New Social Movement Theory (NSMT) emerged as a response to the traditional Marxist approach to social movements. NSMT emphasizes the cultural and symbolic aspects of social movements, rather than just their economic and political dimensions.
However, despite its popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, NSMT has been critiqued for various reasons. In this article, we will explore some of the primary criticisms of NSMT.
One of the primary criticisms of NSMT is its essentialism. Essentialism refers to the assumption that all members of a particular social group share common characteristics or experiences.
In other words, essentialism assumes that there is a fixed identity or essence that defines a particular social group. Critics argue that NSMT essentializes social movements by assuming that all members of a movement share similar cultural or symbolic values.
Example: For instance, NSMT assumes that all feminists share common values such as gender equality and reproductive rights. However, this assumption ignores the diversity within feminist movements and overlooks other issues that feminists may be concerned with.
2. Political Impotence
Another criticism of NSMT is its political impotence. Critics argue that by focusing on cultural and symbolic aspects of social movements, NSMT neglects their political goals and objectives. According to these critics, NSMT fails to address the structural inequalities and power relations that underlie social movements.
Example: For instance, NSMT may emphasize symbolic protests such as sit-ins or demonstrations but ignore issues such as poverty or discrimination which require political action such as policy changes or legal reform.
3. Middle-Class Bias
NSMT has also been criticized for its middle-class bias. Critics argue that NSMT assumes that social movements are primarily driven by middle-class activists who have access to education and resources to engage in cultural and symbolic activities.
Example: For instance, NSMT may assume that environmental movements are primarily driven by middle-class activists who have the time and resources to engage in symbolic protests such as tree-sitting or graffiti art. However, this assumption ignores the role of working-class communities who may be disproportionately affected by environmental issues but lack the resources to engage in symbolic protests.
4. Neglect of Intersectionality
Finally, NSMT has been criticized for neglecting intersectionality. Intersectionality refers to the interconnectedness of social categories such as race, gender, sexuality, and class. Critics argue that NSMT tends to focus on one aspect of identity while ignoring others.
Example: For instance, NSMT may focus on the cultural and symbolic aspects of feminist movements but ignore the ways in which race or ethnicity intersect with gender to shape experiences of oppression.
In conclusion, NSMT has been critiqued for its essentialism, political impotence, middle-class bias, and neglect of intersectionality. These criticisms highlight the need for a more nuanced approach to social movements that considers their diverse goals, objectives, and constituents. While NSMT has contributed significantly to our understanding of social movements as cultural and symbolic phenomena, it is important to recognize its limitations and move towards a more inclusive approach that considers multiple dimensions of identity and power.