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Citizenship and Social Movements
Perspectives from the Global South
By Lisa Thompson, Chris Tapscott
Zed Books LtdCopyright © 2010 Lisa Thompson and Chris Tapscott
All rights reserved.
Introduction: mobilization and social movements in the South – the challenges of inclusive governance
LISA THOMPSON AND CHRIS TAPSCOTT
The latter half of the twentieth century witnessed an upsurge in mobilization and collective action in states of the global South, which has continued to this day. While this mobilization in its early phases comprised part of either ongoing anti-colonial struggles for national independence or struggles against despotic rule (especially in Latin America), the forms of social movement to which this has given rise have mutated over the years and they now reflect a broad array of social, political and economic concerns differentially expressed at local, national and global levels. While the literature on social movements is vast and extends back nearly a century, it remains a truism that by far the bulk of the writing and theorizing in this field has been oriented to the analysis of movements in the global North. There has been little attempt to engage with the writings of Southern scholars on the topic. Where research has focused attention on transitional states, social movements have invariably been analysed in terms of criteria derived from Northern experience. While some of this comparative work retains undeniable universal validity, a good deal of it clearly does not. In the absence of historically grounded empirical research, social movements in these societies and the struggles that underpin them are not infrequently reduced to caricature. This mode of investigation, typified by long-range event analysis, denies the complexity of social formations in the South, and, ignoring any prospect of agency, portrays their members as the hapless victims of tyrannical rulers and traditional culture or the passive recipients of Northern-led actions.
While the quest for meta-theory, with its all-embracing power of explanation, remains an alluring one for social and political scientists the world over, the latent weakness in the approach remains, as always, a lack of empirical validation across different social, political and historical contexts. As Oliver et al. (2003) point out, there is a need for mainstream theory to 'continue to address a geographically and substantively broader empirical base, breaking out of a preoccupation with Anglo-America and Europe and becoming truly global in its orientation. This broader base will open new empirical problems that will point to weaknesses in current theory and lead to the development of new theory.' They argue for a 'growing focus on mechanisms and processes that occur in many different movements, and decreasing attempts to develop universal propositions about the causes, effects or trajectories of whole movements' (ibid.).
Although this volume makes no pretence of advancing a coherent theoretical framework for understanding collective action and social movements in the global South (if indeed such a project were feasible or academically useful), it does seek to present new understandings of the ways in which, and the reasons why, communities mobilize in the South. In so doing, it raises questions about the applicability of social movement theory based mainly on experiences in the North. While social movements in both the North and South have in common a desire to mobilize towards a collective goal, whether it be the attainment of rights denied or the reversal of adverse state policy, their genesis, form and orientation are likely in many, but not all, instances to be significantly different. As Stammers (2005, 2009) has pointed out, historically the attainment of rights in the North was the outcome of sustained social movement activity. In contrast, many social movements in the South have arisen as a consequence of the opportunities presented by rights entrenched in relatively recently instated constitutional democracies. In such contexts, social mobilization is, in many respects, aimed at achieving substantive citizenship which yields material gains.
This is not, however, to suggest that the extant body of social movement theory is irrelevant to experiences in the South, and the resonance of the dominant theoretical positions is to be found in virtually all of the case studies which follow in this volume. What is significantly different, however, is the departure point for an analysis of the factors that give rise to collective action and social movements in the South. On this point most Southern theorists concur, namely that the inequalities that prevail in the world political and economic order (and which have given rise to the descriptors North and South) have played and continued to play a major role in shaping relations of power and patterns of inequality within Southern states. The economic dependencies that have arisen as a consequence of the current world order, and the internal distortions that have arisen from this, however, have not been factored into analyses in the North simply because they have not been of any significance in understanding why and how social mobilization takes place in postindustrial societies.
