic, and
the democratic social relations it spawned, developed. It seems to me that
the opportunity to infuse this ethic into American political culture as a
whole remains one of the most enduring and least scrutinized legacies of
this period in American history.

While this ethic may have stretched people's understanding of what
democratic practice could be, it seemed to be most of the time more goal
than actual practice. As in the received culture, there were a lot of
social relations that lacked candor, kindness, respect. I think this too
is critical to understanding the dynamics of these movements, and important
for people involved in movements today.

I'm looking for feedback on this quick summary from activists and scholars
of social movements alike. In particular, I'd like to hear from 60s-70s
activists. Thanks

Wesley Hogan

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