EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


The institutionalization of revolutionary movements: ethnographic case studies

Location A-222
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 09:00


Angela Storey (University of Louisville) email
Mariya Ivancheva (University of Liverpool) email
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Short Abstract

This panel explores the routes to power of radical and revolutionary political movements, asking to what extent 20th century revolutionary legacies encourage, suppress, or co-opt subsequent struggles. Drawing on global examples we examine complex long-term implications of projects for social change.

Long Abstract

Over the last century revolutionary movements have formed or joined political power across the world. Yet, few movements radicalize when coming to power. Instead, many succumb to processes of rapid institutionalization and, ultimately, may become or support authoritarian and/or neoliberal social orders.

To explore such contradictions, we present ethnographic case-studies of historical and contemporary revolutionary movements from around the world. We scrutinize continuities and ruptures in their trajectories in the context of newly acquired responsibilities and authority. We discuss how revolutionary impetus and charisma can be preserved in the aftermath or continuation of sociopolitical struggle. With Victor Turner we ask to what extent anti-structures harden back to structures, and what space is left for social change. With Partha Chatterjee we inquire how new elites use the institutionalized tools of civil society to obstruct the politics of the governed. With James Holston we ask how the work of new movements stake out a form of "insurgent citizenship" in light of past struggles and current inequalities.

Across diverse examples we examine the long-term implications of revolution on social change. We ask how past revolutionary movements relate to the grassroots: do they curtail interactions, co-opt old supporters, or retains links with larger constituencies? Do they follow up or renege on their pre-revolution promises vis-a-vis structural constraints and demands of "real politics"? Do they draw upon repertoires of engagement from their revolutionary struggles for legitimacy? Do they create "radical distinctions" to defend newly acquired privilege? And, what space remains for dissent or critique?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


From revolution to polity: the case of Portuguese Timor

Author: David Hicks (Stony Brook University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyzes a revolutionary movement in Portuguese Timor, founded in 1974 by young people. It describes its evolution into a structured post-colonial polity, and explains how these young nationalists, without any knowledge of government, established a viable system of governance.

Long Abstract

This paper analyzes the process by which a revolutionary movement in the colony of Portuguese Timor in 1974-1975 evolved into a structured post-colonial polity. It explains how two dozen young nationalists, among them student activists, without any knowledge of government and lacking experience of administration, collaborated in changing the established political structure and replacing it with a viable system of governance as the colonial authority, Portugal, extricated itself from a colony over which it had held hegemony for three centuries. The revolutionary movement, reified in a political party, the "Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor," or "Fretilin," mounted a campaign to win the allegiance of Timorese, ninety percent of whom were illiterate. Following a war with two rival political parties and the departure of the colonial authorities, Fretilin's central committee formed a de facto government with innovatory features that distinguished it from its colonial precursor. This was a liminal entity without any formal legitimacy; but it restored order and provided the colony with administrative continuity, though of a character radically at variance from what had existed before.

They always promise toilets: service delivery politics and social movement interventions in post-Apartheid Cape Town

Author: Angela Storey (University of Louisville)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines radical social movements focused on improving service access to informal areas in Cape Town, South Africa, asking how their work re-frames local political contention in the post-Apartheid era.

Long Abstract

Twenty years after South Africa's first democratic elections, the promises of liberation have been replaced for many by a politics of discontent. This is highly visible in hundreds of annual street protests over inadequate service delivery, and is also marked by the growth of social movements and civil society organizations seeking engagements outside the now-dominant realm of partisan politics. Although diverse in their approaches to making change, local social movements offer insight into the complex alignments of communities, parties, alternative radical politics, and persistent socio-economic inequality post-Apartheid.

Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork conducted with several social movements in informal settlements at Cape Town's urban periphery, this paper discusses how movements interact with and respond to local politics in the run-up to the 2014 national elections. As informal settlement residents readily locate the political momentum prompting large-scale municipal maintenance projects in the months before the election, as well as promises for service improvements by other parties, they likewise predict the invisibility that their everyday struggles will soon regain. Within this cycle, social movements attempt to intercede with alternative visions for everyday life and political engagement while simultaneously taking advantage of possibilities for material improvements in services. How might we understand this confluence of opportunism and radical politics as a re-alignment of local politics? Do movements offer space for marginalized communities to continue meaningful political struggle post-Apartheid?

