Progressive social justice movements are forms of collective action that emerge in response to situations of inequality, oppression and/or unmet social, political, economic or cultural demands.

Here you can explore recent thinking on social movements and activism, as well as analysis of key spaces for social mobilisation, such as the World Social Forum.

17 resources - Page 2 of 2
  • Bridging the gaps: citizens, organisations and dissociation. Civil Society Index summary report: 2008-2011

    CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, 2011

    This report, published by CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, draws upon their Civil Society Index (CSI) 2008-2011 project to investigate, in a comprehensive but introspective manner, the changing landscape of civil society organisations (CSOs) around the world. It heavily quotes respondents in their own language, highlighting voices, concerns and hopes from numerous countries with a particular focus on CSOs relationship to the state, their financial and legal status, and the challenges they face. The authors also draw general conclusions that present a volatile and vulnerable sector that finds itself at a transitional moment, one that could signal either rejuvenation or stagnation, depending on how events unfold.

    The CSI is a participatory project, which aims to assess and improve the state of civil societies around the world. It includes thousands of people from the public and civil society stakeholders in a reflective analysis, creating a knowledge base and momentum for civil society strengthening. This report primarily uses the individual country reports (mostly qualitative) produced by the CSI; a more quantitative analysis can be found in the companion paper, Cutting the Diamonds.

    The report summarises each section with a series of conclusions:

    - Volatile civil space and relations with the state – The environment for CSOs is volatile, often limited, and presents challenges for managing civil societies role, status and integrity. Attacks on civil society are highlighted; one in three CSOs surveyed in Nicaragua reported being victims of some form of abuse by local or national governments. In many countries, legal requirements are restrictive or cumbersome, with perceived favouritism in civil society-state relationships and limits on what is permissible to challenge.

    - Resource challenges for CSOs – There is a sense amongst CSOs that they are particularly vulnerable to the financial shifts of the global economic crisis, and that they severely lack adequate human resources leading to a reliance on volunteerism.

    - Do CSOs model the values they espouse? - CSOs often fail to apply key labour rights, including recognition of gender equality, implementation of internal democracy and concern for the environment. In doing so, CSOs risk appearing inconsistent and losing credibility. A tendency to centralise power, particularly towards long-serving leaders, is still prevalent.
    - How important are networks? - Whilst important, networks are recognised by CSOs as hard to maintain, particularly internationally where connections are weaker. This suggests there is still much work to be done to reduce isolationism and increase sharing of practice. The Liberia CSI highlighted the lack of funding opportunities for international travel to meetings, leaving only a few donor-supported groups able to travel. Such issues mean CSOs are at risk of appearing to be urban, elitist institutions, out-of-ouch with their constituencies.

    - Is civil society making an impact? - The paper concludes that CSOs are having less impact on policy than social changes, indicating an area requiring support.

    The paper concludes by looking at how CSOs and citizens are connecting, looking at trends in volunteering and unorganised action, before discussing new pathways for participation. It suggests that donors, governments, the private sector, and CSOs themselves all need to stop viewing CSOs as proxy for civil society. Rather than disenfranchising people that the CSI shows to be already engaging on their own terms, these actors should instead find ways to utilise new technologies to integrate the new forms of activism seen to be emerging.

  • Moving targets: notes on social movements

    D Sogge, G Dutting
    Hivos, 2010
    Published by the Civil Society Building Knowledge Programme of the Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries (HIVOS), this working paper seeks to better understand the various dynamics inherent within social movements. The study described is based on a literature review on social movements and writings of activist-practioners, presenting a framework for social movement analysis. It also identifies knowledge gaps, and suggests some policy implications for social movement support.

    The structure of the paper, representing the analytical framework, is as follows: section two provides an overview of paradigms that explain social movements; three and four address movement structure and resource mobilisation; five discusses the concept of framing, both in terms of unifying ideas and values, and in media perception; six explores interaction patterns, for example symbiotic, formal versus informal, paternalistic, etc; and seven and eight focus on evaluation, i.e. the meaning of success, and identifying knowledge gaps respectively.
    The report concludes with four suggestions for policy guidance to support social movements:

    · As power migrates to the supra-national level, social movements, commonly a domestic entity, social movements are challenged to engage on multiple levels. Capacities to see and grasp opportunities, including alliance forming, are of increasing importance.

    · The most lasting contributions of social movements are found in a transformed climate of ideas rather than changed policies. It is difficult to quantify or monitor such change, since the focus is on intangible developments in diverse and competitive arenas, through unclear and complex processes.

    · The practices and preferences of some donors can be disabling for social movements. The report argues that in bypassing the state through the development of independent aid chains, many NGOs have contributed to a crippling of countries’ public finance, increased privatisation and deregulation, and ultimately weakening incentives and protections for emancipatory social movements.

