Protest Publics. Toward a New Concept of Mass Civic Action
This book examines the waves of protest that broke out in the 2010s as the collective actions of self-organized publics. Drawing on theories of publics/counter-publics and developing an analytical framework that allows the comparison of different country cases, this volume explores the transformation from spontaneous demonstrations, driven by civic outrage against injustice to more institutionalized forms of protest. Presenting comparative research and case studies on e.g. the Portuguese Generation in Trouble, the Arab Spring in Northern Africa, or Occupy Wall Street in the USA, the authors explore how protest publics emerge and evolve in very different ways – from creating many small citizen groups focused on particular projects to more articulated political agendas for both state and society. These protest publics have provoked and legitimized concrete socio-political changes, altering the balance of power in specific political spaces, and in some cases generating profound moments of instability that can lead both to revolutions and to peaceful transformations of political institutions.
The authors argue that this recent wave of protests is driven by a new type of social actor: self-organized publics. In some cases these protest publics can lead to democratic reform and redistributive policies, while in others they can produce destabilization, ethnic and nationalist populism, and authoritarianism. This book will help readers to better understand how seemingly spontaneous public events and protests evolve into meaningful, well-structured collective action and come to shape political processes in diverse regions of the globe.
In the late 2000s, a number of analysts were optimistic about Brazil’s future. Their expectant analyses did not bear out, however, as a political and economic crisis developed just as Brazil was gearing up to host two mega-events, the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. This paper has two aims. The first is to deepen our understanding of the crisis through examining one of the foremost social actors to emerge in this period: the Landless Workers’ Movement (Movimento de Trabalhadores Sem-Teto, MTST). The second is to use this case to consider the potential for the sociology of critical capacity—a field of theory that emerged out of the Political and Moral Sociology Research Group in Paris in the 1980s—to contribute to theorising the ‘justification work’ of movements and protest publics.
The Gezi protests in 2013 were the largest urban resistance in the history of modern Turkey, both in terms of their intensity and the number of participants. They revitalized grassroots movements, further polarized the already-divided Turkish society, altered the political landscape, and sent shock waves among the incumbent elite who believed they were ruling without serious public opposition until the protests. The trajectory of the regime and the elite survival strategies profoundly changed after 2013 to meet this new challenge.
The protest publics model proposes a new theoretical framework for examining this emerging protest pattern, which can also shed light on our understanding of the Gezi events. In this chapter, the Gezi protests will be analyzed under the analytical framework of protest publics. First, I will show why this framework is appropriate for understanding the Gezi protests. Secondly, I will briefly discuss the political outcomes of these events by focusing on the transformative potential of protest publics in semi-authoritarian settings.
This paper addresses the conceptual problem of defining the origin, the structure and social foundations of massive and lasting peaceful street protests, which appeared spontaneously at the beginning of the new millennia in countries with very different levels of public wealth and socio-political development. Driven by different reasons, addressing different targets, these mass street actions have many common features that allow us to consider them a single phenomenon, which we define as a new type of social engagement, distinguished both from civil society organizations and social movements. This type of engagement is characterized by the formation and activities of protest publics, which can have deep and lasting impact on both society and policy process by transforming the public sphere through changing dominant public discourses. Such activities are largely based on a common demand of an ethical nature that can bring together many diverse social groups and mini-publics, focused on particular clusters of issues. The paper explores self-organized publics as collective social actors with unique features and capacities. It also develops a conceptual frame for protest event analysis as manifestations of protest publics, which allows us to identify the type of specific public assembled for each event, its “qualities of actorness” and its transformative potential. This conceptual frame is then applied to reconstruct the “Bolotnaya actions” in Moscow and the protests against construction of the Gazprom office tower in St. Petersburg, which makes it possible to compare the types of publics that were involved in those protests. The results include suggestions and theorizing protest actions based on the qualities of protest publics.
In this conclusion we provide a summary of the chapters and consider the benefits of applying the protest publics’ conceptual lens to the waves of protest that have broken out across the world in recent years. More specifically, we focus on the features of protest publics that were outlined in the introductory theoretical chapter and the extent to which these features can be found in the different country cases presented in the volume and how they help to understand local sociopolitical contexts. In this volume we argue that protest publics are a new phenomenon, though one that is variably connected with existing forms of social activism, and it allows for new kinds of collective civic engagement: protest publics, even though loosely organized and in certain circumstances can provide only modest immediate political results, still can be perceived as a collective actor that is capable of bringing about social and political change. As protest publics are often fluid and dynamic, at least compared with other, more institutionalized social and political actors, it is important to examine and thematize the dimensions of this fluidity. Further, the application of the protest publics framework in different political regimes will have strengths or limitations depending on the different functions that protest publics perform, which also needs to be specified. Finally, as this volume urges a renewed focus on protest studies, we will conclude with some principle questions that can be pursued in future research.
