Social Justice, Democratization and Social Movements


Photo by: CJ Dayrit (Unsplash)


South Africa’s constitutional democracy debate: echoes of an inglorious past

Some prominent politicians from South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) recently questioned the role of the courts in the constitution. In January, tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu insulted the judges as “colonised” for enforcing the constitution, which she blamed for continued black deprivation 28 years into democracy.

Later, Sihle Zikalala, the premier of KwaZulu-Natal province, called for a return to parliamentary democracy. He accused the (“unelected”) judiciary of frustrating government’s transformation agenda. They both sit on the ANC’s national executive committee, its highest decision-making body between national elective conferences.

They may well be testing the waters ahead of the next elective conference in December. But, nothing excuses the short-sighted irresponsibility of such utterances, and the ghastly consequences that may ensue. If South Africa is tempted by these options, it will be discarding centuries of struggle aimed at establishing a democratic system in which public power is regulated by law.

Since the origins of communal life, the regulation of public power has challenged humanity. Power has developed from the brute force of the strongest bully in a clan, to the patriarchal dominance of traditional leadership, to the authoritarian dictates of monarchs and autocrats. Divine and secular monopolies of untrammelled authority have been overthrown.

The inexorable trend has been to secure a degree of monitoring and regulation of the exercise of public power.

Of critical significance has been the establishment of popular representation in national governments. A landmark is found in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of the late 1600s. It established parliamentary dominance over the monarch in Britain. Another is the emphatic elimination of the French aristocracy about a century later.

The French Revolution was accompanied by a “declaration of the rights of man and the citizen”. The American Bill of Rights developed gradually through a series of constitutional amendments from the 1800s.

‘Parliamentary sovereignty’ in Britain was counter-balanced by the rights-infused concept of the rule of law . Decolonisation in Africa and Asia used models of governance based on universal suffrage, and a protected core of inalienable rights.

Regulating public power

Perhaps the most far-reaching revolution has been the most recent shift to participatory democracy after the fall of the Soviet empire in the 1990s. This coincided with the last gasps of racist hegemony with the independence of Namibia and the formal freedom of South Africa.

These interconnected events led to a rash of constitution-making throughout central and eastern Europe , and African members of the Commonwealth. There were fundamental elements common to all their constitutions. These were:

  • universal suffrage;
  • the protection of civil and political rights;
  • a measure of the separation of powers to balance the authority of the legislature, executive, and judiciary; and
  • the designation of the courts as final arbiters of the limits of the constitutional authority of government.

This shift was a huge stride towards the responsible and accountable exercise of public power. It allowed the most vulnerable in society to feel a degree of protection. It opened the space for public benefit organisations to use the law to seek social justice. This is particularly vital given that almost all states today have heterogeneous populations. They are made up of diverse ethnic, religious, cultural and other groupings, with unequal bargaining power.

Debating democracy

A constitution is only as good as the measure of effective protection it gives to those who differ, even radically, from the policies of the government.

Naturally there were many obstacles in implementing and enforcing such schemes. There have been both partial and almost complete reversions to the unjust patterns of the past. Hungary and Poland are prominent examples in Europe. Populist autocracy has proven very tempting, particularly in those countries formerly part of the Soviet Union, led by Russia.

Paradoxically, the picture in Commonwealth Africa is slightly less depressing. This, despite obvious tensions and challenges in realising the grandiose ideals in the constitutions of southern Africa, which migrated northwards on the continent.

Until now, none of these shortcomings has seriously questioned the fundamental principles of participatory democracy. These principles lie at the heart of such political compacts. There have been instances of party politicians directing their ire at the courts, accusing the judiciary of exceeding its authority. But, the constitutional fundamentals have remained generally intact.

Have the intemperate and destructive comments of Sisulu and Zikalala shifted the ground?

In particular, the call for a return to parliamentary sovereignty marks an irrational and dangerous retrogression. Parliamentary sovereignty authorises the majority to make laws unrestrained by legal limitations. This was the system imposed on South Africa by Britain in 1910. Then the electorate represented only about 20% of the male population.

