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Social movement politics and the charter of rights outside the courts James, Matt


It is often argued that such 'new social movements' as lesbian and gay rights, feminism, and anti-racism nourish aspirations which are completely different from those advanced by their orthodox socialist predecessors. Contemporary social change politics, it is held, are informed by 'postmaterialist' values. This study, "Social Movement Politics and the Charter of Rights Outside the Courts," challenges such a view by analyzing the testimony made by a range of social movement organizations before the Canadian federal government's 1992 special parliamentary committee hearings on the constitution. "Social Movement Politics and the Charter of Rights Outside the Courts" reveals that so-called postmaterialist groups (such as feminist, lesbian and gay and anti-racist organizations) are concerned emphatically with material issues. At the same time, 'materialist' groups like unions and antipoverty organizations demonstrate a profound concern for their symbolic status in the political community, thus confounding the postmaterialism dichotomy. Therefore, this study argues, the postmaterialist dichotomy is too crude an analytic tool for capturing contemporary social change struggles accurately. Instead, the full range of social movements, 'new' and 'old', must be reassessed. In Canada, the new presence of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has proven a rallying point for all major contemporary social change movements. It provides a common institutional context of action within which social change politics can be studied. This study's analysis of the discursive use of the Charter by social movement organizations isolates several emergent distinctions among social movements that will prove crucial to the evolution of social change politics in Canada. These are: 1) the contrasting institutional identifications of antimajoritarian and state-expansionist groups, which are induced by the new availability of justiciable rights; 2) the divergent attitudes evinced by ethnic and visible minorities towards the norms established by the Charter's sections 15 and 27; 3) the considerable difference in political advantage that Charter enumeration gives recognized over unrecognized movements.

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