Get access

Culture, Power, and Institutions: A Multi-Institutional Politics Approach to Social Movements*


  • *

    Address correspondence to: Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Department of Sociology, 744 Ballantine Hall, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Tel: 812-856-2063. E-mail:, or to Mary Bernstein, Department of Sociology, 344 Mansfield Rd., Unit 2068, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269. Tel: 860-486-3991. E-mail: Authors contributed equally to this article and are listed in alphabetical order. We thank Nancy Naples, Francesca Polletta, Tim Bartley, Brian Steensland, Fabio Rojas, Art Alderson, David Meyer, Verta, Taylor, and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. A special thanks to Kristine Olsen for research assistance.


We argue that critiques of political process theory are beginning to coalesce into a new approach to social movements—a “multi-institutional politics” approach. While the political process model assumes that domination is organized by and around one source of power, the alternative perspective views domination as organized around multiple sources of power, each of which is simultaneously material and symbolic. We examine the conceptions of social movements, politics, actors, goals, and strategies supported by each model, demonstrating that the view of society and power underlying the political process model is too narrow to encompass the diversity of contemporary change efforts. Through empirical examples, we demonstrate that the alternative approach provides powerful analytical tools for the analysis of a wide variety of contemporary change efforts.