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Toward a Class-Cultural Theory of Social Movements: Reinterpreting New Social Movements

Author(s): Fred Rose


Source: Sociological Forum, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Sep., 1997), pp. 461-494
Published by: Springer
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Sociological Forum, Vol. 12, No. 3, 1997

Toward a Class-Cultural Theory of Social


Movements: Reinterpreting New Social
Movements'
Fred Rose2,3

This paper examines the relationship between social class and social
mobilization through reviewing the case of new social movements. The
middle-class membership of new social movements is well documented but
poorly explained by current New Class, New Social Movement, and Cultural
Shift theories. These theories fail to recognize the interdependence between
interests, values, and expressed ideas. Class culture provides an alternative
framework for interpreting the complex relationships between class interests and
consciousness in these movements. Through a comparison of working- and
middle-class cultures, it is proposed that social class orders consciousness and
shapes the interpretation of interests. Class cultures produce distinct class forms
of political and organizational behavior while not defining any particular
content of movement issues or politics. In particular, the middle-class
membership of new social movements is explained by the cultural form of these
movements which is distinctly middle class.
KEY WORDS: new social movements; social movements; working class-politics;
class-politics; class culture.

middle

INTRODUCTION
What is the relationship between social class and social mobilization?
Marx and Engels proposed a simple and compelling but inadequate
'An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the American Sociological Association annual
meeting, New York, August 1996.
2Department of Urban and Environmental Policy, Tufts University, 97 Talbot, Medford, Massachusetts 02155.
3Address correspondence to Fred Rose, 3 McClelland Farm Rd., Deerfield, Massachusetts
01342.
461
0884-8971/97/0900-0461$12.50/0 ? 1997 Plenum Publishing Corporation

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462

Rose

answer to this question in the beginning of The Communist Manifesto


(1848/1948:9):
The historyof all . . . society is the historyof class struggles.. . The modern
bourgeoissociety.. has but establishednew classes,new conditionsof oppression,
new formsof strugglein place of the old ones.

In sum, oppressed classes would mobilize around common conditions


against the power of the dominant class that oppresses them. But observers
of social movements have been asking since 1848 why the working class
has failed consistently to pursue such class-based politics, particularly in
the United States.
The question took a new form with the dramatic expansion of middle-class movements in the 1960s and 1970s. Observers of the "new class"
noted that professionals were more critical of the status quo than the working class on a range of social and foreign policy issues. Some began to ask
whether the professional strata would ultimately challenge the dominance
of the business elite (Gouldner, 1979; Bartley, 1979). As the movements
of that era entered more conventional forms of politics, less was heard of
these theories of middle-class revolt. Furthermore, others challenged New
Class formulations, arguing that the middle class basically plays a conservative role in reinforcing the power of existing elites (Chomsky, 1969;
Goldthorpe, 1982).
This puzzle about the relationship between class and social mobilization reflects a more fundamental debate about the role of social class in
shaping consciousness. Critics ask whether class is a relevant category if it
does not correlate with political behavior or ideas (Horowitz, 1979). In response, Marxists have added increasing levels of complexity to their theories to explain this paradox. The classic solution is that class actors can be
deceived, and objective classes persist despite their members' false consciousness.4 In this view, one's behavior and ideas may be inconsistent with
one's class, although class-based ideas and behavior remain an unrealized
potential. E. P. Thompson (1963) turned this analysis around, proposing
that classes only come into being when they become self conscious of common interests. Classes, defined by consciousness, are "made" through action and historical experiences.
These solutions, I argue, fail because they misunderstand the relationships between interests and consciousness and the role of class in shaping
both. The relationships between class, subjectivity, and social mobilization
are significant but more subtle than usually anticipated. Class does shape
consciousness, but no particular political content can be read from one's
position in the class hierarchy. Classes are not inherently radical, liberal,
4Forcontemporaryversions,see Lukes(1974) and Gaventa(1980).

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conservative, or authoritarian, and advocates of class err by expecting class


to explain too much.5
Conversely, critics are too willing to dismiss the significance of class
because its relationship with behavior and ideas is not simple. Rather, I
propose that social class shapes distinct cultural subsystems that order consciousness, organize perceptions, define priorities, and influence forms of
behavior. The specific content of consciousness emerges through historical
experiences and action within the framework created by class cultures.
Movements reflect the class background of participants even if they do not
explicitly articulate their goals in class terms. This has enormous implications for when and how people from different classes mobilize politically.
Methodologically, this paper develops its theoretical position based on
a critique of existing theory. The following section critically reviews current
class-based and nonclass explanations for the middle-class membership of
new social movements.6 This provides an overview of some ideas about the
relationships between class and social mobilization. These theories fail because they lack a framework for understanding the relationships between
interests, values, and consciousness. I propose such a framework based on
the concept of class culture which allows for a reinterpretation of new social
movements that resolves many of the ambiguities of existing theories.
The class cultural theory developed here draws upon the theoretical
and ethnographic literature of class as well as my own field research. I
conducted in-depth interviews and ethnographic observations of blue-collar
building and metal trades unions and middle-class environmental and peace
organizations in Washington state over a ten month period during 1991.
These were the largest trade union, peace, and environmental organizations
in the state. The working-class membership of the unions offered a clear
contrast with the professional middle-class makeup of the peace and environmental organizations.7
I studied these movement organizations because they were cooperating
within coalitions that crossed class lines. This provided an opportunity to
compare movement differences and to relate these to class experiences as
5Working-class authoritarianism is a recurring theme in social science (Lipset, 1959; Kirscht
and Dillehay, 1967; McKinley, 1964). Others suggest that the lower middle class is inherently
reactionary (Warren, 1967; Mayer, 1975). Some observers suggest that the professional middle
class is inherently radical (Podhoretz, 1979). In contrast, others believe that the new service
class is inherently conservative (Goldthorpe, 1982; Chomsky, 1969). Others have noted that
the class politics of the middle class is ambiguous (Wright, 1985:124-126; Harrington, 1979).
6I borrow the term "new social movement" from the European literature to refer to a host
of post-1960s, largely middle-class movements such as the peace, environmental and feminist
movements. This is a useful shorthand for the subject of this paper; however, I will be critical
of some of the basic tenets of New Social Movement theories.
7The membership of the environmental organization was 86% professional middle class, and
the peace organization was 78% professional middle class based on surveys by the author.

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Rose

observed in the ethnographic research. More details of this research can


be found in Rose (1993).
The observations here are also informed by my own organizing experiences with new social movements, labor unions, and community organizations including several cross-class coalitions. I have organized a peace
and labor coalition for military conversion in Washington state, staffed a
labor-based conversion coalition in New England, and organized a church
and labor organizing project in Massachusetts that includes both workingand middle-class religious congregations. The details of these experiences
and my own research are not cited in this paper because of space limitations. Rather I draw on documented research describing class cultures that
are consistent with my own observations. This conceptual paper cites supporting evidence that will be more rigorously examined in future research.

