Summer School 2019

Department of Sociology, South Asian University

In collaboration with

Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, South Asia

Invites Applications for Summer School on

Transformations, Continuations and Social Movements in Contemporary Times

We stand today at an interesting conjuncture as far as movements are concerned. While capital continues to be the hegemonic force despite its ups and down there has also been great amount of change in the way the counter-narrative to it has been evolving, if at all. Any obvious analysis would tell us that movements are not new to human history as they were manifested differently in consonance with their times. It is the history, material conditions and the balance of forces in society that determines where the movements stand and what form they take. There has not only been a decline in the anti-systemic movements that sought transcendence beyond the capitalist system but there has also been a lethargy vis-à-vis the reformist movements. The trade unions are on decline, student movement has not happened despite the education sector under severe attack and only recently that Maharashtra has seen some mobilisation by farmers after a long time. Anti-systemic political forces such as the Communist Parties are on decline as well. There was a resurgence of what has been called the civil society but even their presence seems to be waning.

Chandoke argues that “The worldwide shift to civil society was catalysed by the mobilisation of people against Stalinist states in Eastern and Central Europe in the 1970s and the 1980s. Citizens turned their back on unresponsive and authoritarian states and formed associations, such as reading clubs and soup kitchens, in a metaphorical space outside the state. This space they called civil society”. Obviously one would be inquisitive enough to ponder over the world before Stalinism and the way civil society was conceptualised then (and in what context) thereby not attributing it to only one aspect of world history. She further argues that in Indian context it was the decline of institutions by 1970s that led to emergence of “several mass-based political movements and grassroots activism. The anti-caste movement, the struggle for gender justice, the movement for civil liberties, for a sound environment, and against mega development projects that have displaced thousands of poor tribals and hill dwellers, the movement against child labour, for the right to information, for shelter, for primary education, and for food security have mobilised in civil society”. The political parties failed to take up many of these issues, she argues and the mass organisations such as tUs were also appendages of political parties unlike the Scanidivaian countries. Hence, civil society became a ray of hope. [1]

When WSF was organised in Bombay in 2004 it was not at all an impressive show like its predecessors in Latin America but it showcased the diversity of ‘movements’ that Chandoke hints above. As Vanaik writes “Since only 3 per cent of the total 340 million labour force are unionized, it is hardly surprising that there also exists a breathtaking array of social movements, single-issue groups and a spectrum of ngos, from the most radical to those whose principal function is to be the pro- viders of newly privatized services, offsetting the impact of the neoliberal state’s abandonment of its multiple social responsibilities in health, education and basic needs” (Vanaik, p.61). Along with these organisations the presence of an alternative world social forum in form of Mumbai Resistance indicated at the debate as well which existed in Indian society and polity in terms of understanding of issues and mobilisations around them. One did not see much developments post WSF as far as the scene of mobilisations is concerned. If there was a “conscious effort… (with uneven success) to promote more thorough reflection on the relationship between political parties and social movements, alternatives to neoliberal globalization and the contemporary role of the nation-state and nationalism” (Vanaik, p.62)[2]one is unsure how much it helped cement an alliance of political forces (and I would consider all participants as part of a political).

The traditional movements led by trade unions have been on decline as their diminishing membership indicates. If one considers submission of returns by the trade unions as one of the indicators of how active they have been. Then the figures have shown a sharp decline. If in the year 2000, 7231 TUs were submitting returns, then in the year 2013 the figure was a dismal 2534 as per Government of India records.  The nature of workplace has been changing as the idea of a worker without any social or economic security steeped in the vagaries of market has taken them away from unionisation. State’s encouragement to aggressive and repressive working conditions and labour laws have furthered the sense of insecurity among workers. The fear of losing jobs keeps them away from any activity that might affect their jobs as reserve army of labour force is waiting for its turn at the workplace. In fact, the joblessness has been rising among the educated youth as well[3]. The existing models of unionism could not innovate themselves to factor in the changes in employment scenario which has, among other things, obliterated difference between workplace and home in many occupations, new occupations have emerged which give illusion of freedom despite between exploited, the notion of working hours have been completely demolished, alienation of the worker has acquired new forms and so on and so forth.  The onus in this decline lies not only on the innovativeness of capital to discover new ways to create an illusory work but also on the movements which failed to understand the process and the way it works and, thereby, work through it.

The past few years have also thrown up situations wherein apart from the decline of the classic forms of anti-systemic movements there has been a global rise of the right – economic, political as well as cultural. This phenomenon appears to be an interesting site where the connections between the changes at different level need to be studied and analysed. There has been huge amount of literature which has dealt with the co-existence of neoliberalism and neo-conservatism as well as how they together work against the interests of the toiling masses.

If one tries to paraphrase Gramsci writing to understand the contemporary politics against fascism then it appears that forms of resistance against right-wing resurgence seems to go back to the liberal bourgeois alternative as the only possible choice in place of an authoritarian, repressive, monopolistic bourgeois rule. What seems to happen is that the struggle against the authoritarian rule gets reduced to “a journalistic campaign and parliamentary intrigues…” The whole campaign is about “the return to the constitution, to legality, to democracy”. Only two choices seem to appear – either the ARMBR or the liberals. Nobody explains that exploitation would continue, may be in worse form, under the new rule. The corporate capital would continue to dictate the terms; the education and health will not be nationalised; neither will any form of decent social security system will be put in place.

