The Future of Democracy after Neoliberalism

The Future of Democracy after Neoliberalism

Main Themes

The year 2014 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Zapatista uprising. On January 1, 1994, on the effective date of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Zapatista National Liberation Army, composed of poor indigenous peasants in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico, took arms criticizing the neoliberal global order. Observers at the time were surprised at the Zapatistas’ information maneuvers—i.e. sending out their messages from the Chiapas jungle to all over the world via internet—and called the uprising as “the first postmodern revolutionary movement” or “the first twenty-first century social movement.” The Zapatistas captured the worldwide attention when they advocated the respect for indigenous people’s rights and culture and democracy as values alternative to neoliberalism.

Today, twenty years after the uprising, the processes of globalization—rapid and massive movement of people, goods, money, information, and services across national borders—have been broadened and deepened, as shown by the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. At the same time, much like the Zapatistas twenty years ago, a variety of social groups from different regions of the world have raised voices against neoliberal globalization and instead tried to construct a society based on different values and visions. One typical example is the World Social Forum, which came into being in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001 with its slogan, “Another world is possible.” The Arab Spring (a series of large-scale anti-government demonstrations and protests in the countries in the Middle East and Arab regions starting from Tunisia in December, 2010) and the Occupy Movement (a series of occupations of public spaces beginning at the Wall Street, New York City, in September, 2011) are also the challenges to the existing global order and are still fresh in our minds.

In our conference and workshops, we will explore whether or not such “another world is possible.” Building upon the leading-edge research on social movements and civil society organizations that have emerged around the world during the past twenty years, we will tackle the following research questions: What kind of society based on what alternative values do these social movements and organizations attempt to establish? What are the potentials and limitations of these movements and organizations? Is it possible to bring about “another world” as an alternative to neoliberal global order?

Each social movement has its own vision of the “another world” depending on its specific political, economic, and social circumstances. In order to grasp such variations in the visions of a better world, it is desirable to bring together specialists of a variety of world regions. A unique characteristics of our conference and workshops is to invite academics in a variety of research fields, such as globalization, democracy, regime change and democratization, civil society, social movements, revolution, labor studies, and development, in order to compare social movements emerging from different parts of the globalized world, to understand the variations in the visions of the future and democracy, and to explore the possible future of the post-neoliberal twentieth-first century.

Specific Themes

Theme A: New Workers, New Movements?

In many countries, traditional labor unions are being weakened by a rapid shift in the forms of employment from formal/regular to informal/irregular. In response, some unions have sought to build transnational networks, while others have sought to organize in precarious informal sectors. Even in China, the so-called “world’s factory,” nascent NGOs manage to organize people under deplorable working conditions. By comparing those innovative labor movements throughout the world, we look for benchmarks of labor movements of the 21st century. How are the politics of labor changing? What does and what should a globalized labor movement look like? Which are the most likely and promising routes to organization and influence for labor movements in this century? Should transnational labor movements give up engaging with nation states or attempt to engage them in new ways?

Theme B: States and Social Movements

Global capital flows have been accompanied by the rise of transnational international organizations and new opportunities for global civil society. Yet many movements must still contend first and foremost with authoritarian states or democratic states that are unresponsive. How has globalization transformed the nature of engagement between states and social movements? Under what conditions do movements gain political influence? How do these patterns alter our understanding of state-related influences or “political opportunities” on movements? How should we change our thinking about the political influence of movements in globalizing world?

Theme C: Towards a New Repertoire of Contention

Is globalization leading to new forms of protest and contentious political action? Are we seeing new strategies and tactics, for example, new uses of legal instruments or new relations to the media? Are we seeing new solidarities? Is the Internet not only facilitating protest but also changing its forms? Is globalization redefining the relevant players with whom movements interact? Do these new forms and solidarities promote new routes to influence and social change?

Theme D: Challenges from the Global South

Globalization presents new challenges for the global south, most importantly the challenges of tackling persistent poverty and addressing new forms of social exclusion. If many of the dynamics and pressures are global, the responses are often still shaped by largely national factors. Across the global south, movements, civil society and political parties have played diverse roles in problematizing and tackling these issues. These “countermovement” responses have ranged from classic demands for redistributive or social-welfarist policies to new and highly innovative demands for participatory democracy and state reforms. How do we explain this variation? How do these struggles force us to re-think classic theories of how popular forces can re-shape economies and social structures? We examine a range of cases to address three key questions: First, what specific social and political configurations have generated countermovements and what are the forms of political and social claim-making these have generated? Second, under what conditions can these countermovements transform policies and even the state? Third, to what extent do these transformations represent new forms of democracy and new forms of the social-welfare state?

Theme E: Neoliberal Globalization, Counter-Globalization Movements and Transnational Civil Society

What are the goals, visions, and potentials of so-called counter-globalization movements? Some of these movements are often characterized as regressive and reactionary while others as progressive and emancipatory. On the one hand, we have witnessed the growth of “regressive” movements worldwide, which often appeal to national, racial, ethnic, or religious identities, such as anti-immigrant, neo-fascist, or religious-fundamentalist movements. On the other hand, “progressive” movements, such as a variety of social forums and human rights movements, have attempted to build a transnational civil society from bottom-up. Why do regressive movements emerge in some societies and progressive movements in others? What are the limitations and possibilities of these movements? What kind of transnational civil society is emerging out of these movements?

Theme F: New Understandings of Democracy

What does democracy mean in a globalizing world? Can we chart the diffusion of new models of democracy, not from Western elites to non-Western non-elites, but from East to West, from the local to the national, and across social movements? Development agencies and governments promote new forms of civic participation. How should we assess just how democratic such forms are? When is participation spectacle without mechanisms of democratic accountability?

Ongoing / Future Events

Past Events

[ Conference / Workshop ]
Japan-Latin America Academic Conference 2018 in Nikko
Social Movements, Contentious Politics, and Civil Society Sessions

September 28 to 30, 2018
Nikko & Urabandai, Japan

[ Workshop ]
The Future of Democracy after Neoliberalism Workshop
November 15 to 17, 2014
Kusatsu & Nikko, Japan

[ Seminar ]
#03 Research on the Consequences of Social Movements
November 11 to 21, 2014
Edwin Amenta(University of California, Irvine(USA))

[ Seminar ]
#02 Contentious Politics in the Andean Region
July 7 to 28, 2014
Moises Arce(University of Missouri, Columbia(USA))

[ Seminar ]
#01 The Future of Democracy after Neoliberalism: Social Movements in a Globalizing World
April 9 to July 2, 2014
Takeshi Wada(The University of Tokyo)