    - Direct support for social movement requires careful consideration, under the principle of ‘first do no harm’. Sophistication is required for outside actors who wish to provide direct support; and it is often better to promote a more enabling environment, such as stronger political and legal mechanisms and independent public-media. Whilst cooperation with local authorities has been shown to work in some cases, there are risks.
  • Power, Movements, Change. Special issue for the 11th AWID International Forum on Women's Rights and Development

    W Harcourt (ed)
    Palgrave Macmillan, 2009

    This special edition of Development contains a range of articles and reports back from the 11th AWID international forum, held in South Africa and in November 2008, when more than 2000 women’s rights activists congregated to talk about ‘the power of movements’. Articles include:

    • An editorial by Wendy Harcourt with her personal reflections on the forum and thoughts on global considerations for movements going forward.

    • Geetanjali Misra’s thoughts on what makes movements strong, what internal challenges they face, and how the power of movements can be harnessed to best effect.

    • Srilatha Batliwala’s thoughts on diversity within the forum and wider women’s movements, and areas ‘missing’ from the debates, such as economic rights.

    • An account of the creative strategies used within a panel event on collaboration run by feminists from the south.
    • An analysis by Jessica Horn of a plenary discussion on the internal dynamics of women’s movements, and the importance of the focusing on processes of activism, not just the outcomes.

    • An article on multigenerational movement building, and next steps for action.

    • Ayesha Imam’s overview of the development of the African Feminist Forum and its charter of feminist principles, as well as the challenges it has faced around diversity and inclusion.

    • Case studies on women’s organising in Ghana, Bangladesh, Iran, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Lebanon, Malaysia, Indonesia, Central and Eastern Europe, and among European Romani women, Dalit women in India, disabled women, and the women’s trade union in Korea.

    • Case studies on ‘NGO-isation’ and its impact on women’s movements in different regions.

  • Mobilising citizens: social movements and the politics of knowledge

    M. Leach, I. Scoones
    Institute of Development Studies UK, 2007

    Comparatively reflecting upon a series of case studies of citizen mobilisation in both north and south, this Institute for Development Studies working paper argues that the politics of knowledge are now central. It synthesises some of the major responses emerging from the case studies, which seek to better understand exactly who mobilises and why, how activist networks are comprised, how citizens and experts interact, and what part resources and space play.

    Engaging social movement theory with theories of citizenship, the first part of the paper identifies four important, overlapping perspectives on the mobilisation process.

    • Theories of resource mobilisation and political process – In all cases studies, a longer-term historical perspective has been vital in understanding the conditions in which mobilisation occurs. Mobilisation emerges where the state fails to protect and enforce people's rights.
    • Theories of framing – Establishing definitions of words and problems is a crucial aspect of mobilisation, though it can lead to protracted clashes; for instance, the mobilisation around the MMR vaccine debate in the UK resulted in polarisation as each side framed their arguments in different ways.
    • Theories of movement identity – Class-based movement identity has given way to symbolic, informational and cultural struggles in the context of state and market forms. Recent approaches have emphasised the the fact that people hold a multiplicity of diverse, overlapping, and often temporary identities
    • Theories of space, place and network – New technology and media networks have enabled forms of connection between spatially dispersed movement participants that finds solidarity in the shared focus on their respective localities.

    The paper then goes on to discuss emergent themes in contemporary mobilisation: knowledge, power and mobilisation; cultures, styles and practices of mobilisations; and spaces for mobilisation, including the relative importance but near universal use of the internet between developed and developing regions. The cases show a diverse range of styles of activism, shared and handed-down as activists collaborate and move-on, such as the use of 'old' anti-apartheid culture by activists now campaigning in union disputes. The paper concludes that the politics of knowledge is more often than not at the heart of contentious politics.

  • Diversity and social opposition in the 21st Century: the trajectory of the World Social Forum (2001-2005)

    S Navarro (ed), M Silva
    Institute of Development Studies UK, 2006
    This paper analyses the experience of the World Social Forum in its five initial editions, from 2001 to 2005, all of them but one held in the Southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegré. Two main objectives are addressed: firstly the paper offers a profile of those in attendance at these events. Secondly, it discusses the permanent, albeit not clearly explicit, tension surrounding the event from the beginning, opposing those who would rather change it to a new political tool to promote traditional goals of left-inspired traditions and those, on the contrary, who would prefer to see the WSF as a new and innovative space for social diversity.