In his oft-cited work, Publics and Counterpublics, Michael Warner reflects on the tense relationship between public and private life. Modernity has given rise, he holds, to disconnections between our private and public selves, generating ‘a romantic longing for unity’ (Warner 2002, p. 25). The manifestation of unity may emerge in expressions of personal taste and emotion or gender and sexuality (a key focus of Warner’s). But it can also be more explicitly political in nature, as individual reflections on and reactions to political events generate collective, solidaristic responses (Jasper 1998). In this way, public manifestations of privately held beliefs seek to bring the public sphere into line, if only temporarily and provisionally, with the private. Such manifestations can be more or less routinized or transgressive, individual or collective, depending on the local contexts and causes of private discontent and their public forms.
This chapter analyses the nature of protests in Iceland, the United Kingdom and the United States in America from 2008 to 2016. We focus on the nature of these protests, forms of collective actions, main drivers of the protests and the resulting political changes. It allows us to determine that protests played the role of the challengers of the status quo — protested against the current political state in their countries and tried to develop alternatives by revoking practices of direct democ- racy, creating public spaces for discussions and promote their ideas among the broad public.
In this chapter the authors provide an overview of existing theories of how collective actors effect social change and propose a research design to evaluate protest publics’ contribution into politics, policy dynamics, and democratization.
The authors define and describe four models of how protests publics’ participation in politics, policy development, and processes of democratization function as drivers of social change. It is believed that protest movements effect greater changes in embedded democracies and achieve little or even are destroyed in authoritarian regimes. We come to more complex conclusions beyond this received wisdom that protest publics contribute to social change in polyarchies, where major democratic institutions are already established.
In India, anti-corruption mass protests began in April 2011 against various aspects of corruption such as kleptocracy, electoral fraud and black money. The protestors demanded the enactment of a strong legislation and enforcement against perceived political corruption. The protestors used non-violent repertoires of civil disobedience such as hunger strikes, marches, and rallies. They used social media to organise, communicate, and spread their message. Initially non-partisan to politics, the mobilisations fought for the Jan Lokpal Bill (introduced in parliament in 2011). Later, the core activist group split into two and one group formed a political party called Aam Aadmi Party (common man’s party). It won the Delhi legislative assembly polls and formed the government. The Lokpal and Lokayukt Act (or the Lokpal Act) was enacted in 2013. This was a major success of the mobilisations. Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan through a bloody war in 1971. During the war, the Pakistan army violated human rights and conducted genocide on a large scale. In 2009, the ruling Awami League government formed an International Crime Tribunal to put alleged war criminals to trial. In 2010, the Tribunal delivered its first indictment against groups considered enemy ‘collaborators’ and ‘traitors’ (Razakars, Al Badr, and Al Sham). But the indictments divided the country into seculars (who embraced the Bangladeshi identity, demanded capital punishment for war criminals, and found the indictments too lenient) and Islamic hardliners (who nursed their severed links with Pakistan and tried to save the war criminals). In February 2013, massive public protests started in the Shahbag public square to demand capital punishment for war crime convict Abdul Quader Mollah and a ban against the radical Islamist group Jamat-e-Islami. Secular activists used non-violent repertoires and mobilised people through social media and blogs. Though the hardliners murdered many activists, the secular protests were successful to some extent, as many of the convicted were given capital punishment. In both cases, a ‘protest public’ emerged. Though not organised through any civil society organisation or social movement, they successfully brought about sociopolitical transformations, policy shifts, and legal transformation. These protest 2 participants were mostly youth, and used only non-violent repertoires, even though the opposition used massive violence (mainly in case of Shahbag). These South Asian protests were influenced by Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring, but were located between the local and global. They were influenced by global protest cycles, but raised national identity, consciousness, and conscience as a public issue, and demanded direct participation in national policy formulations. There were divergences also. In India, protests led to a party being formed (the party formed a government), and changes in the law, after which the movement petered out. In Bangladesh, the Shahbag protests started a spiral of counter-violence, radicalisation, and ‘terrorist’ attacks that engulfed society. This paper will analyse the ‘protest public’ in these two cases using an analytical framework derived from the theory of public (Habermas 1989; Fraser 1990) and link it to the notions of postcolonial society and private/public difference in South Asia (Chatterjee 1993 and Chakrabarty 1999).
A phenomenon of the “spring of protest” has generated significant attention of scholars and has been observed and analyzed with various perspectives—ranging from the withdrawal of the state’s capacity for public goods, an interactive and horizontal social-mediated space, the shrinkage of the middle-class indifference, demands for accountability, rampant corruption, etc. This chapter is an attempt to address a methodological problem of understanding the origin, preconditions, structure, and social foundations of significant and lasting street protests that have appeared spontaneously and almost simultaneously in the varied scattered geographical space of South of Asia, Africa, and South of America (collectively the Global South) and comparing them with the protests in Southern Europe. Microanalysis of the resources, networks, and political attitudes that contribute to protests has been studied by different scholars. The protests have a transnational character but are also strongly influenced by local frameworks.