THE MIDDLE CLASS AND NEW SOCIAL


MOVEMENTS-CURRENT THEORIES
The professional middle-class membership of the mainstream peace, environmental, and women's movements is well documented (Parkin, 1968; Cotgrove and Duff, 1980; Brint, 1985; Kriesi, 1989). Membership will be used
narrowly throughout this paper to refer to participation in social movement
organizations.This does not discount a more inclusive understandingof movements as those who identify with a cause, which is generally broader than organizational membership. By measures of occupation, education, and income,
membership in new social movement organizationsis disproportionatelyupper
middle class. In the environmental movement, for example, the National
Audubon Society has found that its members have a median income of
$41,000 with 81% home owners and 64% having attended college. This compares with a national median income at the beginning of the decade of $30,100
with 64% home ownership and 44% with some college education. In a survey
of its members, Greenpeace found that 32% have incomes over $50,000 compared with 17% of the U.S. population, and 60% have college degrees compared with 19% of the population. Leadership of these movements is drawn
even more disproportionatelyfrom the professional middle class.
Theories to explain this correlation fall into three broad camps. The
first, "New Class" theory, argues that these movements are pursuing distinctly middle-class interests. Thus the class makeup of these movements
reflects the motivations of the movements themselves. The second, "New
Social Movement" theory perceives these movements as a defensive response to the encroachment of economics into other cultural spheres. This
culture-based explanation suggests that the middle class is particularly re-

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sponsive to these societywide changes. A third "Cultural Shift" theory, representative of theories about postindustrial society, proposes that new social
movements represent a change in values due to the growing wealth of society. The middle class is the most advanced sector of this societywide
change. The strengths and limitations of these theories are explored below.
New Class theory applies Marx's materialist interpretation of history
to the middle class, suggesting that new social movements advance class
interests.8 The new middle class consists of managers and professionals who
control organizational skills and knowledge through recently expanded institutions within the state, corporate, and non-profit sectors. Professional
and managerial occupations have grown from a minor segment of the workforce in the last century (9% in 1870) to among the largest today (27% in
1980; Gilbert and Kahl, 1982; Bruce-Briggs, 1979). While Marx described
how the capitalist class emerged as a new class within the feudal society
that it later replaced, this theory proposes that the new professional-managerial class could represent the new class that will supplant capitalism.9
Alvin Gouldner provides perhaps the most sophisticatedvariation on the
rise of the new class, emphasizingboth cultural struggle as well as the pursuit
of class interests.The professionalmiddle class bringswith it a new set of values
and goals, most significantlyits emphasis on rationalityand rejection of arbitrary authority.It creates new forms of hierarchybased on merit, educational
attainment, and rational regulation by experts. The interests of this new class
are bound within these new, rationallybased institutions.Thus the struggle between the rising professional middle-class and the old capitalist class has both
a cultural and material dimension. The middle class challenges capitalist profit
maximizationas a goal as well as the materialorganizationof privateenterprise.
In Gouldner's scheme, new class movements advance class interests in
their emerging struggle for power against the capitalist class. Gouldner proposes a general pattern of intellectuals and professionals rebelling against
established authorities as they find opportunities restricted and access to
political power blocked. Movements of the 1960s are seen as elements of
class struggle against the old dominant capitalist class. Students, blacks,
and women sought access to professional middle-class jobs and thus expansion of institutions that employ the new class. Gouldner argues that the
also used the conceptof a new class to attackliberalismas elitist startingin
8Conservatives
the 1970s(Ehrenreich,1989).
9It is worthnotingthat Marxwas inconsistentin his theoryaboutthe overthrowof capitalism,
particularlyregardingthe role of the workingclass. His generaltheoryof historyproposes
that a new class from outside the contemporaryeconomicsystemwill eventuallyoverthrow
the existingdominantclass. He then proposesthat the workingclass will be the agent of
change under capitalism,despite its positionwithin and not outside the existingeconomic
system(1848/1948).The formerinterpretationis the basisof "newclass"theories,while the
latterremainsthe main thrustof most Marxistthinking.

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student movement was also a struggle for new class interests as students
rebelled against conditions such as large classes with limited access to faculty and their low pay as teaching assistants (1979: 66-72).10 Consistent
with this interest analysis, Gouldner believes that the environmental movement represents "guerilla warfare" against the irrationality of corporate
polluters (1979:17). The Vietnam war was also opposed by intellectuals who
felt their access to power blocked (1979:63).
These attempts to interpret new social movements as aspects of class
conflict fail in several ways. First, they oversimplify the goals of these movements, which cannot be understood in the narrow framework of class interests. For example, the individual or class benefits from efforts to preserve
remote areas such as the arctic or obscure species such as snail darters are
insignificant. In many instances, regulations create substantial costs that industry passes on as higher prices, contrary to consumer interests. Often,
the middle-class is not an immediate beneficiary of new social movement
activism. Furthermore, class interest doesn't explain why the environmental
movement is a middle-class rather than lower-class movement. On the basis
of class interests alone, environmental protections could benefit lower class
members more than the middle class because pollution is disproportionately placed in lower income neighborhoods (Goldman, 1993).
A related weakness is that New Class theories do not distinguish the
qualitatively different nature of new social movement demands from classinterest movements. New social movements pursue universal goals that cut
across classes. Clean air or disarmament, for instance, have distributional
implications, but these depend on how these goals are enacted. Distributional impacts are often ignored by new social movements, which are notoriously ignorant of the economic and social implications of their
programs.1l Gouldner does recognize that the middle class can align with
different classes, but new social movements are more ambiguous than this.
Different segments of the same movement may ally with different classes
or may shift alliances depending on the issue.12 Thus class interests do not
'(While Gouldner is sympathetic to the rise of the new class, his arguments are similar to
those of critics who condemn new social movements for advancing narrow class interests.
See Tucker (1982) and Wildavsky (1979). Advocates for low-income and minority communities also criticize middle-class movements for advancing self-interests. See Bullard (1993).
While conservatives and radicals may agree that the middle-class movement is pursuing
narrow class interests, they strongly disagree about the implications of this observation.
"The environmental justice movement has been highly critical of the failure of the environmental movement to address distributional consequences of environmental policies (Bullard,
1993; Pulido, 1993). Steven Beuchler documents the bias against class and race inequalities
within the predominantly middle-class women's movement (1990: ch. 4).
12This was well illustrated during the 1993 debate about the North American Free Trade
Agreement during which environmental groups were divided in their allegiances with labor
or business interests. These alliances changed throughout the course of the negotiations
around NAFTA as well (Dowie, 1995:185-188).

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explain what unifies these movements whose issues cut across class lines
with inconsistent distributional implications.
Finally, New Class theory fails to recognize that new social movements
challenge some basic tenets of middle-class society and are not simple extensions of middle-class power. Segments of these movements do seek to make
society more rational as Gouldner suggests. However many of the goals of
these middle-class movements run counter to the technocratic and bureaucratic interests of middle class professionals. New Social Movement theorists
rightly observe that these movements rebel against the over-rationalization
of society (Offe, 1985; Melucci, 1980). They promote participatory democracy over expertise, personalized lifestyles over institutionalization, and scepticism of technology over progress. The movements of the 1960s and their
heirs sought to find alternatives to the rationalized world of their parents and
challenged some key dimensions of established class-based interests. They
did not seek a more rational socialism, but a more decentralized democracy.13
In sum, New Class theories fail to understand the relationships between consciousness and action. They deny the significance of expressed
beliefs and interpret consciousness as a mask for underlying ideological and
material interests. They therefore cannot explain many dimensions of middle-class movements that do not advance well-defined class interests.
New Social Movement theorists address some of the weaknesses of New
Class theory. This European school interprets these movements as a defensive response to structural changes in the economic system. Rather than a
shift toward socialism, these theorists perceive a new stage of "disorganized"
capitalism (Offe, 1980; Lash and Urry, 1987). Applying Habermas's concept
of life-space, New Social Movement theorists argue that the production process has imposed new levels of control beyond the sphere of production into
consumption, services, and social relations. This encroachment is caused by
the growing needs of capitalism to control not only labor power but also complex organizational systems, information, processes of symbol formation, and
interpersonal relations. As Alberto Melucci explains (1980:219),
The new social movements are struggling, therefore, not only for the
reappropriation of the material structure of production, but also for collective
control over socio-economic development, i.e., for the reappropriation of time, of
space, and of relationships in the individual's daily existence.

Rather than class interests, these movements seek new forms of community
to replace the "formal, abstract and instrumental relationships characterizing state and society" (Breines, 1982).
3For example, the Port Huron statement says, "But today, for us, not even the liberal and
As a
socialist preachments of the past seem adequate to the forms of the present ....
"
social system we seek the establishment of a democracy of individual participation ....

