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Revisiting 1968

(Conference Philosophy and Social Sciences 2008, May 14-18)


Axiom, Mi.20. August 2008, 14-16Uhr


Nancy Fraser: 1968 and the Cunning of History: Capitalism, Feminism, Hillary


Zhou Suiming: Western New Social Movements: Evolutions, Contributions and Enlightenments


play 01: Lectures from Zhou Suiming and Nancy Fraser, Prag 2008





Interview with Lauren Langman on nationalism, new social movements and 1968- 2008: Diary of an Activist Generation


play 02: Interview with Lauren Langman




Lauren Langman received his PhD in Human Development from the University of Chicago. Although he had planned a career in psychology, as a result of participation in civil rights and anti war movements, his interest shifted to sociology as a way of understanding how social conflict was based on group membership and interests rather than individual personality. As a result, his work as a sociologist has always had an interdisciplinary focus largely concerned with the relations of the historically instantiated social structure and culture to the individual.






Lauren Langman (Department of Sociology Loyola University of Chicago)




The emancipatory project of the Enlightenment, the realization of a free, democratic, egalitarian society, with prosperity and “perpetual peace” with its neighbors, remains an unfulfilled vision. Yet progress toward that vision remains an unfolding process. Throughout the world, a number of trends and circumstances converged in 1968, a year that remains a watershed moment in history and critical period in the struggles for democracy, justice and freedom. Much like 1789, 1848, 1917, 1945 or 1989, 1968 has become an important historical marker of the transitions and transformations that take place as one distinct era ends and another begins anew. It is important to note that in 1968, there were indeed three separate, though often intertwined movements that in many ways, had many enduring consequences. The emancipatory political movements demanded progressive, democratic social change in the nature of governance. The social- cultural inclusionary movements worked for civil rights, eg namely recognition, inclusion, justice and equality for the excluded and marginalized. The countercultural movements sought personal freedom to pursue hedonistic life styles unfettered by moralists.


At this point in time, four decades later, long since these events happened, yet still remain alive within the memories of many, 2008 a good moment for us to take stock of 1968. As will be argued, the 1968 social movements were not only agents and harbingers of change, but the movements marked a change in the nature of social movement organizations and a shift in goals from interests to culture, identities and life styles. The central concerns were not just wages, benefits or overtime pay, but the nature of selfhood, recognition, community and meaning. As will be argued, the anti-institutional, rational-moral thrust of these movements was not only different from other movements, but prompted the emergence of what has now come to be known a New Social Movement theory. Large numbers of typically young activists challenged the small numbers of typically older, more powerful, entrenched political leaders of every stripe, socialist or capitalist. On the one hand, the political mobilizations such as May 68, Prague Spring or Chicago 68 were democratic struggles against the domination of authoritarian institutions/leaders. In Paris there were student worker challenges to the De Gaulle government. In Prague there was popular opposition to the domination and repression of Russia.1 Meanwhile, the Tet Offensive challenged American imperialism in Viet Nam and inspired the anti war movements. The social cultural movements ranged from civil rights struggles to identity politics movements that were seeking social justice as a means to a more inclusive, democratic and meaningful social order. The counter cultural movements rejected mainstream authority, conventions and repressions and instead sought alternative, experiment life styles that embraced personal freedom, often as a critique of the repressive hedonism intertwined with a great deal of hypocrisy.


In 1968, throughout the world, huge masses of people organized, mobilized, marched, demonstrated or otherwise tried to either change their governments or push their government’s toward more democratic, inclusive institutions with more progressive policies. Quite often, these mobilization met with massive State repression and violence such as the Soviet tanks rolling into to Wenceslas Square, the Mexican police launching the Tlatelolco massacre or the Chicago “police riots” directed at the anti-war demonstrators at the Democratic convention. Few of these 68 movements led to immediate or fundamental social changes or transformation. Prague Spring was crushed. The US elected Richard Nixon president, the French re-elected de Gaulle. The massive social mobilizations aimed at democratic and progressive social transformations seemed to fail-or did they? In 1968, the Tet Offensive, while militarily a failure, marked the beginning of the end of the American occupation of Vietnam. Many social movements have required decades to fulfill their objectives, consider abolition or suffrage. As will be seen, the most enduring consequences of 68 were not so much particular policies, or radical transformations of the society, but making identity, community and meaning essential parts of mobilization practices and goals.