This blog post is the second in a series summarising a special issue of PAC:JPP on the role of social movements in bringing about (or failing to bring about!) political and social transformation. I co-edited the special issue with Cristina Montiel, and it is available online to those with access (or by contacting the papers’ authors or via ResearchGate). Our intro summarising all articles is also online ‘open access’ here.
The overall aim of the special issue was to explore how social movements engage in, respond to, or challenge violence, both in terms of direct or physical violence and structural violence, injustice and inequality. In my first post I looked at four papers from that issue; in this piece I look at 2 more. The key theme that I want to draw out from the two papers here is how social transformation occurs along multiple dimensions that can progress and regress rapidly, and in complex ways.
Movement failure can follow success (and vice-versa)
One important analysis was provided by Uluğ and Acar (2018), who are both peace psychologists, in an article titled, “What happens after the protests? Understanding protest outcomes through multi-level social change.” Acar – as most readers may not know – is a social psychologist in Turkey who was recently charged and convicted for signing a pro-peace petition (along with 100s of other academics who have also suffered penalties including jail time, job losses). Her important reflection on her shocking experience is online here, and there is some detail about the evolving context and opportunities for people to support the academics involved.
In the article in the special issue, Uluğ and Acar are examining the impact of a series of protests around Gezi Park in Istanbul, Turkey. The protests started in opposition to urban development of the park, although many other issues (such as opposition to corruption and militarism) soon became included. For the paper, a series of expert interviews were conducted analysing the impact of the protests for individuals, groups and society in the short and longer term. An aspect of the piece that I would like to highlight in particular is that after the Gezi Park protests, the consensus was that first, there had been a number of gains in the short term; but second, these were then rolled back as the authorities fought back over time, particularly with the rising authoritarianism in Turkey after the coup attempt of 2016. The piece by Uluğ and Acar highlights how success in creating more freedom can be temporary and fragile (and more hopefully, also that failure can be momentary).
The pace of social change over years or decades invites interdisciplinary, historical analysis – but also, in my mind, this dynamic invites additional research and theorizing (a challenge our group has begun to address in an in-press paper *). The process whereby social movements’ successes create counter-mobilization, and sometimes state repression, which in turn may create new movements, or lead to tactical changes, is strangely understudied within social psych – and of course, we might also consider how this is occurring at the same time as actors struggle to create or undermine institutions and cultures that support structural peace.
Historical change over decades: A case study of Madagascar
A second piece within the special issue which engaged the theme of cycles of peace and conflict was Razakamaharavo’s (2018) “Processes of Conflict De-escalation in Madagascar (1947– 1996)”. Razakamaharavo explicitly takes a historical perspective to reflect on periods of greater turbulence or stability by working on episodes of conflict with various intensities between the colonial period and 2016. The paper considers in depth (including with a welcome review of the relevant literature) the factors that lead some regions or groups to remain trapped indefinitely in stalemates or ‘intractable conflict’, or to break free. The paper’s analysis of the Madagascar context then specifically documents swings and roundabouts of conflict escalation and de-escalation, and thoughtfully considers their causes.
What is fascinating in this piece (and in that by Uluğ and Acar) is how the levels of analysis appear to change not just in tandem, but independently or even in contradiction. Institutional changes may be occurring that erode or promote peace, at the same time as changes in structural relations between groups, ideological and policy changes, changes of personnel and by leaders of tactics, as well as changing narratives and experiences of trauma and healing, are working in the same, orthogonal, or opposite dimensions. The complexity of this for modelling, theorising and analysis is immense!
As with the first blog post, there is much more that could be said about each of these papers. I hope there is time for more engagement another time, but meanwhile I am excited, through this post, to begin to share the messages more widely.
- Winnifred Louis
* Louis, W. R., Chonu, G. K., Achia, T., Chapman, C. M., Rhee, J. (in press). Building group norms and group identities into the study of transitions from democracy to dictatorship and back again. In B. Wagoner, I. Bresco, & V. Glaveanu (Eds.), The Road To Actualized Democracy. Accepted for publication 12 December 2016.
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.
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