Parliamentary sovereignty in the hands of this minority allowed the rampant development of apartheid policies, laws and executive action. They decimated the rights of black South Africans.

Their damaging effects linger still. The blatant racism diminished the dignity of all South Africans. The scale of its horror prompted President Nelson Mandela’s inaugural comments that: “Never, never, and never again” would the country go down the route of injustice and evil, whether approved by a majority or not.

The constitution was painstakingly negotiated, with hard bargaining over a four-year period. There were no clear winners, but grudging agreement by every delegation on basic rules of engagement. Critically, these included the supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law. They upheld the protection of human dignity, equality, and freedoms, non-racialism, non-sexism, and universal adult suffrage to ensure multi-party democratic governance. These are the founding values of the country’s constitutional democracy. Without this framework, chaotic social and economic destruction would have been the legacy.

The imperative of judicial review

From these values flow the necessity of an entrenched bill of rights and the courts’ authority to review all acts of public power against the constitution. The judiciary has performed this task admirably , often requiring government to tackle socio-economic injustices. In no instance has it inhibited lawful actions which seek to change the wicked patterns of the past. Nor has it strayed onto parliament’s or the executive’s terrain.

The abject failure to achieve meaningful change lies overwhelmingly with a corrupt  and ineffective executive, not with the courts.

Sisulu, Zikalala and those who rally to their cause should ask themselves how they would respond if

  • their mortal enemies achieved a parliamentary majority, by electoral or other means;
  • they had no basic rights to protect their dignity, equality, freedom of association, of expression, of movement and to vote;
  • the agents of the parliamentary majority locked them up without trial. If they took their property, denied their children access to school, prevented them from swimming at a beach or attending a soccer match, all on arbitrary grounds.

Without the law interpreted and enforced by the courts, their only resort would be to physical force. Of course they must be assuming they would be the representatives of the parliamentary majority. Given the decline in ANC support, this is a far-fetched idea. But even if they were in such a powerful position, how would they deal with those who opposed their policies and laws?

Those who peddle such dangerous ideas should be countered at every opportunity by reminders of what was done in the name of a legislative majority under apartheid, and elsewhere.


By   :  Hugh Corder (Professor Emeritus of Public Law, University of Cape Town)

Date :  April 18, 2022

Source:  The Conversation


How to Protect the Hope for Girls' Education in Afghanistan

The Taliban, heavily influenced by the Haqqanis, will continue using Afghan girls’ education as a bargaining chip on matters such as international recognition, financial sanctions, and aid.

Since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan six months ago, the educational dreams of millions of girls have been dashed. In late March, the group reneged on its promise to allow Afghan girls to attend secondary school. Although it has allowed some women and girls to return to the classroom, the Taliban has begun retooling the curriculum to prioritize religious studies and imposed harsh restrictions on how female students must dress, travel, and even talk on the phone.

If history is any guide, the Taliban will continue using Afghan girls’ education as a bargaining chip on political matters such as international recognition, financial sanctions, and aid. Nevertheless, the United States and its partners can still assist Afghan women, young people, and ethnic minorities who, in the face of Taliban intransigence, still seek an education. Today, many Afghans are turning to advanced technology, including satellite internet and virtual private networks, not only to maintain access to education but also to secure privacy where the Taliban forbid women and girls to study. While limited, virtual school for select Afghan university students in public institutions and local organizations are still operating against the odds.

Afghanistan’s future stability will depend on its ability to reconcile the priorities of the many competing factions and interests within the country. The United States, European Union, and other regional powers should request UNESCO or UNICEF to appoint a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador charged with implementing a steadfast name-and-shame policy aimed at the Taliban to promote peace through education, even where Russia, China, and Iran stay silent. The UN Ambassador should establish a multilateral forum that improves coordination, collaboration, and cooperation among regional powers to invite up-and-coming Afghan teachers and students—whether they remain in Afghanistan or are residing abroad—to live and study conflict resolution at foreign embassies, diplomatic institutes, and universities in South Asia and beyond.

