Passionate actors: tension and conflict in the life of social movements

Sarah Maddison, Sean Scalmer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


Conflict in social movements is too often misunderstood as being an indication of a movement’s impending demise rather than as important, reflexive work that allows movements to renew themselves. This paper argues that conflicts in social movements may be more usefully understood as “creative tensions”. These tensions are presented as intrinsic to the work that social movements do, as productive rather than simply negative, and as capable of management rather than transcendence. Seven specific tensions are outlined, namely those between organisation and democracy; expressive and instrumental goals; revolution and reform; counter-publics and the wider public sphere; the local context and the general; unity and difference; and redistribution and recognition. The paper draws from interviews with social-movement activists and from historical research in order to illustrate the form and scope of each tension. It is argued that the management of movement tensions involves a labour of constant negotiation and conflict. It stimulates the assembly of different kinds of collective acts and projects, and thereby shapes the process through which the identity of a social movement is made, remade, and reviewed over time.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTASA 2003 conference proceedings
Subtitle of host publicationnew times, new worlds, new ideas : sociology today and tomorrow : refereed papers
EditorsPeter Corrigan, Margaret Gibson, Gail Hawkes, Eric Livingston, John Scott, Steven Thiele, Gillian Carpenter
Place of PublicationSydney
PublisherAustralian Sociological Association and the University of New England
Number of pages10
ISBN (Print)0646429272
Publication statusPublished - 2003
EventAustralian Sociological Association Conference (2003) - Armidale, NSW
Duration: 4 Dec 20036 Dec 2003


ConferenceAustralian Sociological Association Conference (2003)
CityArmidale, NSW


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