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As their name implies, New Social Movement theorists emphasize the


differences between these contemporary movements and "old" social movements mobilizing around material needs. Claus Offe (1985) contrasts "old"
vs. "new" movements in terms of their actors, issues, values, and "modes
of action." Older movements, most importantly the labor movement, mobilize as socio-economic groups pursuing selective interests, while new
movements promote goals that cut across class lines such as gender, race,
and locality. In this view, the values of individualism and material progress
are being replaced with priorities of personal autonomy and self-determination. Finally, the formal organizational systems and interest group politics
of older movements are giving way to greater informality, egalitarian structures, and protest politics.
New Social Movement theorists provide various explanations for the
disproportionate middle-class participation in new movement politics. Some
propose that while the structural changes that new social movements address affect everyone, the middle class has the leisure time and security to
pursue nonmaterial goals.14 Others argue that radicals critical of capitalism
choose careers that reflect noneconomic values (Parkin, 1968). Groups that
are distant from capitalist economic relations are more likely to express
nonmaterialist values (Friberg and Hettne, 1985). A third, self-interest approach suggests that these movements consist of members of society most
affected by new forms of domination such as middle-class consumers and
less powerful groups in society such as women and people of color
(Melucci, 1980). Hanspeter Kriesi (1989) proposes that new social movement values and attitudes are generated among professional specialists
whose jobs require them to defend clients against impositions from the
state and corporations, or educated young people freed from dying traditions. John Mattausch (1989) makes a related argument that it is experience
within the public sector that leads to the distinct values expressed in new
social movements. David Croteau (1995) argues that the middle-class has
the resources and skills-which the working class lacks-to participate in
new social movements.15
New Social Movement theories have some important virtues that address weaknesses of class-interest theories. They recognize the qualitative
differences that distinguish these movements from traditional movements.
Most significantly, new movements do not simply advance middle-class interests in the way that traditional labor and community organizing advance
the immediate interests of their constituencies. New Social Movement theo4This argument is also made by Ronald Inglehart as discussed below (Ingelhart, 1977, 1990).
15WhileCroteau's emphasis on political efficacy and his acceptance of New Social Movement
theory differ from this analysis, his broader framework of class culture and his ethnographic
observations share much with the approach presented here.

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rists draw attention to the distinct values, ideologies, organizational forms,


and political strategies that characterize new social movements.
These theories are also more able to understand conflicts within the
middle class over the goals of new social movements. New Class theories
fail in this regard because they perceive new social movements as a direct
expression of class interests that emerge with this class. Because New Social
Movement theorists see these movements as responses to new developments in the organization of capitalism rather than political expressions of
existing middle-class interests, they are able to examine divergent responses
within different segments of the middle class.
Furthermore, New Social Movement theorists rightly dispute the claim
that these movements are advancing socialism, as stated previously. New
Social Movement theorists correctly observe the search for new forms of
identity and personal expression, often in opposition to traditional middleclass values of rationality and order.
Yet while New Social Movement theories explain aspects of middleclass movements missing from New Class theory, they fail to account for
some important dimensions contained in that theory. First, by taking the
claims of new social movements at face value, they fail to recognize the
class interests that are served by these movements. While peace, environmental, or feminist movements may claim to advance universal goals, the
benefits they promote do often serve the middle class. For example, the
middle class has benefited disproportionately from movement campaigns
for draft resistance, protective land use policies, and race and gender quotas in the job market (Berryman, 1988:34-35; Heineman, 1992; Frieden,
1979; Wilson, 1987). Thus neither the new social movement view of nonself-interested actors nor the new class view of self-interest is adequate.
There is some truth to both observations; new social movements advance
some middle-class interests but cannot be reduced to any simple notion of
class interest.
Second, unlike New Class theory, this theory does not explain ongoing
divisions between working- and middle-class movements and fails to explain
why new movements remain predominantly middle class. Changes in the organization of capitalism impact both classes, with the working class more restricted by new levels of control over consumption and private lives. One might
anticipate that working-class movements would adopt similar issues as well,
but instead, labor unions and socialist parties have been suspicious of these
newer movements and at times outright hostile (Maguire, 1990; Mayer, 1987;
Siegmann, 1985). While concern about issues like the environment and
women's rights is widespread throughout society, participation in new social
movements is not (Van Liere and Dunlap, 1980; Mohai, 1985, 1990). Therefore, other factors besides the shift in capitalist forms of production are re-

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sponsible for conflicts between working- and middle-class movements over issues and politics. New Social Movement theories cannot explain why activists
in these movements remain so predominantlymiddle class.
Several additional limitations throw doubt upon the adequacy of New
Social Movement theories as well. First, these movements are not as new
as this school implies. Many of the themes that characterize the present
environmental movement have emerged repeatedly since the rise of industrialism and urbanization (Gottlieb, 1993). Middle-class movements from
the past share important characteristics of the so called new social movements. For example, John Gilkeson, Jr (1986) describes how middle-class
reform movements have long represented their ideas in terms of the general public interest as opposed to special interests. Middle-class movements
such as the temperance movement, Progressive Era reforms, and the
women's movement have historically been middle class and pursued broad
transformation of values. My point here is not that nothing distinguishes
these movements from so-called old social movements, as Sidney Tarrow
(1989) claims, but that middle-class movements have much in common
throughout American history. I will argue below that what distinguishes
these movements is not their newness but their middle-class origins.
Finally, the truth about New Left attitudes toward rationality and planning again lies between New Class and New Social Movement theories.
Peace, environmental, and feminist movements are divided between those
who seek to make society more rational through government intervention,
scientific management, and equal application of laws and those who see
these forms of bureaucratic, scientific, and legal rationalization as a major
cause of the problems they seek to change. On the side of greater rationality are world order and international government advocates in the peace
movement and science-based ecology and environmental organizations.
Each of these movements also has its spiritual wing that argues that science
cannot resolve problems already too steeped in rationality.16
New Social Movement theories, in sum, again fail to adequately conceptualize the relationships between interests, beliefs, and action. They take
expressed beliefs too literally and ignore unarticulated interests. Without a
theory of interests, their explanations for the class make up of movements
is underdetermined. Neither New Social Movement nor New Class theories
are able to explain the complexity within these movements.
Ronald Inglehart's Cultural Shift theory addresses some but not all of
these difficulties with the new social movement approach (1977, 1990).
Inglehart agrees with most of the observations made by New Social Move16For spiritual perspectives regarding the peace movement see Barbara Epstein (1990). For
a spiritual view from the environmental movement see Bill Devall and George Sessions
(1985).

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ment analysts but proposes a very different explanation for these trends.
While New Social Movement theorists perceive these movements as a defensive reaction against the encroachment of invasive capitalism, Inglehart
proposes that they are a positive affirmation of new values resulting from
growing affluence. Capitalist development, therefore, is viewed as a positive
rather than negative process. Rather than protecting existing spheres of
life from new encroachments, Inglehart sees a new "postmaterialist" generation discovering new values given their freedom from material want. A
growing share of the population in industrialized countries is being liberated from preoccupation with economics and survival and shifting attention
toward the search for personal meaning and quality of life. To Inglehart,
the more affluent middle class is making this shift first, while those with
greater material needs are still struggling to survive.
The Cultural Shift approach has the advantage of suggesting why the
middle class is disproportionately represented in new social movements.
Indeed, Inglehart argues that the trends he is documenting will be influenced by economic conditions throughout society. He also suggests that
middle-class movements may have always taken similar forms because of
their relative affluence.
Inglehart's theory has four significant flaws. First it overstates the shift
away from material conflicts that have grown more severe in the past decade and remain a major concern for middle-class as well as working class
people. The 1990 census found 31 million Americans living below the poverty line. Wages dropped an average of 9% in the 1980s while people are
working more hours to compensate. These economic concerns have reached
into the middle class, where young people can expect to earn less than
their parents for the first time since the Depression. In these and many
more ways, this is not a postmaterialist society. This complication could be
consistent with Inglehart's theory if middle-class movements shift toward
more material goals, but it raises questions about his characterization of
contemporary society.
However, Inglehart's theory applies an ahistorical definition of material needs that ignores the continued demand for material goods in wealthy
nations. In his view, human nature defines a hierarchy of needs that are
first material and then, once these are met, cultural and social. But material
wants are far more elastic than this theory suggests. Greater material abundance has not brought the end of wants but rather an ever increasing demand for material goods. Needs, therefore, must be understood as socially
defined, and they change over time. There is no inevitability to the shift
away from materialism. Thus living in the nation with the highest level of
consumption in the world, Americans continue to seek new forms of ma-