The Role of the Haqqanis in the Taliban's Education Policy

The Taliban’s war on women’s education is reminiscent of its reign in the 1990s, when the group imposed extreme teachings by force. It largely confined women to their homes, with a fortunate minority of girls able to attend underground schools. Now, the drive to restrict women’s education is led by the Haqqani network, a faction of the Taliban more ideologically strident and violent than any that existed in the 1990s. For years, the Haqqanis have cultivated ties to al-Qaeda and to some elements of the Islamic State’s Afghanistan affiliate, known as the Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), even facilitating some of ISIS-K’s terrorist attacks in the Afghan capital, including recent activity against Kabul University, a maternity ward, and a girls’ school. 

The Haqqanis, designated by both the United States and United Nations as terrorists, have emerged as the dominant force in the Taliban government. The group’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, heads the powerful Interior Ministry, where he wields control over the nation’s domestic intelligence and military apparatus. A member of Sirajuddin’s network, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, acting Minister of Higher Education, where he is reorganizing Afghanistan’s education system around a strict interpretation of sharia law, imposing curriculum changes, segregating genders in schools, and imposing stringent restrictions on dress and conduct for girls and women. 

In addition to controlling key state institutions, the Haqqanis control a vast international business empire, licit and illicit, and have long enjoyed the backing of other states in the region that view them as a strategic asset. In contrast to the Taliban Political Commission in Doha, the Haqqani-dominated Taliban Military Commission had grown less dependent on Western aid in recent decades and is therefore relatively less susceptible to Western leverage on matters of security, human rights, and education.  They also remain at the forefront of orchestrating campaigns to kill former Afghan government officials and civilians, resulting in the flight of judges, journalists, teachers, and other leaders on whom Afghanistan’s emergent civil society depends.

“The vast majority of Afghan teenage girls have already lost a year of education,” Heather Barr, associate women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch, stated in an interview with this author in February, 2022. 

How the United States Can Help

Although the Taliban’s political commission could reform its education policies to gain international legitimacy or aid, it will likely not overrule Sirajuddin Haqqani where he maintains a dissenting opinion.  Even if the Taliban Military Commission remains ensconced in the government, there are other ways in which the United Nations, major and regional powers, and international technology organizations can empower women and girls to make their own choices about ensuring equal rights and education, and live the highest, fullest version of their lives. 

First, the United States, European Union, and other regional powers should call on UNESCO and UNICEF to appoint a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador to lead a renewed push for promoting peace through education, while executing an international name-and-shame policy highlight the Taliban’s failed promise to support Afghan girls’ return to school. The UN Ambassador should facilitate multilateral coordination for regional powers to invite up-and-coming Afghan teachers and students—whether they remain in Afghanistan or are residing abroad—to live and study conflict resolution at foreign embassies, diplomatic institutes, and universities in South Asia and beyond. An emphasis on peace education can help prepare Afghans for next-generation leadership on which any fragile interfaith dialogue, nonviolent dispute resolution, and advanced negotiation will depend. Even in minimal form, such a peace-through-education residency program would create a pipeline of leaders skilled at navigating ideological, political, and cultural differences—precisely the skills Afghanistan’s future leaders will need if they are to create a more stable and secure future order. At least half of the international scholarship recipients should be women who have finished their high school or university education, in order to provide a tangible incentive for Afghan women to persevere through secondary school.

In addition, the Ambassador should facilitate a multilateral consultation mechanism that brings together female education leaders and international technology companies to map the virtual school landscape and improve access to online classroom platforms, such as computer assisted instruction and massive open and free courses in Afghan languages based on geopolitical exigency. Information blockades are likely inevitable in Afghanistan in the future, particularly as China has been aggressively trying to sell or gift its advanced Great Firewall Internet filtering and monitoring software to countries in the region. When designed properly, enhanced access to virtual private networks and encrypted online classrooms can help Afghans evade such firewalls and circumvent the Taliban’s extreme ideology, values, and laws—or simply gain access to school. 

