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Regular version of the site

Book chapter

Protest Publics as the “Watchdogs” of the Quality of Democracy in the Polyarchies of the Global South

P. 203-231.
Rajhans S. K., Бисвас С. -.

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.