Particularly since the end of the cold war and the emergence of the neoliberal consensus, which Castells (2003: 327), quoting Ramonet, calls 'la pensée unique' (the only thinking), the linkages between exclusion at the level of the state and exclusion in global terms have become decidedly more pronounced. Marginalization in the South, and of the South, is a dominant characteristic of current global political and socio-economic processes. As Castells (ibid.: 325) states:
[t]he global economy is characterised by a fundamental asymmetry between countries, in terms of their levels of integration, their competitive potential, and share of benefits from economic growth ... [t]he consequence of this is the increased segmentation of the world population ... leading to increased inequality and social exclusion ... [t]his pattern of segmentation is characterised by a double movement: on the one hand, valuable segments of territories and people are linked to global networks ... [o]n the other hand, everything, and everyone, which does not have value, according to what is valued in the networks, or ceases to have value, is switched off the networks, and ultimately discarded altogether.
The effects of global capital on development and democracy have been emphasized in the older research and literature on mobilization and social movements in the South. Scholars such as Wignaraja (1993), Amin (1976, 1993), Kothari (1993, 2005) and Mamdani et al. (1993) drew on an eclectic mix of Marxist theory to underline the importance of social movements for state transformation. According to these perspectives, the structural effects of global neoliberalism, with the emphasis on markets and the transmission of modern technology, are key to an understanding of the reasons why more unified social resistance has not taken place in states labelled Third or even Fourth World. Nevertheless, and perhaps paradoxically, in the past decade the role of popular mobilization and social movements has increasingly been seen as central in pressuring states and global organizations to reconfigure the socio-economic order both within national boundaries and beyond.
Kabeer (2005: 23) discusses the importance of understanding collective action in terms of two axes of participation, horizontal and vertical. Horizontal forms of participation are the linkages forged between mobilized citizens and communities at local, national and global levels. Such horizontal spaces of participation, which might also be called 'self-created' or 'invented' spaces, are where citizens themselves define their modes of engagement with the state and with other interest groups and resort to different forms of collective action. These linkages are not necessarily stable, nor do they represent a fixed notion of citizen identity on the part of those who participate. The ways in which mobilization, collective action and social movements manifest themselves in these spaces are key to understanding the processes of collective identity formation as citizens attempt to exercise both their individual and collective rights. Vertical spaces are those created by the state and which 'invite' citizens to participate. Elaborating this point in a recent volume in this series, and flagging their limitations, Cornwall and Coelho maintain that 'the institutions of the participatory sphere are framed by those who create them, and infused with power relations and cultures of interaction carried into them from other spaces' (Cornwall and Coelho 2007: 11).
Globally, horizontal forms of networking and identity formation characterize what is discussed in the literature as 'new social movements' (hereafter NSMs). These new movements, unlike 'old' or classical social movements (SMs), tend to lack clear organizational structures and internal bureaucracies, and, effectively, function by coalescing political identities and agendas both nationally and globally. Hajer (1995) calls these 'discourse coalitions' and, in many ways, they represent the new wave of social movement organization globally (see also Leach et al. 2005). It is worth remembering, however, that NSMs represent a specific progression in civil society organization in the post-industrial North, where issues not always directly related to economic practice, but triggered by the impacts of neoliberal economic development, have given rise to social movement action (the environmental movement is a key example). The environmental movement characterizes this diversification of civil society action and organization into new forms of movement creation, organization and networking. Many of these NSMs, of which the women's movement is another exemplar, have helped to bolster similar movements in Southern contexts, notwithstanding lower levels of economic development.
The degree to which mobilization and the formation of social movements at the grassroots level are necessary for the realization of fundamental rights is a question that extends back to the origins of social movement theory. As Stammers (2005) points out, struggles for rights (natural, political or socio-economic) have both shaped and been shaped by the evolution of the modern liberal democratic system. The focus of this book is precisely on the ways in which different mobilization strategies in the South, and the forms of social movements to which they give rise (or not, as the case may be), support mainstream understandings of what the predominant modes of interaction are between society and the state.