By taking these actions to support education of all Afghans, the United States and its allies can promote the aspirations of such next-generation leaders. Fereshteh Forough, who organizes virtual classrooms for women and girls, explains the potential impact of such programs: “Digital citizens can surpass the ideological bent geographical boundaries, preserving women’s rights in the struggle for freedom and security. Gaining such liberation today is possible almost only through education technology, for it keeps our identity private and enables us to connect with the global economy. Virtual classrooms give us hope, for they make our simple goal, to study, a reality, even as the Taliban aim to take away the basic human rights we have fought so hard to gain.”


Dr. Melissa L. Skorka is a Senior Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Changing Character of War Centre. She served as a Senior Adviser to the former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph F. Dunford in the Haqqani Fusion Cell and the International Security Assistance Force from 2011 to 2014.


By    :   Melissa L. Skorka

Date : April 13, 2022

Source: Council on Foreign Relations


COVID-19: Accelerating the Democratization of Knowledge

While the outside world has quickly evolved, for the last several hundred years, higher education has entailed almost exclusively traditional, paid, in-class education.

History has shown that technological advancement has a standard adoption of 15 years or more in the higher academic setting. Take computers, for example — by the 1950s, computers had advanced enough that both Cobol and Fortran (programming languages still used today) had been developed. It wouldn't be until the 1980s, however, that computers would become commonplace in the university setting. Or take the internet — although it was created in the early 1980s, it wasn't until the early 2000s that the internet became commonly available in schools.

One of the amazing things about technology is that it has the power to widen access to whatever domain to which it is applied. As the gatekeepers to higher knowledge, higher education's reluctance to adopt technology in a timely manner has had the inverse effect of restricting access for many people. While the outside world has quickly evolved, for the last several hundred years, higher education has entailed almost exclusively traditional, paid, in-class education. Over the last decade, that had started to change as educational institutions slowly began to embrace technology — but nothing like what we have seen in the last few years. COVID-19 has completely reshaped the landscape of education.

In a matter of months, the ability to teach online went from an option to an absolute necessity. Many schools scrambled to implement their first learning management system (LMS), find safe and secure online meeting software, equip their instructors with adequate infrastructure and expand their technological footprint. As a month turned into a year of remote learning, people began to see the possibilities of education beyond the traditional classroom. The last few years have seen an unprecedented interest, investment and adoption of educational technology (EdTech).

One of the unique benefits of online learning is its ability to almost infinitely scale. With an online education model, knowledge can be gained without the limitations of geography, the restrictions of classroom capacity or the constraints of the instructor's or student's schedule. Once a course has been created in digital form, it can be delivered to hundreds of thousands of students anywhere in the world on-demand with minimal effort.

The implications for society being able to scale the delivery and sharing of knowledge are huge. While the internet has largely democratized access to general knowledge and the sharing of data and ideas, higher education had been a much slower adopter of that shift. As the world grows increasingly complex and jobs increasingly specialized, lifelong learning is essential — not just to be a capable professional but also a capable member of society.

COVID-19 accomplished in months what had traditionally taken decades for technological adoption in education. Access to higher education knowledge has begun the process of being democratized, making it more available to learners outside the confines of traditional academia. Though most of us can agree that we would have liked to witness this shift under much less duress, this increased availability of knowledge is a small silver lining during an otherwise challenging time.


By   :   Christian Gainsbrugh (Co Founder & Cto, Learningcart)

Date  : April 11, 2022

Source :  Newsweek


Social justice in, through and beyond higher education

Higher education institutions can work individually and together to advance social justice well beyond their campus walls, as Pardis Mahdavi explains

A long-overdue societal awakening has prompted leaders in higher education to take a much-needed look at issues around justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (Jedi). Universities worldwide are starting to release Jedi-related statements and plans on their websites to accompany published numbers on racial, ethnic and socio-economic diversity among their student body.

