Paradigm Lost? Three Dimensions of Morality and Social Movements

Anders Sevelsted, Jonas Toubøl*

*Corresponding author for this work

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    In this chapter, focusing on the position of the concept of morality, we briefly review the evolution of the field of social movements from the first formulations of the phenomena of protest, mass, and collective action in classical sociology, through the formation of social movement studies as proper field of research in the 1970s, to its contemporary state. We argue that while morality was central to the classical tradition’s understanding of movements, it lost prominence when the field was established, and still today, morality does not receive much attention. There are, of course, notable exceptions like the work of Jeffrey Alexander, Hans Joas, and the new social movement tradition in Europe. Relatively recently, morality has received increasing attention from scholars studying movements from the perspective of culture. We discuss the role of morality in three of the most prominent theories in this tradition, namely, collective identity, frame alignment, and emotion theory. We argue that they all present promising avenues for developing our understanding of morality and movements while we also point to limitations and inadequacies in each theory or the way they have been applied. We then turn to the constructive work of reorganizing the concept of morality’s relationship with civic action and social movement by developing three dimensions of morality that we argue which are of particular relevance to social movements: selves in interaction, rationalization and justification, and culture and tradition. We trace each dimension from its origin in moral philosophy through its formulation in classical sociology and finally into contemporary theories of civic action. Before closing, we reflect on how the different dimensions intersect and can be applied to the analysis of contemporary empirical cases of social movements and political protest.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Power of Morality in Movements : Civic Engagement in Climate Justice, Human Rights, and Democracy
    EditorsAnders Sevelsted, Jonas Toubøl
    Number of pages23
    Place of PublicationCham
    Publication date2023
    ISBN (Print)9783030987978, 9783030988005
    ISBN (Electronic)9783030987985
    Publication statusPublished - 2023
    SeriesNonprofit and Civil Society Studies

    Bibliographical note

    Published online: 08 November 2022.


    • The evolution of social movement studies
    • Dimensions of morality
    • Collective identity
    • Frame alignment theory
    • Emotions
    • Moral philosophy
    • Classical sociology

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