The social movement literature has made a fundamental contribution to one of the most significant trends in contemporary political sociology: the effort to learn more about the culture of popular classes, and the implications of grassroots movement politics for broader political, social and economic realities. This essay presents a critical review of the Latin American social movement literature, from 1970 to the present. It chronicles and interprets the implications of the theoretical shift from Marxist and Marxist-inspired studies of the 1970s to the democratic and identity politics of the 1980s and 1990s. While celebrating the advances made, as class-based analysis was replaced by a more nuanced appreciation of politics and culture, it is also suggested that caution must be exercised lest the new perspective become overly concerned with cultural novelties at the expense of sober political analysis concerning the power of movements under neoliberalism. The essay ends on an optimistic note, with reference to recently published works that make important contributions to our understanding of movement/party/state relations and recent shifts in cultural identities and consciousness.