We live in an era of social movements (Dodson 2015). Bottom-up movements and protests have grown in number and size and are organised around issues rather than established political parties and organisations. Occupy Wall Street, for example, is a people-powered movement that fights financial institutions’ and multinational corporations’ power over democratic processes and ensuing economic collapse. In addition, Black Lives Matter is a substantial, people-powered movement that fights white supremacy and racism for the purposes of liberating black lives. Other movements address issues of gender inequality, climate change and refugee crises. In such times, how can we understand social movements and the role they play in catalysing social change? One perspective is that even though we have never been more critically disposed, civic action has become impotent and unable to affect political agendas profoundly. The reason for this, according to Bauman, is that the private sphere has colonised the public sphere, “squeezing out and chasing away everything which cannot be fully, without residue, translated into the vocabulary of private interests and pursuits” (Bauman 2013: 24). This is problematic because private problems are ideally translated into public issues in the public sphere. Insofar as social movements are mere collections of private interests and pursuits, civic action will remain socially and politically ineffective, so the argument goes. Without emancipation, social movements and civil society protests will be mere symbols. Meanwhile, in the background, the unsound, established organisations and governments continue their policies. True societal change, according to this perspective, requires organised and strategic collective action against social structures and policies.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Sociology
Publication statusSubmitted - Jul 2020


  • Social Movements
  • Philantropy
  • Critique
  • Activism
  • Issue politics
  • migration


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