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Social Movements in the global south


Social Movements in the Global South. Some Theoretical Considerations

by Philipp Altmann*, Deniz Günce Demirhisar**, Jacob Mwathi Mati**

Mis en ligne le 30 mars 2017
Pour citer cet article :Philipp Altmann, Deniz Günce Demirhisar, Jacob Mwathi Mati, "Social Movements in the Global South. Some Theoretical Considerations", Émulations, n°19, 2016.
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* Escuela de Sociología y Ciencias Políticas, Universidad Central del Ecuador, Équateur.
** École des hautes études en sciences sociales - CADIS (Centre d’analyse et d’intervention sociologiques, EHESS/CNRS, Paris, France.
** School of Social Sciences, The University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji & Society, Work and Development Institute (SWOP), The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
The order of author names is alphabetical. The three authors have contributed equally to this article.

While social movements have been shaping the contours of politics for over two centuries, we have witnessed a resurgence of scholarly interest in them in the last few decades. This is attributed to the intensification of social struggles against deepening economic and political exclusion, and environmental crisis arising from the embedded economic neoliberalism of the contemporary era (Gaventa, 2010; Thompson and Tapscott, 2010; Habib, 2008; Ballard, Habib and Valodia, 2006; Tilly, 2004; Anheier, Glasius and Kaldor, 2001; Polet, 2007; Motta and Nilsen, 2011). In the face of these deepening crises, societies in both the global North and South have reacted, in part, through social movements, which act as collective action counterweights to powerful exploitative economic forces and oppressive political institutions (Tilly, 2004). The current wave of protests has been especially intense since 2011 when movements occupying public squares begun in the Arab world, rapidly spreading across the globe. These protest actions have opened opportunities for social scientists seeking a new understanding of these and other social movements.

Even with this resurgent research interest, it is still commonplace that dominant theories of social movement studies are modelled on the experiences of the Global North and therefore tend to be Eurocentric or Americentric. For instance, the two dominant theories in contemporary studies of social movements are inherently biased towards explaining social contentions in the post-industrial democratic societies. In particular, the political process model and the earlier resource mobilization approach is a product of experiences in the United States of America, emerging out of studies of the waves of social mobilizations and protests of the 1960s concerned with issues of exclusion and meaningful participation in a liberal democratic state. This theory advances a rather economic rationale for social movement participation and is concerned with movements’ activities only in traditional democratic political contexts. This renders it unsuitable for analysis of movements outside formal politics or in non-democratic contexts. The political process model’s rival in Western Europe, new social movements theory, seeks to explain the emergence of contemporary social movements in post-industrial society whose concerns are non-material. Identity and culture are the main focuses of this paradigm and its axiom is based on a different kind of supposed human rationality.

Despite the valuable contribution of both paradigms (the political process model and new social movement theory), represented in two different research committees of the International Sociological Association (ISA), RC47 (Social Classes and Social Movements), and RC48 (Social Movements, Collective Action and Social Change) besides many other initiatives, new trends are emerging. These trends are especially at the crossroads of the sociology of emotions (Jasper, Goodwin and Polletta, 2001), frame analysis (Snow and Benford, 2000) and of memory studies especially in the countries facing democratic transition in the Balkans, in the Middle-East or South America. Such trends manifest as movements drawing inspiration, on the one hand, from utopian thinking and prefiguration, and on the other, driven by the practical necessity of acting globally, as shown by the alter-globalization movement or Climate Change protests.

