Con­fer­ence: Demo­cratic Spa­ces: Gezi Park Two Years Af­ter, Özyeğin Univer­sity


On May 6, 2015, Özyeğin Univer­sity’s Depart­ment of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions hosted Prof. Dr. Donatella della Porta, pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at the Euro­pean Univer­sity In­sti­tute (EUI) and di­rec­tor of the EUI’s Cen­tre on So­cial Move­ment Stud­ies, to give a talk ti­tled “Demo­cratic Spa­ces: Gezi Park Two Years Af­ter.”

In ad­di­tion to other texts on so­cial move­ments, della Porta is the author of “So­cial Move­ments in Times of Aus­ter­ity: Bring­ing Cap­i­tal­ism Back Into Protest Anal­y­sis” (Polity Press, 2015), in which she dis­cusses re­cent an­ti­aus­ter­ity protests across the world, out­lin­ing their na­ture in the con­text of the cri­sis of ne­olib­er­al­ism. Her pre­sen­ta­tion at Özyeğin Univer­sity was a re­flec­tion on sim­i­lar themes.

Della Porta pre­sented the Gezi Park protests of 2013 in the light of re­cent so­cial move­ments that chal­lenge the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and civil, po­lit­i­cal and so­cial rights. Her anal­y­sis was not lim­ited to one ge­o­graph­i­cal re­gion but ex­tended to move­ments world­wide in­clud­ing Ice­land, Egypt, Tu­nisia, Spain, Greece, Por­tu­gal, Peru, Brazil, Rus­sia, Bul­garia and Ukraine. Draw­ing upon th­ese cases, della Porta also pro­vided a re­view of the lit­er­a­ture on so­cial move­ments, con­cen­trat­ing on three is­sues.

First, della Porta un­der­lined that while it has de­vel­oped a use­ful toolkit of con­cepts to deal with col­lec­tive ac­tion in nor­mal times, so­cial move­ment stud­ies has not pro­duced a lit­er­a­ture about move­ments in times of cri­sis. Schol­ars are ac­cus­tomed to think about so­cial move­ments in nor­mal -- or struc­tured -- times, when so­cial move­ments are con­sid­ered to be the out­come of de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion pro­cesses and take place in wel­fare states. So­cial move­ment stud­ies is, there­fore, ori­ented to­ward ex­pla­na­tions of move­ments in es­tab­lished pre­con­di­tions. How­ever, con­tem­po­rary protests are of­ten trig­gered more by threats than op­por­tu­ni­ties, as shown by re­cent de­vel­op­ments in, for ex­am­ple, la­bor move­ments, en­vi­ron­ment move­ments and women’s move­ments. Th­ese new move­ments arise from chal­lenges at times when there are open­ings and pos­si­bil­i­ties for new top­ics to emerge. They also oc­cur at times of so­ci­etal ten­sion, when the pre­con­di­tions for strate­gic be­hav­ior and ra­tio­nal choice are not there; such protests are trig­gered more by threats, when it is not easy to pre­dict what peo­ple will do and what will come next. Thus, th­ese move­ments take place in ex­cep­tional times when ac­tions change re­la­tions be­tween in­sti­tu­tions and cit­i­zens and ren­der them un­pre­dictable.

Sec­ond, so­cial move­ment stud­ies has mainly ad­dressed so-called “ad­vanced democ­ra­cies” with de­vel­oped wel­fare states. There are two chal­lenges to this ap­proach that have emerged in re­cent so­cial move­ments: The new cy­cle of protests is tak­ing place both against au­thor­i­tar­ian regimes -such as those in the Mid­dle East and North Africa (MENA), in which peo­ple de­mand more de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion -- and in the demo­cratic coun­tries of Europe. Thus, there is a need to re­think how dif­fer­ent types of hy­brid regimes are af­fected by and re­act to protests. More­over, the cur­rent move­ments are protests by both pop­u­la­tions that have been


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