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Alain Touraine on Postindustrial Society - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 271
Postindustrial Society/Touraine/West: (...) 'technocracy' extends beyond economy and state to institutions concerned with communication (media), production and transmission of
knowledge (education) and creation of symbolic and cultural contents (media, entertainment industry, marketing, design, etc.). >Modernism/Touraine.
By implication, the fundamental contradiction of industrial society, that between capital and labour, is being superseded by new conflicts. The fundamental opposition of programmed society is between 'those who manage the apparatus of knowledge and economic transformation, and those who are caught up in change and are trying to regain control over it' (1977(1): 156). The
student activism of May 1968 in Paris was an early symptom of new patterns of conflict (1971(2): 347); anti-nuclear and environmental protesters represent subsequent waves of resistance to the new form of domination.
Marxism: Evidently, although Touraine updates the Marxist theory of class conflict, he retains its binary structure. Despite the apparent plurality and diversity of new social movements, ultimately
‚[A] society is formed by two opposing movements: one which changes historicity into organization, to the point of transforming it into Older and power, and another which breaks down this order so as to rediscover the orientations and conflicts through cultural innovation
and through social movements. (1981(3): 31)
West: Less radical forms of political activism are relegated to lesser categories of collective action in accordance with Touraine's aim 'to extract the social movement from the admixture in which it is compounded with other types of collective behaviour' (1981(3): 24; 1985(4)). *
Social movements: The genuine social movement is identified by its relation to the progressive
option of resistance to technocratic domination in the crisis of programmed society. Like Habermas’s
Gaus I 272
analysis in its focus on reflexive modernity and on the role of technocratic or instrumental reason, and, above all, in its commitment to the schemata of Marxian critical theory, ...
TouraineVsHabermas: ...Touraine's approach dif-fers mainly in what he regards as the alternative to an increasingly technocratic society.
Technocracy/Touraine: As Touraine puts it: ‚Some, like myself, think it necessary to re-introduce the concept of the subject, not in a Cartesian or religious sense, but as the effort of the individual to act as a person, to select, organize and control his individual life against all kinds of pressures. Others, like Habermas, oppose to the instrumentalist view of modernity the idea of intersubjectivity, communicative action and, in more practical terms, democracy.‘ (1991(5): 390—1)

* Melucci (1985(6); 1989(7)) follows Touraine's approach but, in a spirit closer to postmodernism (...) attempts to avoid such 'totalizing' tendencies.


1. Touraine, Alain (1977) The Self-Production of Society, trans. D. Coltman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
2. Touraine, Alain (1971) The May Movement: Revolt and Reform. New York: Random House.
3. Touraine, Alain (1981) The Voice and the Eye: An Analysis of Social Movements. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
4. Touraine, Alain (1985) 'An introduction to the study of social movements'. Social Research, 52 (4): 749-87.
5. Habermas, Jürgen (1987) The Theory of Communicative Action. Vol. Il, Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason, trans. T. McCarthy. Cambridge: Polity
6. Melucci, A. (1985) 'The symbolic challenge of contemporary movements'. Social Research, 52 (4): 789—815.
7. Melucci, A. (1989) Nomads of the Present: Social Movements and Individual Needs in Contemporary Society, eds J. Keane and P. Mier. London: Hutchinson Radius.


West, David 2004. „New Social Movements“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Touraine, Alain
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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