Models developed to examine industrial societies, politically organized as democratic Nation-states since the Post-War era are not sufficient for grasping the changing dynamics of collective action today, which happens in a myriad of contexts, even in the North. As such, many other interesting hypotheses such as “post-industrial societies” (Bell, 1973; Touraine, 1969); various approaches of post-modernism; “network society” (Castells, 1996); “complex societies” (Melucci, 1996); “multiple modernities” (Eisenstadt, 2002) or even “liquid modernity” (Bauman, 2000) have proposed innovative ways of thinking about the transition towards the 21st century social movements. Other social scientists have paid more attention to “space” (Harvey, 2000); “time” (Rosa, 2004); “emotions” (Jasper, Goodwin and Polletta 2001); “love” (Illouz, 1997); “the creativity of action” (Joas, 1996) that are all important conceptual approaches for collective action, whether they insist upon the issue for which people struggle for/against, or the carriers of the regime of subjectivity, the phenomenology, the historicity and utopias within which they situate collective action. Nonetheless, social theory is yet to comprehensively deal with the impacts of a globalizing world against “methodological nationalism” (Beck, 2007). Moreover, new theoretical attempts have to make the links between the regime of subjectivity at the very individual or even in time scale and the global processes, for collective action cannot be analysed without grasping this “big gap” between the individual subject and globalizing world (Wieviorka, 2008). The emotions of protest, the function of memory and the hopes for future, the interactions and the discredit of representative societies as well as the destruction of nature and human dignity by neoliberal processes, all need to be taken into account.

Understanding these dynamics has placed social movement studies at the very core of the purpose of sociology as a discipline, something that has arguably never happened before. Understanding the dynamics of social movements has become so crucial that sociology itself cannot, any longer, be a mere analysis of the social order (and social movement studies a sub-discipline whose domain is the analysis of contentions in social change) as it was in the times of Parsons. To better grasp the dynamics of contemporary social movements also requires a multidisciplinary approach, especially with inputs from knowledge drawn from anthropology, social psychology, ethics and political philosophy, and with that, new concepts and paradigms of societies that we seek to understand.

All the dimensions of social movements mentioned above are important in creating a canvass of theories and methodologies suitable for studying social movements in different contexts. However, experiences of social movements from the global South remain highly neglected in theorizing and studying social movements. This special issue of Émulations makes a modest contribution towards redressing this anomaly. It contains contributions dealing with empirical investigations of experiences of social movements from the Global South.

While the domination of the social movement theories by those oriented in Northern contexts may seem ‘natural’ given that, as some have argued, social movements are themselves co-joined with Western Europe’s modernization and its attendant massive social disruptions[1] (Buechler, 2000), the presence of social movements into other geographies of the world calls for theories that are relevant across different contexts. This is because movements in different geographical and social contexts have exhibited a great novelty in adaptability and complexity in their motivations, operations, organizational forms, and contributions. The dominant Northern-grounded theories, therefore, have many limitations that in turn, reduce their scope and focus in explaining the contexts (historical, material, and cultural) of collective action and social movements in other regions of the world. For instance, both the political process and the new social movement theories are limited in the context and types of movements they try to explain those of contemporary liberal welfare states of the West.

Yet, for many developing country contexts, states are not necessarily liberal, yet we see social movements emerging in such contexts. John Gaventa (2010), in his foreword to Citizenship and Social movements: Perspectives from the Global South, edited by Lisa Thompson and Chris Tapscott, reminds us that social movements in the global South emerge, in many cases, in contexts that are illiberal and undemocratic. Indeed social movement’s main impacts in some instances in the developing world contexts have been:

on their contribution to realizing substantive citizenship rights or to building and deepening responsive, more democratic forms of governance. […] in the context of emerging democracies, where institutionalized channels to engagement have proved weak or unresponsive, social movements can be a fundamentally important vehicle for realizing rights from the state, holding it to account, and struggling for more equitable and sustainable forms of development (Gaventa, 2010 : xii).

Similarly, Shigetomi (2009) writes that social movements are indispensable alternatives for participation in developing countries due to existential threats from poverty, unresponsive or repressive states that suppress rights and freedom, and deprivation of resources.

Furthermore, the political process model, assumes that the state is the social movement’s primary antagonist. This assumption is problematic as it fails to acknowledge, for example, that there are different types of movements where the state is not the primary antagonist. In this regard, the labour movement’s primary antagonists are essentially capitalist employers and that the state is only a secondary antagonist in its intermediary role in relationships between labour and capital (Wimberley, 2005). The same case may be said of environmental movements or feminist movements, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) movements whose primary antagonists are not necessarily the state (even though, undeniably, environmental movements’ struggles may be against weak state environmental regulations, or feminism struggles against the patriarchal state apparatuses while LGBTQ movements are against hetero-normative restrictions on their rights as citizens).

