Working Papers

The Local in the Global

Rethinking Social Movements in the New Millennium


We discuss the failure of social movement theories to adequately understand and theorize locally-based, grassroots social movements like the landless workers movement in Brazil, “livability movements” in third world cities, and living wage movements in the US. Movements like these come to the attention of most social movement analysts only when the activists who participate in them come together in the streets of Seattle or international forums like the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre. For social movement analysts, it is the transnational character of these forums and protests that have excited the most attention. The local and generative aspects of these movements have received much less consideration. We argue that the old theories of social movements do not help us understand the local and generative dynamics and processes of these new movements because they reflect a particular configuration of relations between the state, society, and century. We look at the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement and the Justice for Janitors Campaign in Los Angeles to illustrate the important terrain of civil society as well as the role of community organizing.