    The paper consists of three sections. The first presents a descriptive characterisation of the event under its five editions, specifically focusing on the profiles, activities and structures created over time. It also discusses the importance of the 'Charter of Principles' and how the ensuing so-called 'methodology' has entered the scene and dominated the event. The second section describes the existing diversity that is a trademark of the Forum, identifying the main networks that converge in this process, the relations between diversity and collective identity, and the different positions that oppose diversity and the political efficacy of the forums. The final section focuses on the positions and conflicts in relation to the 'methodology', and analytically explores the growing visibility of this dilemma and its potential divisive nature; from those who advocate a more unified political action in the short run vis-à-vis those who consider that the World Social Forum is not a political party, but rather a space of diversity. It concludes by suggesting that this remarkable experience is most probably on the verge of rupture, given the mounting tensions created by these polarising perspectives.
  • Feminisms and the World Social Forum: space for dialogue and confrontation

    V Vargas
    Palgrave Macmillan, 2005

    This article, written by Virginia Vargas, presents a feminist perspective of the World Social Forum (WSF), analysing how changes in feminist strategies are expressed in the organisation's space and processes. The author explains how, as a space of both convergence and conflict between old and new structures of thought, the WSF represents a fascinating and challenging arena for the feminist movement.

    The article introduces the WSF as a place of experimentation – a break from unitary ideological paradigms that, instead, seeks to facilitate a multitude of different strategies and concepts. What links the groups is opposition to neo-liberalism; how and where this struggle is conducted marks where groups differ. It is within this context that feminism often finds itself challenging, as well as engaging with, WSF practice and process, particularly with regard to the harbouring of old patriarchal and exclusionary practices.

    Although women made up 54% of the participants at the first WSF, 85% of those in the most important, 'official' panels were men. Other criticisms include that the WSF runs the risk of becoming an exclusive event only attended by those who can afford it, and that questions surrounding representation in the Organising Committees and the International Committee create tensions in the vision of the WSF as an alternative or revolutionary space.

    Over the course of five WSFs, feminism has made increasing gains in both visibility and recognition, contributing to a consultation-led reform of the WSF structure in 2005, from a largely top-down structure to a broader, bottom-up methodology for organising panels. The aim was to bring different networks together that work on similar issues, allowing for the expression of diverse and plural feminisms. This is vital if the nuance of cultural context is be understood; a crucial component of transitioning from unitary mindsets of universal solutions, to a view of gender as a transversal and cross-cutting dimension within a multitude of other political and cultural struggles.

  • Sexism in the World Social Forum: is another world possible?

    Obando A
    Women's Human Rights Net, 2005
    This article, written by Ana Elena Obando following the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegro, Brazil, analyses perceived sexist contradictions at the WSF and challenges resistance movements to self-reflect and become more inclusive. It argues that the violence against women in the Youth Camp of the WSF, which saw 90 reported cases of harassment, assault, indecency and rape, yet only one arrest, is a stark reminder of the WSF's failure to include a gendered perspective, and how this is not only detrimental to social movement building, but also has real, harmful effects on women personally.

    Three contradictions are noted by the author:

    • Despite sharing general opposition to neoliberal capitalism, militarisation and environmental destruction, Obando notes that in her experience resistance movements also share a lack of opposition to fundamentalisms, particularly religious, that impact women. This is not to say that social movements cannot work alongside religion; liberation theology, for instance, has supported movements in their fight against fundamentalisms.

    • This contributes to compartmentalised and undemocratic resistance that feminists must once again strengthen from the inside, a resistance within the resistance, ensuring a gendered perspective in the building of an alternate world. An example of the issues faced lies in the Manifesto of Porto Alegro, a document produced by 18 men and 1 woman that establishes 12 points the WSF proposes globally without mention of a gendered perspective. The author notes that as an open space, the WSF is not a representative body for global civil society and cannot assume the right to speak for the entire group, and is an antidemocratic and sexist practice of power.

    • There is a significant gap in WSF activities between the rhetoric of gender mainstreaming and practice. Women continue to navigate between women and with women, struggling to incorporate gender into other movements. Mainstreaming must go beyond merely adding the word 'woman' to policies, without budgetary support of real understanding of the concept.

    The article finishes with a description of events at the Youth Camp of the WSF in Brazil. 35,000 students, artisans, feminists, etc. gathered in a “facade” of an open and progressive space; within this space young men kidnapped and raped women. This presents a fourth contradiction: the gap between espoused political values and individual action of the 21st century “Che Guevara look-alikes”. Obando writes that the camp succeeded in practising the values of the WSF (whose moniker states “Another World is Possible”), in that it failed to include women in a safe and progressive space. A group of feminists marched through the camp in protest, and the Lilac Brigade were formed: women who wore lilac bands on their arms to indicate their willingness to help other women who had suffered abuse. Women were angry, frustrated and saddened by events, asking if 'another camp is possible?'

    The author concludes that the WSF must review both their methodology and their vision, and address the issues of sexism, patriarchy and undemocratic organisation that threaten to do real harm in weakening collective civil society as a whole.