Even then, it is worth noting here, as Shigetomi (2009 : 6, citing Kajita, 1985, and Ogushi, 1995) argues, a major contrast between social movements in developed and developing countries is that, “in advanced industrial societies, social movements tend to concentrate on matters involving society rather than the state, while those in developing countries tend to take a stand against the state, challenging the existing system of control inside and outside of each nation state”. It is also clear today that the actually existing state forms are not responding to the needs of the globalizing world, for instance the massive migration flux and global Islamist radicalization do not fit into traditional national borders. In addition, we are increasingly witnessing the subjectivity of social actors oriented to the issues of rights and ethics (Touraine, 2015), whether they be about freedoms, control of one’s body, health, sexuality, as we notice with the movements such as in the protests for gay marriage, for euthanasia, for patients' rights at the social care system, or against the exclusion of disabled people or people suffering from chronic illnesses such as AIDS. In addition, some of the protest camps in the rural areas and other initiatives in the neoliberal cities (Farro and Demirhisar, 2014) translate a growing aspiration to the harmony with nature, to the protests against its destruction as it is the case with the North Dakota pipeline protest of indigenous peoples or the ZAD’s (Zone à Défendre). A new aspiration for “buen vivir”, “slow cities” or even mental health issues at workplaces, are also important issues raised by small but significant components of collective action mobilizations across the developed world. Moreover the experiences of indigenous peoples who carry another kind of relation to the living beings and life on earth, both as preservation of human habitus but also inside a different cosmology, as well as new spiritual movements merit mention, regarding their impact or interferences with the regime of subjectivity of today’s activists. These experiences have been objects, more than once, of appropriation by non-indigenous groups that use related concepts in order to strengthen their own position, but can serve, at the same time, to effectively place other and new demands in the political scene (Altmann, 2017).

In contemporary times, especially since the Zapatista’s call to their comrades in 1994, the inspiration for new forms of collective action and social interactions at the local level comes from the South, while in the North youth are increasingly concerned with unemployment, lack of future prospects such as the troubles in the retirement system, and the hypocrisy of representative democracy’s elite-based traditional politics. It is striking that the traditional revolutionary class in North labour is today, more and more attracted by reactionary politics, on the one hand, and the feeling of disillusionment with democracy, the “ability to aspire” (Appadurai, 2004) and the capacity for “voice” (Hirschmann, 1970) arise from poorer and less developed societies.

In sum, there are more innovative experiences for progressive politics outside the formal arena in the Global South than in the North where radical right and racism are coming back. Given the view that we are witnessing some promising attempts for crafting a different kind of society from the South the theoretical and as a necessary next step- methodological bias of sticking to social movement theories based on Northern experiences have not been without criticism. For instance, some of the critics argue that the dominant Northern oriented social movement theories actively disadvantaged research in the Global South because they are incapable of capturing and explaining the Southern social reality in the context they are studying, due to their different focus and emphasis, which may not necessarily mirror those of the Southern contexts being studied (Thompson and Tapscott, 2010; Foweraker, 1995; Buechler, 2000; Mati, forthcoming). These criticisms are not to suggest that existing theories of social movements are obsolete insofar as explaining the empirical realities of movements in the South. Rather, as Thompson and Tapscott (2010 : 2) argue, “what is significantly different […] is the departure point for an analysis of the factors that give rise to collective action and social movements in the South”. For them, social movement theorizing from Northern experiences cannot account for the fact 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” (Thompson and Tapscott, 2010 : 2) and with that in the shaping of the nature of movements that emerge in these contexts (See also Ray and Katzenstein, 2005). In their study of social movements in India for instance, Ray and Katzenstein (2005) argue that India’s historical realities of widespread inequalities based on caste, and to a lesser extent the geography of uneven development, has led to a “dual politics” of Indian social movements. Specifically, social movements in India have twofold objectives: “equality” (illustrated by an inclination to fight for correction of unequal or unfair politico-economic-social relations and “identity” (reflected in pursuits towards the formation or consolidation of collective identities for specific castes, religions, classes or regions).

