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By Hans Haferkamp, Neil J. Smelser

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Liberals predicted that society would be transformed into a market in which all goods and services would be priced according to their utility. But this confidence in reason and change could not exclude a deep-seated anxiety: how would it be possible to introduce order into change, that is, to maintain the unity of society, the continuity of law, and the possibility of education in a society that would be like a stream in whose waters one cannot step twice? Beyond the diversity of its thinkers and schools, sociology is a general interpretation of modern society: its central purpose is to understand the interdependence of order and movement.

Without a principle of social integration based on a legitimate state, no central social movement can be created; without open social conflicts and a recognized plurality of interests, social movements are reduced to rebellions. Social movements were, according to this view, directly linked with societies integrated by unifying myths—of the national state or society—as well as with autonomous economics relations. We now observe their decomposition in countries where an absolute state tolerates no diversity and imposes its rule in the name of a communitarian destiny.

Feminist movements are more complex. It is necessary to distinguish in them at least two different orientations. On one side exists a feminist liberalism, which is an emancipatory movement following the tradition of British and American nineteenth-century reform movements. This movement rejects the identification of women with private life and fights for an equal participation of women in all aspect of public life and in all occupations, law and politics in particular. Simone de Beauvoir was the central figure of this progressive liberalism, which occasionally becomes radical by linking itself to socialist ideas but is most influential among women who enter into social and occupational elites.

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