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terial wealth at ever higher levels. Again it is a mistake to describe wealthy


industrialized countries as post-materialist.
Third, Inglehart fails to recognize the intimate relationship between
material interests and values among the middle class just as New Social
Movement theorists do. His survey methods, designed only to measure values, divorce such values as freedom of speech, autonomy, or antimaterialism from material interests. Rather, as Gouldner recognizes, middle-class
values serve middle-class interests and cannot be understood in an abstract
hierarchy. By taking values out of their social context, these relationships
between interests and values are obscured.
Finally, Inglehart confuses a correlation with causality. His surveys of
values show differences by occupation, age, and education. However, this
does not mean that these factors cause this shift in values. If this were the
case, we would expect those with even greater wealth to express postmaterial
values more strongly. Yet studies of new social movements find that their
membership is largely middle class with negligible upper-class participation.
Wealth alone does not explain values. Nor has the wealthy class advanced
environmental protection, equal rights for women, or peace in earlier generations despite its affluence. Middle-class movements do not simply reflect
a level of affluence but a broad social context in which values are embedded.

CLASS CULTURE: AN ALTERNATIVEEXPLANATION


The previous analysis suggests the need for a more subtle understanding of the relationship between the middle class and new social movements. While these movements have middle-class memberships, they do
not reflect narrow material interests. Nor are these movements simply responses to new economic developments, given similar characteristics within
earlier middle-class movements. Furthermore, the middle class is not unified in these movements, nor are these movements themselves unified in
their values and interests. Thus their goals cannot be understood as a simple extension of middle-class politics.
The resolution of this dilemma requires a more complex understanding
of the role of social classes in shaping interests and consciousness. Classes,
as Gouldner notes, have distinct cultures as well as interests within the
system of production. Class culture provides a bridge between the interest
analysis of New Class theory and the cultural analysis of New Social Movement and Cultural Shift theories. By class culture, I refer to beliefs, attitudes and understandings, symbols, social practices, and rituals throughout
the life cycle that are characteristic of positions within the production process (Collins, 1975; Croteau, 1995; Willis, 1981; Gans, 1962).

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This theory is developed below through a comparison of working and


middle-class interests, cultures, and movements.17This comparative approach
identifies class-based differences within the overarching context of American
culture to which both classes belong. Thus the differences outlined below are
differences of degree in relationship to the other class. This comparison provides a context for examining the distinguishing features of middle-class
movements. The sections below first outline the theoretical frameworkwithin
which I define class culture then compare the structuresof working- and middle-class work within which their respective class cultures emerge, then examine how these class cultural differences are reflected in working- and
middle-class movements and finally return to a reinterpretation of new social
movements as an expression of middle-class culture.

CLASS CULTURALTHEORY
My use of class culture draws on Pierre Bourdieu's understanding of
habitus as the "system of durable, transposable
dispositions"
(1977/1990:72), of which class habitus refers to dispositions that derive from
social position. Like class habitus, class cultures derive from position within
the production process. Practices for Bourdieu are the products of habitus
strategically applied in particular situations. Cultural forms, produced and
reproduced through practice, combine both conformity and resistance to
the structural demands of class. Class cultures, therefore, reflect evolving
strategies for living within class structures. An understanding of class cultures, then, requires an analysis of both the structures within which classes
function and particular strategies adopted by class members.
Class structures culture both through direct experiences within the production process and through institutions that socialize class members for
work. The influence of production processes derives from both the material
and cultural organization of work. Using similar capital resources, work
can be organized in many different ways depending on management techniques and the distribution of information-that is, depending on cultural
variables.18 Different classes confront distinct forms of authority relationships, work organization, and social regulation in the workplace that shape
different class cultures. Furthermore, values, beliefs, relationships, and ex171 use working class and middle class as ideal types in the following discussion. The gener-

alizations below describe the most characteristic cases, and the description of middle-class
culture provides a good approximation for new social movements whose members draw
disproportionately from the professional middle class.
Loss of competitiveness of the U.S. in the 1980s drew attention to the significance of cultural
variables for organizing work, particularly in Japan and Western Europe vs. the United
States. See Piore and Sabel (1984) and Hall (1986).

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pectations required for class-specific work are taught within families,


schools, the media, and other forums outside work. These institutions also
structure people's lives differently by class.
Demands of work and the institutions that prepare people for work
structure but never determine practices. However, these institutions define
the conditions which class members conform to or resist in varying degrees
(Taylor, 1979; Willis, 1981; Scott, 1986; Thompson, 1991). Class cultures
encompass a range of strategies structured by similar conditions, and thus
significant cultural variation can be found within each class (Johnson, 1979;
Clarke, 1979). This is well illustrated by Barbara Ehrenreich's history of
the middle class in the decades of the 1950s-80s, Fear of Falling (1989).
Professionalism, youth revolt, and the "yuppie" embrace of affluence represent different strategies that respond to the central dilemmas that structure middle-class life. Class cultures evolve as historic conditions change
and as people's strategies develop in response to members of their own
and other classes over time. New social movements, I propose, represent
one among this range of related middle-class strategies.
Class cultures are therefore both products of structured positions
within the hierarchy of class and independent subcultures that provide
unique resources for adapting to distinct circumstances. Adaptations within
one culture are likely to be misinterpreted from the perspective of another,
and middle-class academics have often interpreted working-class culture as
inferior because it emerges from a less powerful position in the social hierarchy (Bisseret, 1979; Williams, 1970). In order to minimize imposing biased standards on the description of class cultures, the approach here is
to describe cultural characteristics that result directly from position in the
production process, where class is defined. Therefore, many psychological
characteristics about conflict, interests, and ideology that authors such as
Randall Collins (1975) attribute to human nature are interpreted here as
reflections of the work experience and the cultural and material organization of production.19 I therefore describe working- and middle-class cultures as independent systems equally adapted to their unique conditions.
This analysis brackets important questions about the structuralrelationships between the middle class and other classes, and about the development
'9My approach differs from Randall Collins's theory of class culture in that I define class in
Marxian terms within the production process rather than in terms of authority relationships
in the workplace. I see authority relations as part of the organization of the production
process, which defines broad cultural and material social subsystems. Where Collins postulates a common psychology of power and deference that governs all individuals, the approach
here is to identify distinct "psychologies" including systems of meaning and perceptions of
interests that distinguish classes as a result of different positions in the organization of production. Nevertheless, Collins captures many important class-cultural differences in his descriptions, while attributing them to different causes.