Existing criticisms of the Northern-oriented theory has led to calls as well as efforts at alternative theorizing from the experiences of the Global South. Since such efforts are empirically based, they can avoid the pitfalls of reducing Southern experiences into caricatures of Northern experiences (Thompson and Tapscott, 2010) and in so doing, open new ways to our understanding the action of social movements in the Global South. One such, understanding, for example, is the contribution of structural marginalization and the salience of inequalities inherent in the “the current world order, and the internal distortions that have arisen from this” (Thompson and Tapscott, 2010 : 2) as well as local level dynamics in generating social mobilizations in the South. In these situations, class-based differences are, unlike in the post-industrial context, highly relevant in generating discontents that may lead to the development of social movements (Shigetomi, 2009). In addition, “literature on developing countries places emphasis on the structural and environmental factors which create grievances among subordinate people”. (Shigetomi, 2009 : 6). Another insight concerns the often-enmeshed nature of social mobilizations in the global South with those of the global North. Thompson and Tapscott argue that this appears either as horizontal or vertical forms. The horizontal form, which they argue appears as invented spaces for participation, involves collaboration and networking between Southern and Northern collective action entities, and are key in the formation of collective identities, similar to what has been depicted as new social movements in Northern literature. “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.” (Thompson and Tapscott, 2010 : 4).

Despite these efforts, it has often been remarked that concepts developed from the experience of social movements of the Global South are yet to be sufficiently integrated into social movement theorizing. Instead, contributions from empirical studies of the Global South have been relegated to approaches identified with cultural studies (and not sociology or political studies) or simply ignored. The especially outside social movement studies much discussed idea of “cultural politics” of Sonia Alvarez, Evelina Dagnino and Arturo Escobar depict culture as a complex signifying system referred to social order and fed by practices. This cultural politics is at work in the struggles “to resignify the very meanings of received notions of citizenship, political representation and participation, and, as a consequence, democracy itself” (Alvarez/Dagnino/Escobar, 1998 : 2). Alvarez, Dagnino and Escobar focus on Latin America, where “today all social movements enact a cultural politics” (Alvarez/Dagnino/Escobar, 1998 : 6). These cultural politics are to be understood:

as the process enacted when sets of social actors shaped by, and embodying, different cultural meanings and practices come into conflict with each other. [ …] Culture is political because meanings are constitutive of processes that, implicitly or explicitly, seek to redefine social power. That is, when movements deploy alternative conceptions of women, nature, race, economy, democracy, or citizenship that unsettle dominant cultural meanings, they enact a cultural politics. […] The cultural politics used by social movements are based on cultural politics formations, “the result of discursive articulations originating in existing cultural practices [ …] and in the context of particular historical conditions (Alvarez/Dagnino/Escobar, 1998 : 7-8).

Cultural politics is based in relation with dominant political culture, on the one hand, and on the other, trying to change it. The political culture in Latin America combines universalist European values with a long history of exclusion and violence that led to a continuous confusion between the private and the public, putting the state in the centre of the society. Social movements struggling to change this political culture need to resignify main concepts, leading to “alternative definitions to what counts as political” (Alvarez/Dagnino/Escobar, 1998 : 10). The resulting conditions for social movements are described as “social movement networks or webs” (Alvarez/Dagnino/Escobar, 1998 : 14–16) in which a wide range of actors and institutions, including the State itself, can participate.

Therefore, the cultural politics approach focuses on the fights within culture and identity as reactions to a State and a society that are systematically exclusive. In Africa, while the language in the scholarship has not necessarily used similar wording of cultural politics, studies of post-apartheid social movements in South Africa reported in, for example, Voices of Protest: Social Movements in post-apartheid South Africa, edited by Richard Ballard, Adam Habib and Imraan Valodia (2006) do indeed point to centrality of identity politics (on the basis of class, autochthony, localities, etc.) (see for example, Egan and Wafer, 2006; Oldfield and Stokke, 2006; Dirsuweit, 2006); and a crisis of distribution occasioned from labour and masses feeling left out of the gains that came with political changes in the country (see for example Friedman and Mottiar, 2006; Egan and Wafer, 2006; Greenberg, 2006; Khan and Pieterse, 2006, Hassim, 2006) as major drivers of social movement emergence. Similar themes are replete in other writings from South Africa as elsewhere on the continent (see for example McKinley 2004; Ngwane, 2003; Makino, 2009; Alexander et al., 2012; Mati, 2012b) and the rest of the global South (see for example chapters in Social Movements in the Global South: Dispossession, Development and Resistance edited by Motta and Nilsen, 2011).