“The worker, the peasant, who for years has hated the fascism that oppresses him believes it necessary, in order to bring it down, to ally himself with the liberal bourgeoisie, to support those who in the past, when they were in power, supported and armed fascism against the workers and peasants, and who just a few months ago formed a sole bloc with fascism and shared in the responsibility for its crimes. And this is how the question of the liquidation of fascism is posed? No! The liquidation of fascism must be the liquidation of the bourgeoisie that created it”.

“At the current time it is a question of something other than the return of the constitution, to democracy and liberalism. These latter are mellifluous words that the bourgeoisie uses to mislead the workers of the city and the countryside in order to prevent the crisis from taking on its true character, that is the vengeance of the workers and peasants against the fascism that has suppressed them and against the liberalism that has misled them…”[4]

This has been one way to locate the anti-systemic politics historically. However, one is aware of the way movements, which looked at society only through the prism of class has been criticise for being insensitive to the idea of mutliple subjectivities. Emanating out of all this are mobilisations that raised primacy of social categories such as caste, gender, race and so on.

When liberal bourgeois democracy is presenting itself in new forms with popular electoral support for the Right across the globe it is also a time to reflect on what has happened to the mobilisations, protests and movements which historically presented itself as a counter-narrative the post-industrial bourgeois order.

Today’s historical juncture calls for a rethinking of the concept of a (social) movement. Resurgence of right wing populist authoritarian regimes and a concomitant eruption of movements across the world have brought many contemporary thinkers on the brink of deriving newer methods of analysis and categories to problematize our present struggle and resistance. There is an obvious change in the nature of movements. An important question is why NOW? The nature of movements have undergone a significant change, the state and capital have created subjectivities that seems to establish the doctrine of TINA (There Is No Alternative to Capitalism) very strongly. However, one has also witnessed emergence of different modes of resistance, which despite their numbers have massively failed in their assertion and political action against the State. Why so? And how do we contextualize these failures in South Asia? What do we make sense of these resistances?

We have been witness to mobilisation on issues of violence against women, corruption, as well as mob violence of other forms on one hand while there have been farmer protests and mobilisations of the trade unions on the other hand. The methods in organisation have also changed as indicated by recent farmer mobilisations, which appealed to the urban middle class about how essential was it to support these farmers who ensure that the urban exists at their cost. The older debates around rural politics and mobilisation around remunerative prices have resurfaced. A need has also been felt to understand the rural mobilisations in connection with the changing nature of capitalism (changing land use pattern to new questions around wages and surplus extraction and so on) as well as mobilisation among them along religious-sectarian lines. These have compelled analysts to seek answer to newer questions around peasant movement, larger political economy and rural politics/mobilisations.

Gender and sexuality question in movements has also undergone change as the ‘classical’ mobilisations along class lines have been diffused and newer forms which bargain with the state for reforms or which talks of securing spaces for women in urban India have emerged. Online expressions of women’s oppression at workplace took forms of #MeToo and efforts were made to bring them to the streets but quite unsuccessully as had happened in the case of ‘lynchings’. Women’s question from being a question of care work, reproduction debates in private domesticated spheres and wages for housework in the early 70s and 80s to the contemporary times where popular urban middle class mobilisations hog the limelight have a story to narrate about the changing nature of mobilisations.

As we see there are newer forms of organising and resurgence, an important task is to understand them in a historico-structural matter, locating their historical trajectory as also simultaneouly grounded in the material conditions. The Summer School 2019 will try to make sense of this important conjuncture/moment in the life of movements trying to understanding how and why they have reached where they are today.

While deliberating on these questions through a historico-materialist analysis one would also reflect on questions of rethinking ways of struggle? When the dominant political struggle seems to be getting concentrated in a parliamentary form of struggle, when the struggle in streets is on decline or takes effervescent form, when individuals are getting co-opted in the capitalist framework, when ideological apparatuses are ever more effective to tide over crisis that capitalism faces the need is to investigate into the forms of resistance and directions that they might take. What this course would undertake is to tentatively take up some of the following themes in terms of their status and directions:

  • Making sense of social movements
  • Trade Union movement and its relationship with the changing processes of production, progresses in scienceand technology, wage question, working conditions, political expressions to discontents, etc.
  • Women’s Movement and recent debates around women, work and sexuality, religion and women, etc.
  • Peasants, and Landless Worker’s struggles though the prism of land question, wage, working conditions, political expressions to discontents, etc.
  • Tribal struggles and the questions of control over common resources, land alienation, displacement, etc.

While dealing with the above movements the course will also dwell upon the new directions in movements.



Duration: 4-11 June 2019 (Tentative)

Venue of the School:  Venue to be finalised

Participants: There would be twenty-six (26) participants in total for the Summer school. The participants would be selected on the basis of following rigorous selection criteria:

  • The participants must apply by 5thApril, 2019with (1) a write up of around 2000 words on the theme/issue/analysis of any dimension of social movements that interests the participant and which also make use of/reflect on/engage with the categories and concepts as indicated in the course concept note (2) and must submit a one page note on how the course is relevant to their ongoing work.
  • All applications to be electronically sent at
  • Shortlisted participants will be informed by 20thApril, 2019. The candidates will work on the same write up informed by the discussions during the course and submit the final version at the end of the course at the venue.
  • The organisers will bear the cost of the accommodation and fooding while the participants fulfilling the above process will also be provided partial travel support.
  • Participation is open to people from all walks of life


Please contact Ragini at


[1]Chandoke, Neera (July 20, 2017)The big squeeze on civil society: on the right to freedom of expression, The Hindu, available at 22nd January 2019)

[2]Vanaik, Achin (26 mar apr 2004) Rendezvous at Mumbai, New Left Review




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