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of class consciousness versus other ideologies. Whether particular ideas are


false or real is an open question not addressed here. Rather, this approach
begins with the observation that class is not correlated with any one set of
ideas or politics, and efforts to identify the working or middle classes with
particular political beliefs have proven to be of limited applicability.Both the
content of political consciousness and the makeup of class alliances are contested and historicallychanging. Furthermore,many aspects of consciousness
and culture cannot be reduced to their functions within the class structure.
This paper proposes that the forms of consciousness, movements, and politics
are class specific. The content may be manipulated by different classes, but
content varies within the structure produced by class cultures.
Class culture as used here is both socially determined and the product
of historical actors, and thus this analysis seeks a middle ground between
structuralist and culturalist theories. As Katznelson describes, this intermediate level, which he terms class2, is distinct from both the structural level
of class defined by the mode of production and the subjective level of class
as conscious identification. This view of class "refers to a pattern of social
relations lived objectively by actual people in real social formations"
(Katznelson, 1981:202). Thus, the descriptions of class structures and class
cultures that follow derive both from a theoretical understanding of class
as described above and from broad empirical observations.
For descriptions of working-class culture, I borrow particularly from
the works of Willis (1981), Gans (1962), Halle (1984), and Shostak (1969).
The discussion of middle-class culture draws on the work of Baumgartner
(1988), Ehrenreich (1989), Gilkeson (1986) and others. Among comparative
studies I draw on Kohn (1969), Bronfenbrenner (1972), Bernstein (1971),
and Collins (1975). This paper draws selectively from these and related
authors to reference the most relevant dimensions of working- and middle-class cultures for understanding social movements. More thorough descriptions of class cultures are beyond this paper.
It is also important to note that class culture defines tendencies that vary
according to many other competing cultural identities including occupation,
gender, race, and family experience. This approach does not discount these
other important dimensions but isolates one cultural subsystemfor analysis.A
multidimensionalanalysisis necessary to interpret the complexityof social life.

STRUCTURAL CHARACTERISTICSOF WORKING- AND


MIDDLE-CLASS WORK
This section contrasts material and cultural structures that distinguish
working- from middle-class work. The cultural forms of authority relation-

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476

ships, work organization, and social regulation differ between classes based
on the control of information and the system of management.
Professional occupations are characterized by mastery of a specialized
skill through extensive training and credentialing. Middle-class work entails
some degree of judgement, applying knowledge to unique situations. This
work cannot be reduced to mechanical tasks, and thus close managerial
supervision of professionals is ineffective. Professional success is not judged
by performance of individual tasks, but by the quality of results evaluated
over time. Management must, therefore, use inducements for success rather
than mechanical rewards and punishments to motivate the middle class to
accomplish. This system of incentives draws on the middle-class's internalized beliefs about accomplishment and success, leaving significant individual autonomy over how tasks are accomplished. Inducements to perform
may take the form of material rewards, but just as important to the middle
class is the quality of life. Management, therefore, seeks to keep its middle-class professionals happy through providing amenities such as flexibility,
autonomy, a desirable physical environment, or access to recreation or congenial communities (Markusen, 1986).
By contrast, working-classwork entails manual labor with limited autonomy in the work process. Machines and mechanical techniques enable managers to routinize production and assert control over the details of
working-classwork (Braverman, 1974; Shostak, 1969). This work is regulated
by direct rewards and punishments that create a culture based on compulsion. Tasks and expectations are defined by management, and time is generally regulated from the moment a worker punches the clock at the beginning
of a shift to the minutes allowed for breaks to the amount of output required
per day. Failure to meet these expectations is punished by loss of wages, privifuncleges, and ultimately one's job. Workers know the rules that they must
on
the
of
for
some
search
job takes
autonomy
tion within, and the
degree
culture
the
Thus
resistance
direct
or
the form of surreptitious
(Halle, 1984).
with
battle
the
authority.
of the work place is defined by
daily
For both the working and middle classes, there is a direct correspondence between the physical organization of the production process and the
cultural demands of the workplace. These material and cultural dimensions
are related through the secondary factors of production: knowledge and
managerial control.20 Working-class jobs generally involve manipulating
and
things, require conformity to rules, and are subject to standardization
that
in
work
class
of
the
Members
participate
working
external regulation.
201 borrow from and extend E. O. Wright's (1985) analysis here. While Wright perceives

conknowledge and managerial skills as secondary factors needed for production that are
trolled by the middle class, I propose that these are also elements of every work process.
The forms these take structure work as much as material determinants.

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is routine and repetitive over which they have very little control. This working environment is culturally characterized by demands for conformity, deference to authority, physical skill, and stamina but limited intellectual
engagement, and accommodation to redundant tasks. Middle-class work
generally involves some intellectual tasks, is free from close supervision,
and requires self-direction and internal regulation.The professional middle
class is especially distinguished by higher education and broad flexibility in
the work process, while still lacking control over the products of labor. The
middle class is organized around a culture of autonomy, personal responsibility, intellectual engagement, variability, and change.
The cultural characteristics and interests of the middle class emerge
from the cultural and material organization of the work process. To achieve
the necessary level of expertise and internalized values of success, the middle class must devote enormous energies to education and accreditation.
Internal forms of regulation are taught from an early age (Kohn, 1969;
Gecas and Nye, 1974; Bronfenbrenner, 1972). Young people are rewarded
for developing their own interests and advancing their skills. Thus one's
life chances as a professional result from self-development-that is, developing a sense of self-confidence, initiative, autonomy, and expertise to excel
within a profession. Working-class culture and interests contrast with those
of the middle class in many respects. While middle-class education emphasizes internalized values, the working class teaches its young to survive by
knowing how to work within or around rules.21 Where the middle class
develops a sense of self-worth tied to meaningful work, this is less true for
the working class. Because work is often mechanical, tedious, and dictated
by others, the working class tends to invest more meaning in home life and
leisure activities (Halle, 1984; Gans, 1962). Work is something one does
because one must make a living.

CLASS CULTURE AND THE STRATEGYOF JOINING


SOCIAL MOVEMENTS
Working- and middle-class social movements represent particular
strategies that respond to the structured and cultural environments of each
class. Movement activism is a particular kind of strategy that has common
21Melvin Kohn's research documents the working-class emphasis on teaching conformity to
rules rather than independence (1969; Bronfenbrenner, 1972). This emphasis on conformity
to rules has often been misinterpreted as a working-class value in contrast with the middle-class value of self-direction. Conformity for the working class is a skill required to survive
in a hierarchical work and social environment in which they are at or near the bottom.
Working-class parents do not value conformity in its own right but as a norm necessary for
their children's success and survival.

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features across classes. Activism is characterized, among other things, by


developing a collective identity and sense of group solidarity (Gamson,
1992), by defining existing conditions as unjust and attributing problems to
a culpable source (Snow and Benford, 1992), and by attaining a sense of
efficacy about change (McAdam, 1982). These attitudes, beliefs, and understandings combine within the practices of activists, distinct from the
strategies pursued by others within either the working or middle classes.
However, movement strategies take different forms within each class
that emerge from their respective class cultures. Each culture produces
characteristic beliefs about human motivations, politics, and social change
as well as unique forms of organization and association.22These differences
are evident in the models of organizing advanced by each movement. In
sum, working-class people live in a system of enforced authority, and they
tend to approach social change through organizing around immediate, perceived interests. Professional middle-class life is regulated by internalized
norms, ambitions, and responsibilities, and these movements tend to see
change as a process of education about values. These differences produce
two distinct class-based forms of politics and social movements. These different approaches to organizing also are reflected in the issues that working-and middle-class movements pursue. Working-class labor and
community-based movements generally focus on the immediate economic
and social interests of members, while middle-class movements more often
address universal goods that are non-economic. These generalizations apply
to the majority of working and middle-class movements, with important
exceptions that are further explored below.23
Before examining working- and middle-class organizing in more detail,
is critical. While the forms of class-based movements differ, both
caveat
one
interests and values intertwine in the motivations of each class. While workdising-class movements tend to appeal to interests, these are based in a
tinctive class system of values. And while the middle-class frames its goals
in the language of values and education, these relate to distinct, class-based
22A variation of these same observations is made by Croteau (1995), although with less emclass is
phasis on class-cultural forms of movements. While Croteau asks why the working
not part of new social movements that are responses to the impositions of changing capitalism and forms of domination, this approach asks how new social movements are themselves expressions of the middle class, that is, how class culture produces the form of social
movements.
23There are of course important exceptions to this generalization. See the section, "Hybrid
Middle-Class Movements," in this paper. Also some movement organizations are developing
agendas that bridge working- and middle-class issues for political reasons. For example,
some European social democratic parties incorporated peace, environmental, and other new
social movement issues into their programs over time. See Maguire (1990), Clark and Mayer
(1986), Taylor (1987), and Olofsson (1988).

