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Department of Development Studies

Themes in contemporary development: civil society & social movements

Course Code:
151010024
Unit value:
0.5
Year of study:
Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

A concept of ‘civil society’ has become one of the central underpinnings of mainstream development discourse and practice in the last decade, following the establishment of the ‘state failure thesis’ as disciplinary common sense. However, social movements have largely been missing in the ‘civil society’ and ‘social capital’ literatures. This neglect of social movements in thinking about civil society is indicative of the selective incorporation of that concept in mainstream development discourses of the day, in which these actors, arenas and processes are excluded from the understanding of 'civil society' that is key in current donor strategies. This course provides a more explicitly political approach to understanding the role of social movements in constituting civil society, and through that and other processes in engaging with and in broadening 'development' as project and process.

A recent, contrary, turn in development studies has called for the repudiation of 'the development project', conceptualised as a set of relationships of power and subjugation of the few by the many. Emphasising not only the impossibility of the project but also its fundamental undesirability, this 'postdevelopment' position argues that social movements are dismantling this project by adopting and spreading an alternative set of ways of being. As in the mainstream view, social movements and development are seen as external to each other. In contrast, the course seeks to review historically the relationship between a variety of social movements and the development project. While it begins by looking at the role of social movements at the point of origin of the development project in the mid- 19th century, it extends focus to more contemporary politics, including on-going contestations against global institutions, new property rights regimes, and against certain types of science and technology. Rather than merely accepting that social movements today seek to repudiate 'the development project', the course brings to focus the multiple and complex relations between collective political subjects and social actors and development as a programme.

The course seeks to understand the development project as a constantly negotiated and contested set of outcomes, and thus as fluid. It is concerned therefore with identifying the actors in negotiation, the context in which that negotiation takes place, the processes through which such actors and contexts are constituted, and the outcomes these encounters have had on shaping development practices, institutions, ideas, and agendas. Issues such as resource mobilisation, political opportunities, networks, identity, etc., which are more prominent in the social movement literature at large, will be only of indirect interest here, to the extent that they intersect with the central theme of the course: how is the development process taken further, in new directions, as well as blocked and threatened, by social movements.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

  • a familiarity with approaches to understanding the role of social movements in constituting civil society
  • a historical understanding of the relationship between a variety of social movements and development agendas, from the mid-19th century to contemporary times
  • identify the actors in negotiation, the context in which that negotiation takes place, the processes through which such actors and contexts are constituted, and the impact these encounters have had on shaping development practices, institutions, ideas, and agendas
  • a familiarity with key concepts in the study of social movements and with issues such as resource mobilisation, political opportunities, networks and identity

Workload

Teaching will take the form of a two hour lecture and one hour group discussion with student presentations per week.

These will follow a group discussion format, with readings assigned to specific students for presentations. Presenters will be required to introduce the themes of the readings and to identify 4 questions for discussion, and to circulate a brief 1-page note to other seminar group members at least one day in advance of the meetings. Attendance is mandatory and school-wide rules preventing those without adequate attendance from taking the examinations will apply.

Method of assessment

One two hour written examination which will constitute 60% of the final mark, with the remaining 40% consisting of marks from an assessed essay. Each student will be expected to submit one essay of 4000 words. Resubmission of coursework regulations apply to this course.

Suggested reading

  • Alvarez, S. et al eds, (2001) Cultures of Politics, Politics of Cultures. Westview Press
  • Hodgson, V. and Foley, M. (2003) The Civil Society Reader. University Press of New England
  • Kaviraj, S. and Khilnani, S. (2002) Civil Society: History and Possibilities. Cambridge University Press
  • Khagram, R, ed, (2003) Reshaping World Politics, University of Minnesota Press