'They are not fighting for us anymore; they are only thinking about themselves now': narratives of a revolutionary struggle from the Indo-Burma borderlands

Author: Iliyana Angelova (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

The paper presents the unique political institutionalisation of the Naga revolutionary movement in the Indo-Burma borderlands where the civilian population is governed and taxable by six ‘underground’ governments while the official state government is viewed as an agent of the Indian nation-state.

Long Abstract

When in 1947 the newly independent Indian nation-state claimed sovereignty over the lands of the Naga, an ethnic group residing in the remote Indo-Burma borderlands, the latter initiated an armed struggle for self-determination and secession from India based on claims to their cultural and historical distinctiveness. In 1975 an accord was signed between the Naga national fighters and the Indian government which installed many of the national fighters into local government and was supposed to bring an end to the armed hostilities. However, the latter did not happen as a dissenting faction split away from the mainstream and continued the armed resistance until 1997 when they also signed a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government. Instead of joining formal politics like their co-combatants in the 1970s, however, these Naga national leaders remained 'underground' and continued to maintain their own government and army structures which, they claimed, were the only legitimate forms of government in Nagaland. Since then, the 'underground' Naga national movement has split a number of times so that there are now six 'underground' governments and one official state government. The paper explores how this unique political arrangement places the civilian population in a deadlock of rampant taxation and extortion in the name of the national movement, and presents the narratives of the ordinary people as they experience their disadvantaged position and reflect upon the unanticipated outcome of their nationalist struggle while Nagaland still remains officially a part of the Republic of India.

Performing revolutionary solidarity in the absence of revolution: international conferences as institutionalized ritual in Vietnam

Author: Oscar Salemink (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I discuss the ritualization of a series of international conferences in Vietnam, arguing that in the context of market reforms and the absence of revolution ritualization in terms of socialist brotherhood allowed academic leaders to perform revolutionary solidarity.

Long Abstract

In 1986 the Communist Party of Vietnam adopted capitalist reforms known as Đổi Mới in order to revive its moribund economy which had succumbed to revolutionary fervor after successful wars against France, the U.S. and China. With the demise of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union, Vietnam's communist allies fell away, necessitating accelerated market reforms and new alliances through rapid integration into regional (ASEAN) and international (UN, WB, WTO) organizations. The reforms were partly driven by enhanced international exposure. One common form of international exposure were the ubiquitous training and research workshops and conferences taking place in Hanoi and - to a lesser extent - HCM City. Workshops were a favorite method for foreign donor organizations to try and influence domestic policies through what they called 'capacity building'. For Vietnamese institutions - especially academic institutions - workshops constituted welcome monetary injections, both for the institutions and for individual participants who received envelopes with cash for their participation.

In this paper I will analyze a series of major, prestigious conferences known as the International Conferences on Vietnamese Studies (1998, 2004, 2008, 2012), jointly organized by the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences and the Vietnam National University (Hanoi), as ritualized events. I will show how the first ICVNS constituted an attempt to connect up with the world of Western scholarship on Vietnam. In subsequent conferences particular ingredients were ritualized, assuming the familiar ritual forms of the celebration of socialist brotherhood, and allowing academic leaders to perform revolutionary solidarity in the absence of revolution.

The insurgent nation in Colombia: tensions on how to be revolutionaries in the aftermath of the peace process

Author: Nicolas Espinosa (University of Arizona)  email

Short Abstract

I explore the changing socio-political environment that “insurgent communities” in Colombia are facing as a result of the ongoing peace process. Especially, how these communities are thinking the future institutional scenarios to address both the post-conflict peace, and the violence.

Long Abstract

After more than 50 years of civil war in Colombia, since 2012 the government and the guerrillas are negotiating a peace process in La Havana, Cuba. Despite the fact that during the last decade the Army has been able to defeat the guerrillas in many regions, the insurgency is still active in at least half of the national territory. La Sierra de La Macarena is one of the regions, and the focus of my attention, where the guerrillas are still political and military active. I have conducted long-term ethnographic research in La Macarena about everyday forms of violence, and the conditions for the configuration of political spaces under war conditions.

I am currently preparing my PhD dissertation on the regional transition that the peace process implies for the region. I am directing my analysis to the way in which people are dealing with the ongoing war (there is no truce during the negotiation), and the strategies that political and regional organizations—some of them with revolutionary influences—are strategizing to assume new future roles to manage the region.