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interests as well. All social groups are motivated by both interests and values, despite the cultural forms within which classes express themselves.
It is also important to note that the analysis here is one of causality
but not necessity. Movement organizing represents one of a diverse range
of strategies adopted within each class. The argument here is not that all
working- or middle-class people conform to the patterns described here.
The different strategies of activist vs. inactive segments of each class are
significant. Nor are the politics of these movements determined by class,
and movements may be progressive, conservative, or reactionary. However,
when class members do mobilize, their movements take forms that are distinctly class based.
The form of working-class organizing is a direct outgrowth of the external regulation of the working class. Workers experience opposition to
their wants and needs from the power of outside groups that control the
system of rewards and punishments (Gans, 1962; Rubin, 1976; Bernstein,
1971). (Interests are not restricted to material goods, but include such intangibles as fairness and respect.) In this power struggle, the working class
achieves its interests through winning against the interests of others.
The structure of working-class society reinforces this sense of interest
competition by defining a clear division between members and outsiders.
While members expect others within their peer group to take their interests
into account, making the relationship more important than object goals, they
learn that outsiders, be they bosses, teachers, police, or others, do not operate
by the same values. The common interests that apply within the group are
often violated by outsiders who place their own interests over personal relationships. Thus working-class members tend to distinguish their behavior toward members of their own group from attitudes and behavior toward
outsiders. They come to assume that outsiders act for their own advantage,
and government and business appear to be run by people motivated by personal gain (Gans, 1962; Parkin, 1968; Cohen and Hodges, 1963).
Consistent with their class experience of social regulation, workingclass movements interpret politics in terms of interest competition also. Individual and group interests are evident in a system of external authority.
Such interests as fair working conditions, job security, reasonable processes
for dispute settlement, improved benefits, wages and working hours, and
personal safety are representative of the goals of the labor movement and
the interests of working people against the interests of management.
The appeal to interests is appropriate among the working class whose
members generally join organizations to improve some immediate condition
or as an extension of peer group networks. This contrasts with the middleclass's motivations for joining organizations to advance personal or professional beliefs and development. The working class joins far fewer

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associations, and when its members join, it is generally for pragmatic reasons (Hyman and Wright, 1971; Gans, 1962).
The working-class appeal to interests does not discount the use of
moral language, and this is particularly true in religious-based movements.
Every social movement, like any successful political actor, must frame its
goals in moral terms that appeal to the wider community. However, these
moral arguments are generally extensions of interest claims. Social justice,
equality, and claims of rights justify these interests as legitimate, in contrast
with groups in power whose interests are illegitimate. This distinction between the interests of people who are oppressed and of those who are
exploiting, of those who lack and those who wield power can only be made
with reference to moral language. However, this is an appeal to legitimate
interests, which is very different from the value claims of middle-class
movements. The appeal to values by working-class movements is consistent
with the interest model of organizing described here.
Labor organizing and its counterpart community organizing illustrate
these characteristics of working-class organizing. These strategies are explicit in the training literature of community organizers. The Midwest Academy, training institute for the Citizen Action network, states that the three
principals of organizing are "to win real and immediate improvements in
people's lives . .., give people a sense of their own real power ..., [and]
alter the relations of power between people's organizations and their real
enemies" (1987:10). These principals define politics as a competition over
interests polarized between workers and bosses, haves and have-nots, oppressors and oppressed. The strategy of building powerful unions or community organizations is a response to deprivations imposed by controlling
groups in an externally regulated society.
By contrast, the professional middle class tends to experience the barriers to change not as opposing powerful groups, but as people's values,
norms, and understandings. This reflects the way that middle-class work
and social life are regulated, which is through internalized ideas and values.
In the framework of middle-class work, new values and ideas do translate
into tangible change; a teacher, lawyer, or other professional who develops
a new conception of goals or values would alter his or her practice accordingly. Thus this cultural, consciousness-driven conception of human action
is a direct outgrowth of the life experience of the professional middle class.
Middle-class interests are directly tied to both the form and substance
of personal ideas and social values. These interests take two forms. First,
the middle class has an interest in maintaining an orderly society with clear
Gouldprocedural rules and standards for accomplishment and reward, as
from
comes
that
the
success
for
is
ner notes. That order necessary
ensuring
middleand
skills
of
Many
the
knowledge.
accreditation and
acquisition

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class social movement goals such as equal rights, ecological sustainability,


and the peaceful resolution of conflict reflect the search for a fair and
orderly world-a world in which internally regulated individuals can prosper. But not all middle-class individuals support the preeminence of rational standards nor need they for this to remain the dominant form of
middle-class success.
Second, individuals have an interest in advancing their own ideas,
skills, and beliefs as an affirmation of personal identity and self-worth
and/or to advance their personal careers. Individuals do not gain from the
content of their ideas per se but from positioning their ideas relative to
others. Ideas and opinions about particular issues are the currency with
which professionals negotiate their positions in society. This view differs
from Alvin Gouldner's in that it recognizes the class basis of middle-class
goals without assuming that these advance class interests. Middle-class individuals pursue their own identities and careers that are not necessarily
tied to advancing middle-class institutions or class interests. Class defines
the form but not the content of individual interests.
Middle-class faith in expertise-based change is encouraged by the fact
that the people who run government are generally professional and middle
class like the activists in these movements. They are friends, family, peers,
and even members of their movements. The bureaucracy, then, appears far
more benign and accessible to these groups than to the working class. Professionals have access to government and a sense that they can influence
its decisions. Thus they are in a position to use persuasion and ideas to
influence those in power.
In sum, this analysis proposes that middle-class movements often are
avenues for the personal and/or career development of the professional
middle class. Movements provide an alternative context in which professional-class individuals develop specialized ideas and knowledge, exercise
judgment and express values, associate with a society of similarly minded
peers, and establish a personal identity based on accomplishment, knowledge, and affiliation.24 Thus movements do serve a variety of material, social and psychological interests. Middle-class movements, therefore, tend
to perceive change in terms of education about values and ideas as expressions of these middle-class cultural characteristics.
The peace movement provides an example of this middle-class approach to social change. In a survey of peace movement strategies, John
Lofland, Marry Anna Colwell, and Victoria Johnson (1990) identify six approaches to change (Rose, 1995). Three are pure expressions of the middle-class approach to value and education-based change. Transcender
24These are characteristics of professions. See definitions in Waddington (1985) as well as the
definition of profession in the Labor-Management Relations Act (Taft-Hartley Act).

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theory assumes that wars are generally the result of misunderstandings, and
so honest discussion will cause a rapid change in consciousness favoring
peace. Educator theory similarly seeks to instruct about the facts regarding
the threats of war, but with an ongoing commitment to providing the most
current information to evaluate the best course of action. Intellectual theory emphasizes not only providing facts but formulating insights and frameworks for understanding as the basis for moving policymakers to change.
The other three approaches to change supplement educational approaches
with some form of other political action. Protesters seek to disrupt the normal flow of society in order to gain attention for the ideas that they espouse. Politician theory supports working through the legislative process to
persuade politicians of the rightness of a cause. Finally, prophet theory
emphasizes personal transformation rather than persuasive ideas, promoting personal acts of responsibility such as civil disobedience with the hope
of persuading others to follow this example. While there is significant variation in these approaches to change, all focus on changing ideas and/or
values as the basis for mobilizing people and achieving their goals.
Among the six theories listed above, politician theory comes closest
to an analysis of interest politics. Middle-class activists certainly do participate in traditional interest politics in order to promote legislative and electoral change. However, even pragmatic goals such as winning votes or
elections are often seen as aspects of a broader educational agenda. Votes
are viewed as a reflection of people's beliefs and convictions. As one peace
activist explained,
The important thing is not to see electoral work as some kind of a panacea, because
you can only do effective electoral work if you've built up a sizeable organization
and if you've heightened the public's consciousness on peace issues. If you've got
a public out there that thinks building bombs is just great, they're not going to
elect candidates who want to get rid of all the bombs. You've got to do the public
education and organization building in order to make change. And the public
education and organization building are valuable in and of themselves, but they're
also an essential precondition for doing effective electoral work. (Director of the
Maine Peace Campaign, interview by author, July 1991).