Besides this ‘cultural’ approach to social movements, recently social sciences agree mostly on the importance of "culture" even though its definition is still one of the most debated questions. A de-constructionist approach could be interesting for social movement studies insofar as the protest practices are the mirrors of cultural forms but also the struggles for other kinds of cultural forms. Domination over culture understood as particular identities and struggles for universal rights are key drivers of contemporary protests. In this configuration of the predominance of the particularisms that can only be defended by the universalism of rights, the mediation of groups such as classes tend to disappear but sociologists may also consider class identity as part and parcel of culture as well as constitutive of culture.

Another approach, closer to mainstream social movement theory, would be the distance-related one proposed by Diane Davis. She argues that the most relevant social movement theories (New Social Movement and Political Opportunity Structures) do not help much to explain social movements in the Global South and specifically in Latin America, because they are both “built on `Western´ assumptions about modernity and historically specific experiences of democracy, citizenship, and state formations that are more characteristic of Europe and the United States and thus fail to hold true in Latin America” (Davis, 1999 : 597)[2]. Instead of directing themselves towards the state or trying to build up an independent civil society, the relationship of Latin American social movements with the State is based on the uneven state formation and a lack of representative institutions (Davis, 1999 : 598). The confusion considering the status of social movements, already described by Alvarez, Dagnino and Escobar, makes necessary “a theoretical framework that acknowledges these dual identities and that conceptually encompasses both state and civil society simultaneously, rather than analytically pitting them against each other” (Davis, 1999 : 598–599). Davis tries to develop this framework with the notion of location as distance “and in particular the idea of citizens’ distance from the state” (Davis, 1999 : 601). There are four different types of distance between populations to the State: geographic, institutional, cultural, and in terms of class (Davis, 1999 : 603). Geographic distance refers to the physical distance that most people have in regard to the capital cities and the institutions of the state. In the centres of the countries of the Global South, “residents generally live under relatively privileged material conditions, at least compared to those in the countryside or farther regions” (Davis, 1999 : 603). Therefore, social movements located in important cities have better conditions to mobilize several social sectors at once and get easier access to the state (Davis, 1999 : 604). The relatively isolated movements in rural areas, on the other hand, have a hard time resisting State repression and putting forward their demands. The results are the ever-present national or supra-regional coordination instances of social movements. Rural movements can also use the distance as a tool in order “to foster greater solidarity and revolutionary activism, thereby making a radical critique of the entire power structure instead of specific political demands” (Davis, 1999 : 605). Indeed, social movements in some of the most remote parts of Africa, such as the Niger Delta, utilize not just ethnicity, but also distance and exclusion in their mobilization (Osaghae, 2010).

Institutional distance refers to the distance that citizens have from the institutions of the state, due, principally, to the heavy centralization and the lack of local branches of important state structures (Davis, 1999 : 608). In this context, Davis argues, social movements are a response to this type of distance. “They are trying to narrow the distance between themselves and the ever more institutionally remote national state [] social movements in Latin America may in fact be trying to bridge the distance between citizens and state” (Davis, 1999 : 609).

The cultural distance refers to the historical marginalization of populations, like indigenous or African ones, “related to geographic or institutional isolation, which is historically linked to processes of state formation and sometimes even class formation” (Davis, 1999 : 615). Cultural distance is precisely what makes a cultural politics in the sense explained above possible however, those “cultural struggles are frequently waged on the battlefields determined by the state“(Davis, 1999 : 616).