Some institutions, including Arizona State University, have committed to a whole host of actions to support social justice while requiring Jedi statements for job searches and making diversity training mandatory for all search committees. Others, like my new home, the University of Montana, are upholding Jedi values by focusing on career preparation and internship access for all students, thereby creating more equitable pathways to success. These are all welcome changes that create necessary momentum for the next level: enacting social justice in global higher education and beyond.

  • How to achieve equity in higher education
  • Rekindling passion for equality, diversity and inclusion work
  • If we truly want a level playing field, we must focus on social capital

The changes we are seeing in higher education today reflect a desire to uphold social justice within the academy. How can we harness this powerful energy to inspire higher education to take an even bigger role in not just upholding but actively engaging in and driving meaningful social change?

Here, I offer possible steps for interested members of the academy who want to level-up their engagements with social justice work nationally and globally. Many of these strategies are being deployed by universities on a one-off basis. A holistic approach that embodies all of these through collaboration is sure to bring even more success.

Higher education as a global collective for social justice

Start thinking about higher education as a larger collective with shared goals around upholding social justice – not just in higher education, but in other sectors as well. Work together as a sector to secure a shared seat at the table with policymakers to help set new policies about relevant issues such student loan forgiveness, access to higher education and employment post graduation. These policies can be implemented at the local and university level and can also help to shift national and international discourse. Make policy work a priority.

International cooperation as an imperative

Related to the above, consider international cooperation in higher education as an imperative. An example: the Islamic Republic of Iran is facing heavy sanctions that are now being loosened. The impact of sanctions on higher education is enormous but rarely discussed. With sanctions relaxing, universities across the globe can begin collaborating with their counterparts in places such as Iran to meet the growing needs for graduate studies that Iranian students articulate. Of more than 900,000 students applying for master’s or PhD-level training in Iran, less than 5 per cent could be accepted because Iran lacks the resources and infrastructure to provide for students. Moreover, in the past few years, 33 public universities have closed down 77 STEM majors to women. International collaboration can open up new partnerships with overseas institutions abroad creating new avenues to learning and research opportunities such as those for women in STEM.

Actively challenge oppression

Take an active role in dismantling systems of oppression that uphold inequality. The most obvious example of this would be pay gaps based on gender, race or other marginalised identity groups. An across-the-board look at wages and inequities in hiring practices is a helpful place to start. Requiring diversity statements and training for search committees is an important first action, but it is equally important to look at the entire process from interview onwards. For example, are interviewees given access to questions ahead of time? How is the job ad written? This applies to all hiring and promotion decisions.

Create multiple pathways of progression

Create pathways of success and elevation for all students, faculty and staff. For students, attention to the role of advising, and supporting advice infrastructures, is critical, as is mentorship on career readiness and offering internship opportunities. For faculty and staff, offering clear pathways to promotion and elevation is essential. To do this with intention, institutions can sponsor or offer professional development opportunities, provide coaching and ensure clear signalling of the ways to rise the ranks in different fields.

Dismantle scarcity models

Pay special attention to dismantling scarcity and adversity models. A scarcity model is one that tells individuals or groups within a university ecosystem that only one person or a limited set of people can succeed at a particular initiative. This is increasingly common when it comes to diversity work in higher education. Rather than seeing Jedi as something that should involve everyone, bringing in many voices and fostering collaboration between multiple groups, some have observed that it has become a competition with academy members vying for resources or to be the authoritative voice on diversity work. Finding ways to encourage teamwork – tethering resources to cross-college or multi-institutional engagement, for example – can help to alleviate the pressure that leads to silos and resentment.

Not just upholding but actively engaging with social justice is necessary work. Higher education has started building momentum by enacting institutional initiatives that move the needle. Collaboration, even in and through conflict, and attention to dismantling systems of oppression and creating opportunity can lead the way to deeper change rooted in social justice.


