Reconsidering Morality and Social Movements

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Normativity is an equivocal concept on which to inquire about social movements. It is ambiguous because it suggests a system of behavior and at the same time implies, without being explicit, a system of collective valuation established by narratives and motivational discourses. Scholars argue that bases of action are value systems in the form of narratives. Hence, moral rules and norms are deduced from these value systems (Corbí, 2016), and for this reason, moral regulations can not be considered as the foundations of collective action and motivation. Although, it could be claimed that the start of the movement can be related to injustices and grievances that have a moral component, including the judgements of what is right and wrong (Tilly, 1978), for movements to be operative as a valued option, they will need to be rationally based. However, this would be insufficient if an alternative axiological system has not been established through an axiologizing narrative. The complaints and injustices point to the value systems to solve those grievances and injustices, implanted by narratives and supported by reason (Corbí, 2016). The three original analytical dimensions developed by Tilly (1978), to study different aspects of social movements, are still functional in an expanded form. Specifically, in relation to the study of ideas and beliefs that unify the group, current social movement theory includes among others values, ideologies, frames and goals. Particularly, the framing approaches, the New Social Movements Theory, and collective identity, are core to current social movement theory (Baumgarten et al. 2014). Generally scholars that consider the study of culture as a key element to understand social movements have studied the use of narratives and storytelling. Most of the times, narratives are argued as key in solving specific issues, among others, to sustain collective action (Armstrong and Crage, 2006; Viterna, 2013; Steinberg and Ewick 2013), to resist repression (Owens, 2009), to enlist support (Mische, 2003), to legitimize violence (Fine, 1999), and to discredit countermovements (Crowley, 2009). Complementing these cognitive focus, narratives have been argued to play a central role in developing movement identity (Melluci, 1989,1996) by means of the interplay of cognitive, relational and emotional identity dimensions (Daphi, 2017). Thus, movement identity approaches portray the role of narratives beyond the construction of convincing arguments. These perspectives are interested in understanding how qualitative aspects are communicated in narratives and how these constitute collectives. Some advancement has been made, for example showing how the use of shared experience in the form of group memories plays a central role in group identity (Daphi, 2017). Reconsidering morality in social movements leads us to enquire about those narratives able to mobilise collectives, and to discern which constant structure those narratives share. Understanding those structures will allow for the design of narratives able to create systems of motivation and cohesion. The study of these narratives needs to be broader than simply including the cognitive dimension of human understanding, giving reasons, but need motivate the qualitative dimension of human interpretation. Thus enquiring about the qualitative formality of mobilising narratives is also central in understanding their mobilising power. Finally, there has to be a relationship between the operational objectives of collectives and their systems of cohesion and motivation, and therefore a relationship between their operations, their mobilising narratives, and then the deduced systems of values, principles and norms. All these aspects need to be reconsidered to contribute to the understanding of value systems and norms in social movements.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2019
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventMovements and Morality - Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark
Duration: 28 May 201928 May 2019


ConferenceMovements and Morality
LocationCopenhagen Business School
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