Class-based distance is the most problematic type of distance for social movements, “because many of the groups organized on the basis of class are already more likely to be bureaucratically connected to the state” (Davis, 1999 : 614–615). Many States of the Global South have a history of integration of the working class into unions that are close to the state or certain political parties[3]. In South Africa, for instance, the Tripartite Alliance that has been in power since the transition to democracy in 1994 includes the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party. Therefore, there does exist mechanisms of communication that make mobilization unnecessary unless other types of distance are also at play. Moreover, class as a variable has also been criticized; especially by new social movement proponents, but also by other scholars who argue that modern day social movements have multiple class identities, either within their membership or through their allies and supporters. An example of such is the Ufungamano Initiative-a movement of movements involved in the struggles for the transformation of the Kenyan constitution (Mati, forth coming; 2012a; 2012b; 2013; 2015). Nonetheless, there are numerous studies in Southern contexts that suggest that class is a key variable in explaining how discontentment over unmet needs and impoverishment (material conditions) among the working-class population leads to social mobilizations and social movements (see for example Shigetomi, 2009; Thompson and Tapscott, 2010). In this regard, Thompson and Tapscott (2010) note that people existing on the margins of survival do not need a collective political identity formation, networking and strategic sophistication to protest. Instead, they argue:

for such communities it is often merely a question of political opportunity, driven by desperation that leads to collective action rather than a conscious framing of options. Thus, for example, the immediacy of the threat posed by forced eviction is such that there is little need to persuade slum dwellers of the need for collective action. (Thompson and Tapscott, 2010 : 14).

Both major theoretical proposals work thus with the idea of an exclusion that has to be thought through if we are to understand how social movements in the Global South work. For as Polet (2007 : 1) argues, “if we are to understand the social movements in the South the conditions in which they have emerged, their strategies and their reach we must look at the particular socio-political, institutional and economic contexts in which they are rooted.” Indeed in many parts of the global South, as Ballard et al. (2006 : 410) note of the South African case studies, social movements are “driven by an intricate mix of identity and distributional pressures. [] this suggests that distributional issues need to be an explicit component of the theory-building agenda of social movement scholars”. In addition, both capital and State remain key targets of social movements (sometimes simultaneously as cases in South Africa (see for example Alexander et al. 2012), as well as Nigeria’s Niger delta illustrate (see for example Gaventa, 2010; Osaghae, 2010). The implication here is that a more relevant theory to explain social movements in Africa will have to contend with many issues including inequalities driven by global economic and political forces, class, identity in its various forms, culture, distribution concerns, as well as the questions of expanding political rights afforded by increasing democratization of politics.

However, Global South and Global North do not necessarily refer to a rigid dichotomy between geographic areas and historically established power structures (Wolvers et al., 2015). These categories can refer to intermediate conceptual tools used to investigate what is really global in the recent waves of protest and indignation all over the world, especially since 2011. Many of these movements have a transnational character, given the fact that the issues that they seek to challenge, are, themselves transnational. The theoretical implication for this is that social movement theorists have to contend with this transnational character in their theory building.

Beyond a mere comparative approach, the concept of "resonance" (Khasnabish, 2007; Pleyers and Glasuis, 2013) has a great heuristic value for actual global configuration of social movements. For instance, what motivates a young activist of Gezi Movement to refer to the Zapatistas, Indignados, Occupy Wall Street or Tahrir Square for inspiration (Demirhisar 2016)? How do social actors invent their activism practices by combining the peculiarities of their very local context and the transnational common struggles, for example, against the global finance capitalism as well as ecological destruction? What are the emotions and subjectivities that are transversal to social movements of our era? To what extent do the reticular forms of power result in networks of outrage and hope (Castells, 2012)? These were some of the questions we raised in our call to invite young scholars to think about their respective fields.

This thematic edition brings together research that breaks away from the dominant Eurocentric bias of social movement theory and tries to understand action, discourse and outcomes of social movements from Colombia, Cameroon and North America (framing Occupy Wall Street within other protest movements from the South such as Arab Spring). Each of these contributions deals both with the perspective of Global North/Global South articulations and shed lights on the particular social contexts.