Pardis Mahdavi is the dean of social sciences and a professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University. She is the incoming provost and executive vice-president of the University of Montana.


By   : Pardis Mahdavi

Date: March 24, 2022

Source: Times Higher Education


Social movement organizing and the politics of emotion from HIV to Covid-19


The Covid-19 pandemic has seen the rapid growth of collective organizing on the part of patient groups to address scientific and health inequities. This paper considers the emergence of Covid-19 activism as an embodied health movement that draws on and contributes to broader movements for racial, economic and gender justice. Recognizing the central role of emotion in social movements and in the bio-politics of Covid-19, I examine the key presence of the affective domain in social change through three Covid-19 social movement groups. These organizations draw upon anti-racist, feminist, and queer and HIV social movement organizing that position Covid movement building in intersectional histories and futures. I argue that Covid movement activists have built “archives of feeling”—or public cultures of trauma—of commemoration, Covid survivor narratives, and direct action that center affective feelings around grief, representation, and anger, respectively. I suggest that Covid-19 will become a key lens for articulating structural and social inequalities through which broader social movements will leverage their claims for justice—moving towards an integrated social movement. Social movement mobilizing will continue to play a critical role to ensure that the focus in the Covid-19 pandemic shifts from pathogen to society.


Dr. Sonja Mackenzie is an Associate Professor in the Public Health Program at Santa Clara University, USA. In 2021, Dr. Mackenzie is a Visiting Scholar and Affiliate Faculty with the Department of Sociology in the Reproductive Sociology Research Group (ReproSoc) at Cambridge University. Her scholarship lies at the intersections of public health, sociology and gender and sexuality studies to analyze and intervene in social and structural inequities in health among racial/ethnic and sexual and gender minorities. Her current projects examine social movements from HIV to Covid-19, building on her 2013 book, Structural Intimacies: Sexual Stories in the Black AIDS Epidemic; and the structural intimacies of LGBTQ kinship. Dr. Mackenzie is the author of numerous peer review publications and public scholarship on social structural patterns of the US Black AIDS epidemic and LGBTQ kinship and health.


By   :    Sonja Mackenzie

First published: 03 April 2022

Source : Sociology Compass


Book Review: How Social Movements Can Save Democracy: Democratic Innovations from Below by Donatella della Porta

In How Social Movements Can Save Democracy: Democratic Innovations from Below, Donatella della Porta explores how progressive social movements can deepen direct democracy through popular participation. The book repositions social movements as actors within institutional or formal politics and will inspire readers to consider their influence as citizens beyond traditional modes of participation in the public arena, writes Carla Quiroz.

How Social Movements Can Save Democracy: Democratic Innovations from Below. Donatella della Porta. Polity. 2020.

In How Social Movements Can Save Democracy, Donatella della Porta explores some innovative proposals from progressive social movements at a time when various crises challenge existing institutions, party systems have been shaken and democratic conceptions need to be legitimated. This valuable book proposes opportunities for institutions to deepen direct democracy through popular participation: for instance, through referendums ‘from below’ or constitutions.

The book is split into five parts. In the first chapters, the author argues that social and economic crises bring times of change, giving civil society the opportunity to discuss potential innovative contributions. While social movements have been studied as contentious actors, they have also nurtured new ideas. Social movements’ ideas can enter institutional politics to strengthen plurality and contribute to the deepening of democracy.

Della Porta emphasises the importance of democracy through the involvement of citizens. Her argument is focused on how we can restore democracy’s legitimacy and efficacy. Encouraging such participation is important both in and outside existing institutions, and through formal and informal checks, where collective activity can be articulated and demands can be resolved. Della Porta proposes different exchanges between various spheres of action where citizen participation is crucial — for example, through schools, neighbourhoods and factories — while still recognising the political role of social movements.

