The Ironies of New Social Movements: An interview with Dr. Judy Hellman

jhellmanSocial movements generate a lot of excitement. Many people see them as the most legitimate way of enacting change in society, as they are “from below”, from the people themselves, more ‘inclusive’ and ‘democratic’. Movements that have come around since the 1960s differ from older styles of public pressure where the voice of the poor and the oppressed was expressed through leaders in trade unions or political parties. Examples of the “New Social Movements” in contemporary Latin America include the indigenous movement EZLN (Exército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional) in Mexico and the landless workers movement in Brazil, the MST (Movimento Sem Terra). But how truly democratic and inclusive these new movements are is rarely a serious research question, but a mere assumption by scholars and supporters who fall in love with the idea of movements from below.

For almost 20 years, Dr. Judy Hellman, professor of Political Science and Social Sciences at York University, Canada, has written critically about the largely uncritical worship of new social movements that seems to have swept the world. She spoke to Development Roast about her once controversial views (which are increasingly becoming common wisdom) and the past and future of research on social movements in Latin America:

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Celebrating Uruguay’s Constitution on July 18

Cecilia JuambeltzBy Cecilia Juambeltz

Today, Uruguay celebrates the 183rd anniversary of its first Constitution. This is a special day for Uruguayans like myself as we take a look back at our history and think about how much we have moved forward. A recent visit to Egypt, a country so different from mine, gave me a new perspective on how valuable it is for a country to respect fundamental human rights and how important stability is to a democratic system. In Uruguay such stability is a result of years of hard work and forward-thinking from many men and women who believe in the Rule of Law as a guiding principle. Although not without its share of problems, for nearly 200 years the South American country has relied on a strong and respected body of laws to support its economy and a progressive stance towards social development. So July 18th is also a day to be grateful for.

Uruguay´s first Constitution

The Constitution of 1830 marked the culmination of the emancipation process that started 20 years before and the beginning of an independent life in the territory that is today known as Uruguay. Our first Constitution, which had strong French and North American influences, established liberal ideas, and stated personal rights and the distribution of powers. It was a symbol of order and the assurance of a civilized life. It was above the warlords and political parties. However, it also had, in the light of our contemporary vision, some negative aspects. Read More »

Guest Roast: Good Governance and Development – Which causes which?

By Edvin Arnby Machata

The international development community has for almost two decades focused on improving governance as a strategic priority for aiding economic growth. This article points to the historical record and argues that 1) growth does not require good governance, 2) good governance and representative institutions are products of economic development – not the other way around, and that 3) the configuration of national institutions determine whether a political order will produce developmental outcomes or not.

‘Good governance’ has been a mainstay component in most donor-funded development programmes during the last two decades. What exactly constitutes good governance is empirically problematic, but while implementations vary, demands for good governance generally include provisions to minimize graft and increase respect for human rights.

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YoSoy132 and Contemporary Uprisings: What are Social Movements Doing Wrong?

Somewhere in the world there is a social movement unfolding even as we speak: perhaps in India Maoists are engaged in organizing armed opposition to a transnational mining corporation; or possibly members of Brazil’s Landless Rural Workers’ Movement, the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra (MST), are holding a meeting to discuss actions to be taken against the eviction of their supporters from occupied lands outside of São Paolo. Over the past decade, we have seen countless mobilizations of people on regional, national, or even global scales, but despite many of these movements having something to say about development, they are rarely treated with seriousness in relation to development or policy change. Read More »

99 Percent Democracy: Inspiration from the Developing World

It has been roughly a year since a new catchphrase flooded the front pages of mainstream, social and activist media: “We are the 99 percent.” It came from a wider recognition of the long-established truth that a small percentage of the population in most societies hangs on to an overwhelming majority of wealth and power. It is also a recognition that it is the 99 percent that are asked to pay a disproportionate part of the price for the effects of our collective actions: to bail out the banks and not the failing health services; to pick up the environmental tab and pay through the nose for an increasingly worthless education; to waste their lives sitting on the unemployment list, instead of contributing to society. “We are the 99 percent” is the slogan of a new generation of the disgruntled, jobless youth in the West. “We are the 99 percent” is the demonstration chant of occupiers from Wall Street to St Paul’s, from Cairo to Cape Town. “We are the 99 percent” is  still on everybody’s lips. At the heart of the matter? Democracy. Read More »

What’s more important freedom of speech or economic development?

Mieke Dale Harris

Freedom of speech has become an important prerequisite of democracy and is to an equal extent prized by the population of any democratic country. Many modern generations quite rightly feel that they have a “right” to speak their mind about political policies and that when many minds converge in their opinion these minds have a “right” to group together and express their discontent, be it in the form of strikes, blockades, marches or sit-ins. This relatively modern trend can be seen in the almost daily protests, of one kind of another, that afflict America, England and a number of other developed democratic (or even non-democratic) countries. It can also be noted in the international outcry that rained down over the presidents of the Arab Spring over a year ago, or more recently, but to a lesser extent, the international discontent over the arrest of the Russian protest punk group “Pussy Riot”.

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