The harsh social, economic and political realities of the 21st century make efforts to link sociology to a social change agenda ever more compelling. Growing economic precarity, declining welfare provision, deunionization and deregulation, soaring inequality in income and wealth, ongoing environmental destruction, and the steady erosion of democratic institutions in many countries, have generated a variety of social movement responses in recent years. These span the political spectrum, ranging from the Occupy Wall Street uprisings to the Tea Party in the U.S., with parallel developments around the globe. Among the many progressive examples in the U.S. are low-wage worker organizing, protests against police brutality and voter suppression, campaigns for racial justice and immigrant rights, the environmental justice movement, new waves of feminism and campaigns for LGBTQ rights. Taken together, such stirrings of popular discontent suggest the potential for a broader challenge to market fundamentalism, like the counter-movements Karl Polanyi wrote about decades ago. But all too often these efforts have been exercises in the politics of possibility: they have been more successful on the discursive level — changing the conversation — than in winning structural transformation. Occupy Wall Street, for example, galvanized public concern about growing inequality but failed to reverse its momentum. Can such movements muster the power to achieve lasting social change?
Please join us in Seattle in August 2016 for sessions on the full range of sociological topics, and a program showcasing discussions of the challenges facing 21st century social movements.
Ruth Milkman, City University of New York Graduate Center
ASA President-elect and Chair, 2016 Annual Meeting Program Committee