During economic crises, waves of protest or moral disruption, social and grassroots movements push for political opportunities, increasing their capacity to pursue constitutional powers. In general, constitutions set up relations between the state and citizens and also protect the fundamental rights of the population and ‘common goods’. In this sense, classical sociologists such as Ferdinand Tönnies, Émile Durkheim and Max Weber have paid attention to the origins of constitutions; according to Chris Thornhill, constitutions regulate exchanges between different spheres of action, producing and reproducing power.

Nevertheless, della Porta refuses to think that constitutions are solely political. The author argues that constitutions also need to be supported by collective identification by political communities through popular participation, becoming a symbol of union. To describe how social movements facilitate the progressive aspects of constitutional processes, she provides two examples. The first of these is Iceland, which suffered a financial crash in 2008. This crisis allowed Iceland to reconstitute a social pact through a constitutional process that was highly pluralistic in terms of the background of citizens. The second is the Irish constitutional process, which was also pushed by the crisis. Activating participation through the appropriation of opportunities, resource mobilisation and collective framing emerges as a way to regain political legitimacy and empowerment.

Referendums from below have also been promoted by social movements. Referendums from below are described as direct democracy, involving social movements and civil society organisations in referendum campaigns. Della Porta includes some examples to explain this, including the case of the privatisation of the water supply in Italy, the referendum on Scottish independence and the pseudo-referendum on Catalonian independence. While it is true that referendums are usually a response to political discontent, they can contribute to the reinvention of democratic government through popular participation.

Following this idea, referendums imply an open channel of participation where participatory democracy is promoted by progressive social movements, in contrast to simple delegation by a political elite. Social movements can be successful in promoting referendums themselves, but they can also appropriate referendums that have been promoted by political elites, introducing their own strategies. From time to time, social movements can even be seen as offering a moderate path of contentious action. Della Porta claims that usually social movement scholars have focused on party elites, the media and the public; however, it is important to consider the contribution of citizens or the grassroots as producers of messages too.

In the fourth chapter, della Porta reclaims the historical indifference between two fields of study: the study of political parties and the study of social movements. While studies of political parties mainly focus on elections and activities within institutions, social movements are mainly located outside institutions. However, they are mutually dependent as institutional politics is usually permeated by social movements as actors in the political system. Through this line of thinking, della Porta defines the concept of ‘movement parties’, which emerge as a hybrid of the two. According to Herbert Kitschelt’s definition, ‘movement parties are coalitions of political activists who emanate from social movements and try to apply the organization and strategic practice of social movements in the arena of party competition’.

Movement parties have emerged where crises have been faster and where citizens have supported radical changes. This overlap between political parties and social movements aims to link memberships and organisational actions, integrating institutional politics and ideological militancy. The emergence of this kind of political party is facilitated when economic and political crises produce grievances and people cannot find existing channels of representation in the party system and traditional coalitions. In this context, new movement parties emerge usually on the Left, appropriating opportunities and symbolic resources to put forward claims for social justice, equality and democracy. The author develops these ideas by looking firstly at Podemos as a movement party in Europe, and secondly at Movement towards Socialism (MAS) in Latin America.

How Social Movements Can Save Democracy offers a deeply contextual and theoretical approach, giving examples drawn from across the world. The book’s biggest contribution is opening a reconfiguration of social movements as actors within institutional or formal politics. It also inspires the reader to think about the opportunities associated with political and economic crises as a space of ongoing learning. The book therefore works as a tool to position the reader as a citizen who can influence the use of referendums or other examples of popular participation, challenging the government and political elites as well as traditional modes of participation in the public arena.

How Social Movements Can Save Democracy suggests that crises offer the opportunity for social movements and civil society to co-produce, or at least influence, future institutional changes. Popular participation through direct democracy using more sophisticated techniques could ensure a better quality of democracy: more effective and plural where the grassroots are represented by citizen-led democratic innovations.


Carla Quiroz is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh. My research interests include social movements, gender and politics in Latin America.


By    :  Carla Quiroz  (University of Edinburgh)

Date :  March 27, 2022

Source : LSE Blogs