MIDDLE-CLASS CULTURE AND NEW SOCIAL


MOVEMENTS
Class-cultural analysis suggests a more coherent interpretation of new
social movements. This approach supports the distinction between "new"
vs. "old" movements but rejects the claim that these differences are due
to either the rise of a postmaterialist society or to a new stage of capitalist
intrusions in people's lives. Rather, the post-1960s movements are a reflection of the professional middle class from which most of their active mem-

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bers originate. Class shapes these movements not through some abstract
collective interests in wealth, resources, or opportunities, but through class
culture. New social movements reflect middle-class origins even though
they do not explicitly articulate their goals in class terms.
The actors, issues, values, and "modes of action" identified by New Social
Movement theorists can now be seen as direct expressions of middle-class culture. The middle class's political activityis an extension of personal conviction
and personal or career development, in contrast with the working class. It is
through work, either paid or voluntary,that the middle class develops its sense
of identity, purpose, and meaning. Movement activity is part of that work for
the middle class. This is clearest for the fraction of middle-class activists who
find careers in movement organizations.Yet even for others, political activity
extends chosen areas of interest through which individualsdefine themselves.
Issues of personal identity are therefore as central to new social movements as they are for the middle class in general. Middle-class movements
reflect the middle-class struggle to define oneself through one's work and
knowledge. Middle-class interests are directly related to this search for personal identity that decides one's work, occupational success, friendships,
and status. For those who reject the standard career-based identities that
are available to them, movements offer an alternative avenue for self-definition. These movements seek to establish new forms of identity as legitimate options in society. This movement goal extends middle-class
developmental processes which require individuals to choose an identity
through that they define their work and positions in society.
The search to define oneself through social action and beliefs distinguishes middle-class from working-classmovements more than any particular
set of issues. Working-classorganizations do address issues such as the environment, peace, or women's rights, but working-class segments of these
movements do not fit the New Social Movement model. This is graphically
illustrated by the emergence of the anti-toxics movement that has mobilized
working-class and low-income communities around environmental issues, although with a very different conception of the environment than the middleclass movement. Anti-toxics advocates argue that concern for environmental
issues is widespread among their constituents, despite the fact that they have
generally not joined mainstream organizations. The anti-toxics movement fits
many characteristics of "old" social movements in that it addresses issues of
immediate need, challenges the distribution of benefits in society, and is
based in a class of people in society acting for its own needs and benefits.
Social movements based in non middle-class communities can clearly be very
different from middle-class movements despite addressing common issues.
The forms of new social movement organizations also emerge directly
from middle-class culture. Middle-class movements must be flexible and

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egalitarian to accommodate many individuals searching for their own identities and seeking a sense of purpose tied to their knowledge and actions.
The emphasis on equality is an acknowledgment of the value placed on
the individual quest to define one's own direction. Since most people join
these organizations as volunteers based on internalized purposes, these organizations rely on individual initiative to succeed. This also leads organizations to emphasize egalitarian roles with few means to compel members
to participate. Rather, these movement organizations provide avenues for
individuals to act based on their own sense of purpose.
Class-Culturaltheory resolves the ambiguities and contradictions found
in New Social Movement, New Class, and Cultural Shift explanations. It provides a more inclusive understanding of new social movements by acknowledging that interests, values, and consciousness play important roles in
motivating behavior. New Class theory fails to take the explicit goals of middle-class movements seriouslywhile New Social Movement and Cultural Shift
theories take them too literally and fail to perceive unstated class interests.
Middle-class culture, however, teaches the middle class sincere devotion to
ideas, but this devotion also serves important interests in defining one's position in society. This interrelationshipderives from the nature of professional
life in which one's expertise shapes one's career and life chances.
Class-Cultural theory provides a more consistent understanding of the
new social movement emphasis on values than previous approaches. Where
New Social Movement theorists see a response to a new form of capitalism,
and Cultural Shift theorists see a post materialist world, Class-Cultural
analysis suggests continuity with the past. Middle-class movements have always framed their issues in moral terms, and working-class movements will
continue to frame their issues in terms of interests. Middle-class movements
express their issues in terms of values as a reflection of the cultural background of those who join these movements. Thus new social movements
reflect a continuity with society rather than some dramatic schism.
It is also clear from this analysis why new social movements draw their
members from the middle class. Since these movements take middle-class
forms, they fail to address the concerns of other classes and pursue politics
in ways that are alien to them. This explains the ongoing tensions between
middle-class and other-class movements, again as evident by the environmental justice movement. People of color and low-income people consistently express their sense of alienation from middle-class movement
organizations. This reflects the cultural and material gap between their lives
and the forms that middle-class movements take.25
25For charges of racism in the environmental movement see letters sent to the "big ten" environmental organizations by several environmental justice groups, reprinted by Friends of
the Earth (1990).

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An understanding of middle-class culture also illuminates the complex


role of expertise and instrumental rationality in new social movements. Neither New Class theories, which see these movements as a simple extension
of middle-class interests in expertise, nor New Social Movement theories,
which see a rejection of this same kind of rationality, can explain this complexity. New social movements are divided within themselves between those
who reject and those who embrace rational and scientific solutions to the
problems they address. This tension exists within the middle class broadly
in which romantic ideas about nature, art, and aesthetics vs. ideas about
rationality and science have never been resolved. Individuals can develop
careers and personal identities within either tradition, but the forms of
these convictions remain middle class. Thus again, there is continuity between movement and nonmovement actors.
Divisions over the role of rationality and expertise in new social movements also reflect tensions within the middle-class search for identity and
meaning, confined as it is by the existing political and social system. Movement participants must decide how much to work within existing institutions
in their search for ways to express their identities in middle-class society.
If one chooses to work within the existing political system, one is forced
to utilize rational and technical means. If one chooses to operate within a
countercultural group, then one is able to reject technical means and seek
culturally based change. These dynamics reflect competing strategies in
middle-class society that are expressed in new social movements and are
not simple rejections of or alliances with some uniform class heritage.

HYBRID MIDDLE-CLASS MOVEMENTS


Not all middle-class movements follow the above pattern of new social
movements that are extensions of middle-class personal and vocational development. Some variations result from the diversity within middle-class
culture. Business managers, for instance, often function in a more hierarchical system of authority relationships than those described above. Their
work is infused with the interest-based ideology of capitalism. This subculture often conflicts with that of professionals (Raelin, 1985). As a result,
business people rarely participate in new social movements (Kriesi, 1989).
Other forms of middle-class movements reflect the fact that professional experiences are not uniformly defined by the cultural norms of middle-class life but are themselves embedded in capitalist social relationships.
Universities and schools, hospitals, government agencies, research institutions, courts, and other institutions in which professionals work are both
arenas of professional practice as well as incorporated businesses (or mod-

