Temporality in Social Movement Theory: Vectors and Events in the Neoliberal Timescape

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Existing theories of social movements have a weak conception of temporality, which is generally tied to truncated protest waves or else to micro-scale sequences of interaction. Neither approach enables an understanding of continuity and change in the content and form of social movements over longer periods. This article develops a new conceptual terminology intended to bring temporal sensitivity to our understanding of the interplay between movements and their socio-political environments. Vectors highlight evolving patterns of interaction that carry ideas and action orientations into a range of social settings over a period of decades. Examining the interplay of different vectors, and accounting also for the unfolding character of historic events, enables the apprehension of an overarching timescape within which movements move. This theoretical approach is illustrated with an examination of three significant periods of transnational contention associated with the Alter-Globalization, Anti-War, and Occupy movements. Analysis of vectors that shape discourses of conflict, organizational preferences, and practices of individual autonomy explain dynamics of continuity and change across different movements, each of which is shaped by a dynamic neoliberal timescape.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)516-536
JournalSocial Movement Studies
Issue number5-6
Early online date19 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Temporality
  • Timescape
  • events
  • Neoliberalism
  • Anti-Globalisation
  • Anti-war movement
  • Occupy Movement


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