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date: 28 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines political science’s most important contributions to the study of social movements by tracing broader research traditions back to the founding fathers of the social sciences such as James Madison, Karl Marx, Karl Polanyi, Max Weber, and Alexis de Tocqueville. After providing an overview of these different research traditions, the article considers the Marxist view that social movements fight capitalism; the Weberians’ argument that movements are shaped by institutionalized power in the form of the modern state; the Polanyi supporters’ insistence that movements are a regulatory reaction to capitalist expansion; and the notion, based on Tocqueville’s belief, that such movements are the collective expression of individual political action reflecting unequally distributed resources within the population. Finally, it assesses how these ideas fare in the twenty-first century, with emphasis on how the political economy of late capitalism is gaining ground once again in social movement research.

Keywords: political science, social movements, James Madison, Karl Marx, Karl Polanyi, Max Weber, Alexis de Tocqueville, capitalism, democracy, social movement research

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