social movements

Daily Digest 27/7/2015: social movements in the global South

Well, yesterday was a very thesis-focused day (I’m completing a dissertation on how a land invasion in Cape Town was organised), so I forgot to publish a daily reading digest, but here it is:

  • Marshall, T.H. 1964. “Citizenship and Social Class.” In Class, Citizenship, and Social Development, 65–122. New York: Doubleday.
  • Thompson, Lisa, and Chris Tapscott. 2010. “Introduction: Mobilization and Social Movements in the South – the Challenges of Inclusive Governance.” In Citizenship and Social Movements: Perspectives from the Global South, edited by Lisa Thompson and Chris Tapscott, 1–32. New York: Zed
  • Motta, Sara C., and Alf Gundvald Nilsen. 2011. “Social Movements and/in the Postcolonial: Dispossession, Development and Resistance in the Global South.” In Social Movements in the Global South: Dispossession, Development and Resistance, edited by Sara C. Motta and Alf Gundvald Nilsen, 1-31. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
    • D’Souza, Radha. 2011. “Three Actors, Two Geographies, One Philosophy: The Straightjacket of Social Movements.” 227-249 (same volume)
  • Creswell, John W. 2007. Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

How should we interpret (historically, politically) the emergence and demands of social movements in the global South? There are two standing questions in the literature: are social movements in the global South (generally, the colonised countries) different in character from those in the North (today’s “developed countries”)? and what does “neoliberal” political economy have to do with these social movements?

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Protest movements and generational politics

“I can’t keep calm because Hong Kong is dying.” I’m sympathetic to Hong Kong’s student protestors, who are doing what their leadership has failed to do—press China to respect the self-determination that it promised Hong Kong. And it strikes me that should Hong Kong’s democratic movement succeed, many of its people’s concerns, like public housing and retirement adequacy, will make Hong Kong much more leftist than China is today. But that is not something I can usefully write about.

In keeping with a long tradition of comparing Hong Kong and Singapore, I’m thinking about the difference between the Occupy Central movement and this weekend’s widely-condemned Central Provident Fund (CPF) protest, and how it sheds some light on Singapore’s politics. Of all the ways that the two movements differ, one stands out: Occupy Central is driven by young people, while the CPF protestors are overwhelmingly old people. I think that has implications for politics in Singapore.

From the coverage of Occupy Central in the media like SCMP and BBC, it’s struck me that the vast majority of interviewees are in their 20s and 30s. I’ve read several cases of young people defying warnings from their parents. Even senior high school students are attending the protests. And it must be a typo, but SCMP reported that “13-year-old Matthew Chau” was smarting from the tear gas. Meanwhile, the mainstream pro-democracy leadership seems to be scrambling to keep up with the momentum. Though middle-aged protestors do exist, disapproval seems concentrated among the older generation, with a few isolated reports of anti-protest actions (for instance, the update from 11.40am on Monday on this live feed). The comparison in Singapore is the scrutiny over the NUS Student’s Union finances, but even that’s all been conducted by keyboard warriors, and I can’t tell if the vast majority of students care. You’d have to go back to the 1960s to find comparable student mobilisation in Singapore.

The news out of Singapore is that there was a confrontation between a Return Our CPF rally and a YMCA event held at Hong Lim Park at the same time. Accounts of what happened are confused and partisan, but it seems that the CPF protest set up its equipment at an area different from the one they were allocated, and following either innocent or malicious miscommunication, decided to march towards the YMCA event. This confrontation frightened a group of special-needs children who were about to perform at the YMCA event. Everyone and their grandmother will have something to say about what happened. Clearly, since I wasn’t there, I can’t do that, which is why I’m reflecting on a different aspect of the event. (more…)