The economic crisis of 2007/2008 presented a challenge to the welfare state in the UK, and, more widely, across Europe. It also presented a challenge to many citizens, who were on the receiving end of the austerity agenda, and subsequent tightening of welfare spending. If nothing else, the financial crisis demonstrated the hegemony of economic theories prominent in neoliberal capitalism. As many academics and commentators have identified, however, the current period of instability is indicative of a systemic crisis. In addition to this analysis, the crisis also exposed the intricate and opaque links between western governments and the financial sector. During and after the crisis an eruption of activity in civil society galvanized many that had been directly affected by either the crisis itself—through loss of employment—or by the subsequent austerity measures imposed. This article aims to examine the current crisis affecting the welfare state in the UK, and social policy more broadly, and, begins to suggest how social movements are seeking to challenge the dominant discourses surrounding austerity politics. The article suggests some reasons as to why traditional forms of resistance and organization—such as the mobilizations of the trade union movement—have largely been unsuccessful in challenging such narratives. The article concludes by considering the shift from trade unionism in the UK to post-crisis social movements, and where an anti-austerity movement more broadly might develop further in pursuit of defending the principles of social welfare, and, ultimately, the welfare state.
Political Challenges under Austerity in the UK
Srdja Popović and Slobodan Djinovic
This piece of “movement writing” is written by the coheads of the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies and the cofounders of the Otpor! movement that ousted Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milošević in 2000. The article discusses the most promising tactics in contemporary prodemocracy activism, drawing on the authors’ considerable experience working with activists across the globe. Popović and Djinovic argue that the efficacy of traditional nonviolent strategies has waned with respect to contemporary prodemocracy struggles—which often seek to defend institutions rather than dismantle them—and advocate for more creative, humorous approach to contention.
Organized Hypocrisy, Solidarity, and Mounting Protest
Tiziana Caponio and Teresa Cappiali
In 2016, migration issues in Italy became synonymous with the “refugee crisis.” Dramatic images of boat people, rescues, and the deaths of thousands of people in the Mediterranean Sea have catalyzed public attention. Examining the Italian government’s responses, we argue that the “refugee crisis” is the result of an “organized hypocrisy” aimed at containing, rather than managing, the crisis and at gaining access to international protection. Structuring the immigrant reception system on the opposition between humanitarian and economic migrants, Italian policies struggle to offer adequate responses to current mixed flows. Furthermore, this system often has a negative impact on local communities, where we find diversified responses that range from solidarity to opposition and, more recently, the emergence of a “reception market.” Additionally, our analysis suggests that the dysfunctional nature of the Italian reception system, combined with alarmist attitudes promulgated by the media, amplifies discomfort and contributes to an increase in public hostility toward immigrants.
Massimiliano Andretta and Nicola Chelotti
The G8 summit meets annually, bringing together the heads of government
of France, the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom,
Germany, Italy, Japan, and Canada.1 The rotating president of the
European Council and the president of the European Commission also
participate. The countries involved take turns hosting the summit, and
in 2009, Italy hosted it for the fifth time since 1975 in L’Aquila. Italy’s
prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has been in the unique position of
hosting the summit three consecutive times—in 1994, 2001, and 2009.
What can Transnational Studies offer the analysis of localized conflict and protest?
Nina Glick Schiller
After reviewing the strengths and limitations of Transnational Studies, including its methodological nationalism, this article calls for the field to develop a theory of power. A transnational theory of power allows us to set aside binaries such as internal/external, global/local, or structure/agency, when analyzing historical and contemporary social processes and conflicts. Previous and current scholarship on imperialism can contribute to this project by facilitating the examination of the role of finance capitalists and of states of unequal financial and military power. However, Transnational Studies also must assess the contestatory possibilities of transnational social movements. The articles in this special section contribute to the development of Transnational Studies by examining past and present transnational constructions of locality, identity, authenticity, and voice, within social fields of uneven power. The articles also illuminate the types of transnational practices, conflict, and struggle that emerge. v
Violence, home, and the transforming space of popular protest in Central America
This article is about the changing meaning of home among people engaged in the Guatemalan guerrilla movement. It shows that during the war, the revolutionary committed struggled for home more in terms of communal spheres of insurgent societal transformation than in terms of the defense or reconstruction of family or house. Though the counterinsurgency state was bent on their annihilation, it was only with the implementation of liberal peace that their commitment was ultimately destroyed. Most of them then opted for 'return' to their pre-war settlements and they gave up the political project of preserving their progressive civil organization. 'Home' under liberal peace in post-revolutionary Central America is continuously held together mainly by the migration of youth in search of opportunities elsewhere as hope for improved living conditions has become a question no longer of transforming but of leaving society in order to save oneself and/or one's household. The notion of liberal emplacement is brought forward in this article to conceptualize the destruction of political movement through the creation of an individualized necessity of spatial movement.
Bob Jeffery, Joseph Ibrahim and David Waddington
The years since the onset of global recession, circa 2008, have led to an unprecedented rise in discontent in societies around the world. Whether this be the Arab Spring of 2011 when popular uprisings against authoritarian regimes cascaded across North Africa and the Middle East, or the rise of left-wing, anti-capitalist and far-right movements in the developed 'north', ranging from the Indignados in Spain, Syriza and the Golden Dawn in Greece, Le Front National in France, student movements in Quebec, or the allegedly less articulate explosion of rage characterizing the English Riots of 2011, it is clear that Fukuyama's thesis regarding the final ascendency of liberal capitalism (and its puppet regimes in the developing world) was grossly misplaced. In Badiou's (2012) terms we are witnessing 'the rebirth of history', where all bets regarding the trajectories of local and global political economies are off.
Joseph Ibrahim, Bob Jeffery and David Waddington
While the first of these issues concentrated on the riots in England following the global financial crash of 2008, this second issue focuses on the social movements that emerged in this context. Whilst defining a social movement is conceptually problematic- either because it could be so narrow to exclude, or, to broad to include, any type of collective action, there are certain features that we can point to. Edwards (2014: 4-5) provides four conceptual distinctions.
Many writers have argued that anti-immigration politics in Germany
and other West European countries have been driven by radical-right
parties or the electoral maneuvering of national politicians
from established parties. Others have argued that waves of violence
against immigrants and ethnic minorities have spurred anti-immigration
politics, or that racist ideologies and socioeconomic inequality
are the root causes. By comparison, authors have paid relatively little
attention to anti-immigration mobilization at subnational levels,
including the public positions taken by subnational politicians and
the activities of movement groups, or “challengers.” Nonetheless,
research has shown that subnational politicians are often important
in pressing national campaigns for immigration controls. Moreover,
as I have argued elsewhere, anti-immigration politicians in Britain
and Germany have responded in large part to local challengers, who
were aided by political elites at local and regional levels.
Frank Decker and Lazaros Miliopoulos
Right-wing extremist and populist parties operate in a rather difficult social and political environment in Germany, rendering notable electoral success fairly improbable, especially when compared to other European countries. The main reason for this is the continuing legacy of the Nazi past. Nevertheless the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) managed to gain substantial votes in recent Land elections and became the leading force in the right-wing extremist political camp. Its success is attributable to rightwing extremist attitudes in some parts of the electorate in connection with a widespread feeling of political discontent. Nevertheless, it is questionable whether the NPD will be able to transform these attitudes into a viable ideological basis for two main reasons. On the one hand, maintaining a neo-Nazi ideology makes the NPD unattractive to many potential voters. On the other hand, given its internal power struggles and severe financial problems, the party may be unable to meet its challenges in organizational terms.