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eled after corporations in the case of government and nonprofits). Thus


professional and managerial organizational forms, authority relationships,
and cultural patterns blend as people carry out both their professional and
managerial/employee roles.
Professional associations exemplify this hybrid form of organization as
they struggle to balance the needs of their members as both professionals
and employees. This tension has grown as unemployment and inflation undermined professionals' quality of life beginning at the end of the 1960s.
The "Guidelines to Professional Employment for Engineers and Scientists"
developed by the National Society for Professional Engineers and the Engineers Joint Council in 1972 illustrates this middle-class form of labor organization (Conference Board, 1976). As professionals, they sought
management recognition of their commitment to the public interest and
professional ethics, of their autonomy as professional employees ("It is inappropriate for a professional employee to use a time clock to record arrival and departure"), of the principle of merit-based evaluation
("Economic advancement should be based upon a carefully designed performance review plan"), and of their growth and development as experts
("The employee and employer share responsibility for professional development of the employee"; Conference Board, 1976:23-26. These professional middle-class goals are similar to middle-class movement goals that
promote universal values, autonomy, and personal growth.
While pursuing these professional goals, societies also borrow tactics
from the labor movement to represent their members in parallel, interestbased struggles with management. For example, the American Association
of University Professors' "Statement on Collective Bargaining"seeks to protect faculty "professional and economic interests" including representation in
governance, tenure, fair grievance procedures, and the right to strike. These
interests, consistent with "old," working-class movements, reflect the status
of most professionals as salaried employees that are at times treated like any
other form of labor. Within this management/employee relationship, professional movement organizations may well act like "old" social movements, as
illustrated by the strike by the American Association of University Professors
at the University of Cincinnati in 1993. Strike issues included pay and benefits, faculty role in setting working conditions, and job security. In such struggles professionals act as employees, and organizational actions resemble
those of working-class unions in negotiation with management.
Hybrid social movements, therefore, reflect the complex and at times
conflicting roles of the professional middle class as both hired labor and
autonomous professional. Middle-class life is therefore often a hybrid in
practice also. While the analysis above described two ideal types of middleclass and working-classcultures, members of the middle class may experience

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elements of both depending on individual experiences and circumstances.


Some professionals, such as corporate middle managers, experience their
roles as employees more than others, which will be reflected in their own
cultural practices. New social movements are an expression of middle-class
culture absent other institutional constraints. Therefore, new social movements are found in their purest form when the middle class is least engaged
in narrow interest competition in the workplace or community.

CONCLUSIONS
This paper proposes that social class shapes social movements through
the medium of class culture. Class cultures encompass a range of historically evolving strategies that adapt to the structural conditions that confront
each class. Movements represent one form of strategy that reproduces and
reflects class culture while adapting its resources for collective action directed at class-relevant forms of change. Therefore, distinct class cultures
produce characteristic forms of movements and kinds of change. In general,
working-class culture teaches pursuit of personal interests in the struggle
against others who would advance their interests at one's expense. Working-class movements are often a direct outgrowth of this struggle, centered
around the pursuit of immediate interests through building sufficient political power to oppose those allied against one's group. By contrast, middle-class culture teaches development of personal skills and commitments
in order to excel in a system judged by the quality of one's work. Middleclass movements tend to pursue universal goals through education about
values and beliefs as a direct outgrowth of their class-based experiences.
Interests remain central to this understanding of class, but interests
must be interpreted within the distinct contexts defined by different classes.
Middle-class advancement, for instance, is tied to developing expertise and
an internalized sense of accomplishment within a particular discipline. The
resulting interest in asserting the value of this professional or personal
knowledge and purpose cannot be understood simply on the level of direct
material gain. The values expressed by members of the middle-class are
real motivators of behavior on their own terms, as they are for middle-class
movements. Furthermore, the search for identity, which is an important
dimension of middle-class life and movements, represents a critical interest
that is again expressed at the cultural level. Class interests and values intertwine in movement politics.
The study of class forms of social movements contributes to an understanding of class cultures. Comparing movements across classes isolates
similar strategies of collective action applied within different class contexts.

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This controls an important variable among the diverse strategies that coexist within each class culture. A comparison of working vs. middle-class
movements highlights the values, interests, organizational forms, and ideas
that characterize each class culture.
Class, therefore, delineates the form that movements take rather than
any particular political content. New social movements include organizations that exhibit a wide spectrum of politics that may be aligned with working- or owning-class groups. What unites these movements is their
class-based memberships, focus on universal issues, emphasis on middleclass values, and their use of education and value approaches to social
change. This analysis suggests that the particular content of movement politics is determined by specific experiences and circumstances interpreted
through the lens of class-culture. Thus the content of politics cannot be
read from class position, but the form of politics can to a large degree.
A class-cultural framework resolves many of the contradictions and
ambiguities in other theories about the role of values, interests, and expressed ideas in shaping movement behavior; about the role that class plays
in movement politics; about the reasons for the class makeup of movements. New Class theories that interpret new social movements as self-interested class actors ignore the role of beliefs in motivating middle-class
behavior. They are also unable to explain the tensions between these movements and the mainstream of the middle class. New Social Movement
Theories appreciate the cultural struggles of these movements but ignore
the interests that these movements serve. By taking movement goals at face
value alone, they overlook the continuity between these movements and
the class from which they emerge. Cultural Shift theory also suffers from
ignoring the interests disguised by the language of values. Middle-class interests can only be understood in the comprehensive framework of middle-class life as they are integrated with beliefs and values. Class-cultural
theory provides a framework that links culture and interests as they emerge
within the work process, which is where class is defined.
From a class-cultural perspective, new social movements can be understood as contemporary examples of middle-class movements. They address moral issues as an extension of middle-class forms of internalized
social regulation. Change is pursued through raising consciousness and affecting lifestyles because the middle class defines its own activities by its
ideas and beliefs. Organizations are informal because middle-class participation is voluntary and based on personal motivations. These and many
other qualities of new social movements reflect middle-class cultural practices and interests.
Class cultural theory has important implications for movement micromobilization, consciousness and identity formation, strategies and politics.

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Micromobilization theory has not distinguished between different class, race,


gender, or cultural groups in its analyses of recruitment and movement participation. Rational choice theories assume uniform standards of judgement
across social groups (Olson, 1965; McCarthy and Zald, 1977), and mobilization theories assume that social ties function by the same dynamics regardless
of who is involved (McAdam et al., 1988). The theory presented in this paper
suggests that particularsocial groups have characteristicmotivations for joining movements and distinct forms of social networks and relationships. This
paper outlines the different motivations of working-and middle-class movement participants, and similar analyses are needed to elaborate the unique
dynamics between other socially defined groups.
Social movement theory about identity politics and consciousness has likewise failed to recognize the unique cultural forms that movement participants
bring to their activism.Studies of how movement actorsconstructmeaning have
generally assumed shared cultural frames throughout society and failed to distinguish meanings by class, race, gender, or other social differences.26
At the level of individualmovements, existing theory is too specific rather
than too general. Observers have viewed social action frames and collective
identity formation as unique processes within movements without recognizing
patterns among class movements and other social groupings (Tarrow,1992).
The analysis of class and other sub-cultural forms is vital for understanding movement strategies and politics as well. Movement repertoires are
not uniform across society despite the homogenizing impact of mass media.
An understanding of class, race, and gender cultures could contribute to understanding the ways that strategies and political action emerge from the distinct life experiences of social groups. The content of movement politics
combines external political conditions and the internal cultural forms of the
movement. While considerable attention has been paid to political opportunities and external influences, far less has been written about the definition
imposed by internal movement forms. In this, much can be learned from
feminist theory and studies of the women's movement, which have based
their analyses on cultural and social understandings of difference. This kind
of analysis needs to be extended to class and race differences.27
Finally, class-cultural theory has vital implications for the development
of social movement theory broadly by integrating structural, social constructivist, and rational actor approaches. European emphasis on structuralanalyses and American focus on rational actor approaches have recently been
26Ronald Inglehart (1977, 1990) illustrates this tendency. While he notes that affluence will
have impacts on values, he assumes that different social groups will respond to affluence
the same way. Thus he does not distinguish between distinct subcultures with different forms
of consciousness.
27For an excellent example that compares the roles of class and race in defining movement
demands, see the work of Celene Krauss (1994).

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complemented by social constructivistapproaches. A larger integration of all


three has yet to develop. Class culture provides a context for such a larger
synthesis by recognizing structuralsources of interests, meanings and values.
Class cultures shape the form of movement politics but not the specific content that emerges from particular circumstances and experiences. Thus culture structures action with significant space for agency. This paper has argued
that movement behavior must be understood within the framework of class
and other structuringcultural subsystems.These implications of class-cultural
theory require further development and investigation.
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