While the cases are different in Southern Europe and the Global South, this chapter argues the overarching similarities about the emergence of the publics as watchdogs. This chapter observes with the timeline of 2011 the unfolding of the protests that gets organized with a meta-narrative coalescing and converging with a centrifugal force connected around the troubled messages. This public demands accountability and participation in the governance process while keeping their protesting platform leadership horizontal, spot-on, circular, and mainly non-stream and through a range of mediated networks thus further consolidating the gains for the unheard multitudes.
In the last decade, protests in India, Brazil, and South Africa have affected political, social, and cultural processes in a number of ways. Various scholars have studied individual protests in these countries through different lenses on the causes, triggers, and reasons for protests, political economic and social context of these protests, and so on [Heller (BRICS from below: Counterpower movements in Brazil, India and South Africa. Open Democracy, 2015); Yadav and Chopra (International Journal of Trade and Commerce-IIARTC 4:411–422, 2015); Bastos et al. (First Monday 19(3), 2014); Gokay and Shain (Estudos Ibero-Americanos 41(2):242–260, 2015); Mendonça and Ercan (Policy Studies 36(3):267–282, 2015)]. In this chapter we attempt to address the conceptual understanding of the significant and lasting street protests that have burst out in large numbers across the varied geographical space in the global south, particularly in the countries of India, Brazil, and South Africa. We try to examine the origin, structure, and the social foundations of this publics’ outrage against authorities and their demands for greater accountability, transparency, and better governance. We argue that the protests in these countries have led to the emergence of new political actors—“protest publics” who have acted as watchdogs by raising concerns about the “quality of democracy” [Morlino (Changes for democracy: Actors, structures, processes. Oxford University Press, 2012)]. These protests have also led to significant social and political changes within these three nations by transforming the public sphere through a varied public discourse. Through this chapter, we argue that these demands have amalgamated into a meta demand which has consequently changed the dominating public discourses that are largely based on common peoples’ all-encompassing demands. These demands are ethical in nature and have been shaped considerably by common peoples’ understanding of what is right and what is wrong and what the government must do and must refrain from doing, giving these demands an extra normative layering. It has led to the emergence and convergence of diverse social groups and mini-publics [Della Porta (Mobilizing for democracy: Comparing 1989 and 2011. Oxford University Press, 2014)] who are focused on issue-based protests to generate a “meta-issue”—lack of governance which includes law and order problem, health and education problem, corruption, and economic inequality. The protest public emerges as a large tidal wave with an actorness for change having plurality of concerns, interests, and demands. It splashes the shores of the authorities forcefully with transformative demands. This chapter wants to further examine whether this horizontal bottom-up tidal wave demanding change among the mainstream political systems of the global south has expanded and increased the democratization of the polity and policy process.
This chapter aims to examine how mass protests affected processes of socio-political changes in Russia and China in the case of Hong Kong and Turkey. All three countries (with certain exceptions in the case of Hong Kong) are characterized as authoritarian states where blast of mass protests happened during the period 2011-2017. In each case, the situation with authoritarian rule has different aspects: Russia slowly moves from a democratic hybrid regime to authoritarianism since 2003 under control of president Vladimir Putin; In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is trying to unite the nation around his figure and changing political regime to achieve undisputed power; Hong Kong was under British rule till 1999 and returned into China on a particular agreement that the political regime established during the “colonial” period, which will not be reduced to all-China conditions. Nevertheless, different pathways led to similar results – shrinking space for independent political institutions and violations of fundamental rights and freedoms are not tolerated by the part of society in all three countries. Without working mechanisms to launch policy change, citizens choose protests as a way to show authorities their disagreement and anger over the authoritarian manner of policy-making.
The Arab Spring affected a large number of countries North Africa, but the intensity and nature of protests were different from one country to another. In some cases, protests led not only to the overthrow of authoritarian leaders, but to civil war and harsh clashes among ethnic and religious groups. Nonetheless, the nature of the regime type that might be said to depict these groups is the “hybrid regime” which combines authoritarianism and some aspects of electoral democracy. Hence, mass protests played the same role among the three hybrid regime countries: Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.
The political situation in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt after the Arab Spring revolutions witnessed multi-faceted changes. Based on the theory of political change, we can track different situational, institutional and policy changes that occurred in the three countries after the protests: “New Political Elite” in Tunisia: from Islamists to a regime of technocrats and democrats; Constitutional reforms in Morocco: The steady "Palace" knows well how to play the game with Islamists; The Islamist failure and rise of the army into power in Egypt.
In the selected countries mass protests served as specific triggers for change that led to different kinds of democratic development. The features of every state and a combination of involved actors and key factors determined the nature of such changes, but taking into account general patterns, we could say that the main trend of political and democratic change was certainly close in each case. Therefore, the role of protest publics in hybrid regimes can be described as “triggers” of democracy whereby efforts to democratize are slowly getting off the ground under authoritarian conditions.