Hence, if this symposium is about the relation between the past-present experiences of revolutionary movements when coming to power, my case-study is about an ongoing experience: how the revolutionary movement, the community organizations, and the state are planning to transform the political dynamics in regions where the insurgency has contributed to build different forms of power and legitimacy. Hence, I am focusing my analysis to this transitional moment.

Dissonance in Zimbabwe's liberation narrative: oppositions from within

Authors: David Moore (University of Johannesburg)  email
Norma Kriger (Library of Congress)  email

Short Abstract

Zimbabwe's ‘liberation’ history contains sources of opposition from 'liberal' to 'authoritarian': there is no teleology. Past and present examples of opposition/resistance to a ZANU-PF 'centre' indicate contingency and contradiction are as important as continuity in Zimbabwe's authoritarian trends.

Long Abstract

Zimbabwe's history and present indicate there is no singular teleology within the liberation narrative: there is always opposition - towards and against 'freedom' widely conceived, veering away from the 'centre' of authoritarian power in directions leftward and libertarian, rightward and totalitarian. Kriger and Moore's work on Zimbabwean ranges from examination of young and radical 'left' challenges to liberation movement leadership and complex blends of coercion and challenge in the countryside in the 1970s, to challenges from the 'war veterans' and new political parties (and generations) in the 1990s and 2000s. To be sure the result of ruling party responses to these challenges (and more structural contradictions in Zimbabwe's political economy) is one of what has been labelled 'electoral authoritarianism' but the authors argue that this particular form of closure may have as much to do with the shortfalls of opposition (and external supporters) as the liberation movement's own logos.

Institutionalization from a world systems perspective: the 2011 movement cycle in Hungary

Author: Agnes Gagyi (University of Gothenburg)  email

Short Abstract

Looking from the perspective of world systems analysis, the paper sketches out an interpretative framework for institutionalization in classical moments of anti-systemic movement cycles, and applies this framework to understand demonstrations in the 2010-2014 political cycle in Hungary.

Long Abstract

The paper proposes to look at the institutionalization of social movements from a world systems perspective, that is, in relation to the historical dynamics in the development of the capitalist world system. In this approach, historical cycles of the world system are formed by intrabourgeois (competitive) struggles, wrought in the context of continuing resistance from below (class struggle). Anti-systemic movements take form in, and are formed by the actual context of capitalist development, and act themselves formatively on it. Consequently, movements are not understood as crystal-clear antitheses of power dynamics, but rather as their products and formative factors. Based on this tradition, the paper sketches out an interpretative framework on the institutionalization of classical anti-systemic movement cycles of the 19th and 20th centuries: the social and national liberation movements aiming for state power, and the 1968 movement cycle directed against both world systems hierarchies and state bureaucracy. Building on that framework, it makes an attempt at conceptualizing the relationship between the present hegemonic cycle of world system development, the transnational movements that address it from the left (the Global Justice Movement and the present Occupy wave), and the institutionalization of demonstrations in Hungary in the political cycle 2010-2014.

A radical nobility: intellectuals and university reform in Bolivarian Venezuela

Author: Mariya Ivancheva (University of Liverpool)  email

Short Abstract

The study explores the institutionalization of the former student movement during Venezuela's liberal democracy (1958-1998) as part of the state administration and the Bolivarian government.

Long Abstract

In this paper I discuss the positions and trajectories that constitute and are constituted by Venezuela's Bolivarian higher education field. In 2003 instead of reforming traditional universities, the Bolivarian government established new parallel structures of higher education. New educators and students, first generation into higher education entered and got new chance to take part in academic knowledge production.

Yet, while educational stratification has remained dependent on evaluation by traditional intellectuals, hostile to the Bolivarian government, a peculiar privilege remains constant within its new higher education field. A group, which I call "the radical nobility" is endowed with the double capital of radical and academic credentials. . They come from the former student movements during Venezuela's liberal democracy (1958-1998). Combined with their radical past, their academic credentials from times when education was exclusive form a new source of distinction: "revolutionary capital".

This form of symbolic capital conceals a specific hierarchical power relation which reproduces the old inequalities within a strict economic hierarchy. Comparing education and social status, material wealth, life-standards, and chances at the job market, the members of the radical nobility score above the new Bolivarian educators. All of them are better off than UBV's students and recent graduates. Regarded as low-skill professionals even within the public sector, for the latter the study at UBV has meant dignity and empowerment but no real job chances or social mobility.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.