The contributions of Camilo Tamayo Gómez and Clifford Baverel tackle similar issues with valuable insights. The article by Georges Macaire Eyenga explores the case of Cameroon, part of a vast geography too neglected in social movements studies in sociology despite scholarly interest developed by social anthropology. The paper of Maximiliano Soto deals with heritage cities in Chile and France with a comparative perspective. The interview with Raquel Gutiérrez proposes a critical approach to the old forms of activism and research in perspective to the more recent concerns for indigeneous culture's inner dynamics and feminist echoes in Latin America's social movements.

Georges Macaire Eyenga’s article’s analyzes mobilizations in Cameroon with the theoretical approach of New Social Movements (NSM) that is a conceptual framework forged in Western Europe from the end of 1970s onwards. The hypothesis of NSM was based on a societal transition from an industrial society to post-industrial society where cultural struggles were replacing conflict around work by labour movements. Even though the contemporary context of Cameroon is very different from the period of the NMS hypothesis, Eyenga’s contribution insists on the rise of cultural claims in the nation-building process after independence. Today, one observes the importance of ethnicity in the mobilizations and their predominance over nationalism. The observation of this cultural dimension allows Eyenga to affirm that the transition towards democratization is based upon ethnicity as a political and strategic resource. In addition, the religious divisions are increasingly more diverse, compared to the dichotomy Muslims/Christians that dates back to the colonial period. Eyenga argues that the plurality of ethnic and religious groups provokes the crisis of nationalism. Therefore political domain is structured by cultural identities rather than nationalist claims. Moreover, political actors are aware of the forces of discourses on ethnicity in so far as they abandon social and economic issues in their mobilizing discourses. Eyenga’s contribution is based upon a solid and wide literature that remains unknown for the non-Africanists. His study on Cameroon’s mobilizations shows us what is "new" for social actors during a democratic transition context in Central Africa. We hope that the critical extension and modification of theoretical frames such as NMS in such an African context will be interesting for our readers both as theoretical and empirical contribution.

Camilo Tamayo Gómez’s article discusses the “cultural politics” (Alvarez/Dagnino/Escobar, 1998 : 6) of social movements by victims of the Colombian conflict in Antioquia, focusing on the Association of Organized Women of Eastern Antioquia (AMOR) and the Provincial Association of Victims to Citizens (APROVIACI). Tamayo Gómez uses the concept of communicative citizenship in order to emphasize the symbolic components of political agency within a civil society in the Habermasian sense. This allows him to explain the actions of the movements in question in a manner that goes beyond the local impact and influence's communication on a national and transnational level. In this sense, both organizations draw on experiences in other countries, such as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, and likewise, influence movements in other regions, especially in the attempt to politicize the private and emotions. The symbols used and/or established by organizations allow for the connection of personal grievances to right-related claims. This text is more than timely in regard to the Colombian peace process.

Clifford Baverel’s paper links the current wave of indignant citizens’ protest movements around the globe such as the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States, the Arab Spring, the Greek anti-austerity protest movement, the Spanish Indignados movement, the Turkish Gezi Park protests to the generic alter-globalization movement which emerged at the tail end of the 20th century. For Baverel, these movements, which (borrowing from Donatella Della Porta, 2008) he refers to as 3rd wave movements, are both political and economic and point to an emergent form anarchism that is devoid of its earlier militancy. These movements are fuelled, according to Baverel, by the ‘crisis of representative democracy’ in the Global North as well as citizens’ general “distrust in the political system” because of manifest authoritarianism in parts of the Global South. While the solutions to the conditions, these indignant citizens face are themselves multiple and varied, there are underlying anarchist aspirations that envisage challenging the State and putting in place a more direct and local type of democracy (the political element in these movements) as well as opposing the dominant neoliberal economic system. The protest repertoires of these movements align to anarchist strategies because, for example, of their ‘spontaneity and the absence of leaders in the various waves of protests’ as was the case in the Egypt 2011 revolution. In keeping with anarchist traditions, this ensures that there are no representatives of these protest movements who can negotiate with the state institutions that they have rejected. The "new anarchism" exhibited in these movements is as transnational inasmuch as it is local in its activism and has had a very quick contagion effect in other parts of the globe. By combining two theoretical traditions, Baverel provokes us to look beyond the theoretical and analytical pigeonholes if we are to make sociological sense of the current wave of social protests across the world.