As other research from the CDRC has emphasized, notions of citizenship and of rights broadly understood are not in themselves fixed and immutable. The types of identity formation and forms of collective action evident in communities in the South occur in contexts where the meanings of citizenship and rights are far more nebulous and contested, as well as globally referenced, than in the history of the North. New understandings of citizenship are perhaps most clearly understood in terms of emergent forms of collective action in the South, although of course the interplay between collective and individual identities remains crucial to democratic practices, a point that is well emphasized in the chapters by Osaghae and Cortez in this volume. The chapters explore the distinction between forms of unorganized and ad hoc mobilization and more organized forms of collective action, with more clearly developed leadership, goals and agendas, and social movements. As Alonso et al. (this volume) point out, the critical difference between ad hoc mobilization and social movements is that the latter, through a variety of means, have the capacity to develop the political and social cohesion necessary to ensure enduring (usually at least somewhat effective) concerted action on common rights.
Notwithstanding the profound disparities extant in the world political order, there is a need to broaden the case base if the universality of social movement theory in the North is to be tested in any meaningful way. The case studies presented in this volume are from countries (Bangladesh, India, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa) where, at least formalistically, multiparty democracy exists. As such, they present evidence of the very real challenges which exist in developing substantive forms of participatory democracy even where the requisite democratic institutions are in place. They underscore the significance of social movements in these ongoing struggles for substantive citizenship. We readily acknowledge that the case study material does not fully capture a wide diversity of other contexts, such as how movements emerge in settings with weak states, one-party states and military juntas.
As will be seen in the discussion that follows, all of the chapters in this volume stress the importance of the struggle for socio-economic rights in the emergence of social movements in the South. They also reflect on the ways in which developmental and global political economy discourses and agendas influence mobilization and social movements, both directly and indirectly. The first two sections of the book deal specifically with these two themes. The final section examines the extent to which formal channels of participation promote more inclusive citizenship and facilitate the realization of political as well as socio-economic rights.
The structure of the book, key themes and issues
Social movements in the South, both nationally based and those which have global linkages, tend to be much weaker than in the North, owing either to political control on the part of the state, or because understandings of citizenship do not always coalesce into clear patterns of mobilization and resistance of either the organized or unorganized variety (Amin 1993; Bond 2002; Kothari 2005). In some cases, owing to a combination of socio-economic circumstances and the lack of a strong collective political identity, groups that are systematically discriminated against do not mobilize in clearly discernible ways at all. There are, nevertheless, notable success stories in the extent to which social movements in the South have managed to assert their rights and to extract concessions from the state, and a few of these are captured in the chapters that follow.
Two key strands of mobilization emerge in the case studies presented: the dominant type can be understood as self-organized collective action around issue-based socio-economic rights. These arise, in many instances, in response to state-initiated development programmes that sacrifice individual or collective socio-economic rights in the name of national interest, and which, by forcefully suppressing protest action, also effectively trample on political rights. The other form of mobilization is by social movement groups or their representatives in spaces created by government, either for socio-economic or political rights, or to ensure and extend these rights through 'participatory democratic processes'. Both forms of mobilization, nevertheless, are directed towards the attainment of socio-economic rights in the South. This is referred to as the political economy of rights by Newell and Wheeler (2006: 9):
in which questions of access to and distribution and production of resources are paramount. A focus on resources changes the way we think about the relationship between rights and accountability. The challenge is not to overemphasise the material dimensions of this relationship and to acknowledge instead that economic rights are in many ways indivisible from social, political and cultural rights.
The book is divided into three broad sections. Section One highlights the significance of historical context in the analysis of social movements, since the genesis of contemporary collective action can often be traced back to perceived or real discrimination or oppression stretching back into a distant past. The rationale, the framing, as it were, of such movements is that those involved have suffered from collective social and political injustice and, consequentially, that their struggle is, in the first instance, for communitarian rather than individual rights (Osaghae and Cortez, this volume). Such movements, not infrequently, are ethnically or class-based and derive their cohesion both from a sense of collective oppression and/or pre-existing sociocultural identities. The case studies in this section also include instances where mobilization has failed to take place despite severely adverse conditions (Mahmud on garment workers in Bangladesh), or where the process of mobilization, despite material gains, has failed to lead to any sense of citizen empowerment (Simpson and Waldman on transnational litigation on behalf of asbestos workers).
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