Maximiliano Soto’s article helps us to think, through comparisons, the patrimonialization of the historic cities in the North and South: Valpraiso, in Chile and Strasbourg, in France. Indeed, beyond a mere necessity of thinking Global South from inside and with the intellectual tools developed by local scholars, it is very useful to introduce comparative fieldwork and analysis in order to unravel what kinds of dynamics are at play in the setting out of urban space in the neoliberal era. In fact, cities across the globe are facing similar damage and gentrification, while inequality rises due to exploitation and disenfranchisement of popular classes, which is further exacerbated by their exclusion from the city centres and forced displacements and relocations. Similar processes have been observed during “special occasions” such as the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, or as a part of a general urban policy, in cities like Istanbul, or in Harare through the infamous Operation Murambastivina started in 2005 (Potts, 2006; Moore, 2008). Soto does not propose a proper social movement analysis but rather a valuable analysis of the transactions between different actors around the issues of patrimonialization. Drawing the concept of "conflict" from Simmel, he tries to illustrate how social bonds are constructed through transactions and conflicts, therefore hindering urban exclusion and segregation resulting from such gentrification processes. The importance of the conflict and the presence of different actors in the "heritage cities" are presented as key dynamics in this paper.

In the innovative section that Émulations promotes, Élisabeth Lagasse offers us an insightful interview with the scholar Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar who has a rich experience both as an activist in Mexico and Bolivia and a social movement scholar. Those interested in indigenous movements and by the evolution of women’s movements in relation to the indigenous people’s struggles will find precious indications on the evolution of Latin American panorama on this issue. R. Gutiérrez proposes to use an original perspective to study social movements outside the conventional social movement theory. Her analysis is based on open Marxist ideas and feminism. She stresses the point that social movement theory is withdrawn from the social reality faced by movement actors. Her research agenda is oriented towards the heuristic function of the "forms of the political" and "interlacing of communities", in order to study properly what is new in politics, what kinds of agreements are constructed through the analyses of indigenous practices that are mostly stemming from old forms of social ties and interactions. By naming this process "reactualisation", she insists on the fact that it is not a repetition of old forms by new dynamics of agency induced by the legacy of local forms of social bond inside communities. Her 2008 book Los ritmos del Pachakuti: movilización y levantamiento popular-indígena en Bolivia recently translated into English as Rhythms of the Pachakuti: Indigenous Uprisings and State Power in Bolivia examines Bolivian indigenous communities uprisings against state power. It is in these communities that first horned her skills as an activist before delving into academic research. Elisabeth Lagasse made this interview in Mexico City while she was working for her Ph.D. research. We owe this first and beautiful introduction to the work of Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar in French thanks to her efforts of translation.

Finally, we could like to thank the RC47 of ISA (International Sociological Association) for their contribution to this issue. We hope that the different perspectives offered in this modest issue will inspire readers in order to improve the diversity of effervescent social movement experiences that social scientists ought to follow.


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[1] The view that emergence of social movements is co-joined with the political developments of in the West has been termed as ‘invisilization’ of movements of the south, due, partly, to effect of “ethnization” of knowledge where indigenous movements are not seen/treated as social movements but as organized indigenous peoples, and, also due to the bias of northern theories in the conception of social movements (Altmann forthcoming).

[2] Similarly, in Africa, Ballard et al. (2006) question the applicability of the new social movement theory in explaining social movements in South Africa given that South Africa and the rest of the developing world are not post-industrial societies.

[3] Such relationship between labour unions and the state or political party has been theorised in Africa, by among others, Webster (2007) as falling into four different ideal types. The first of these models, Webster calls the “traditional client model” where labour unions are clients of the ruling party. Webster terms the second model as “divorce” and is characterized by a move by labour out of the alliance with political party and forms its own party as part of the political opposition. The third model is what Webster calls an “unhappy marriage” characterized, as in the case of South Africa, by an uneasy alliance between labour and the ruling party. The last of these relationships, is “abstinence” and is characterized by labour’s withdrawal from party politics and a multiparty democracy is created. Trade unions play a leading role in civil society in such situations.