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Mobilizing in a Polarized World: Social Movements and Political Participation in a Global Pandemic

Civil Society
Contentious Politics
Democracy
Social Movements
Mobilisation
Protests
Activism
S41
Felix Butzlaff
Vienna University of Economics and Business – WU Wien
Louisa Parks
Università degli Studi di Trento

Endorsed by the ECPR Standing Group on Participation and Mobilisation


Abstract

Covid-19 and the widespread measures taken to counter its spread have altered conditions for social mobilizations and political participation in multiple ways. At the same time, existing social grievances, struggles and mobilizations have certainly not disappeared. Altered conditions have nevertheless affected new and existing mobilizations alike. The established repertoires of social movements around the globe have been complicated by lockdowns and other restrictions on movement (Pleyers 2020), stopping ongoing mobilizations for climate action and other issues in their tracks. Many types of political participation have arguably become more difficult, while others, especially digital repertoires, have perhaps been bolstered, opening new pathways for mobilization and resistance. In addition, the pandemic both exacerbates existing social polarizations and appears to have created new ones, giving rise to new forms of action addressing the measures taken to fight the global threat to public health. Current waves of Anti-mask movements, demonstrations and mobilizations in defense of businesses and freedom of movement, for example, indicate that new tensions - or new expressions of existing ones - have come into play around the theme of the winners and losers of the pandemic redistribution of social, economic, and political power. Finally, policy reactions to Covid-19 have not only contributed to the increasingly difficult conditions for social movements and political participation, but have in some places become full-blown threats to the principles of liberal democracy. Autocratic governments have taken advantage of this new window of opportunity to enact measures of surveillance and reframe biological notions of a “healthy” democracy (Neyrat 2010). The idea of detailed public and parliamentary debate and careful decision making appears at best inefficient and at worst dangerous in the context of a raging pandemic. Confronted with efficiency requirements and urgent calls to ‘follow the science’ in political decision-making, the figure of the enlightened, mature citizen as the backbone of democratic discourse is coming more and more into doubt. The principles of liberal democracy, democratic participation, and contentious politics have all been tested by the pandemic. Yet they have also been defended. Social solidarity movement initiatives (particularly in Southern Europe and countries of the Global South) focusing on everyday needs and lifestyle politics seem to be on the rise and show how movements continue to address changing contexts and make concrete contributions to the management of the pandemic. Different themes of justice have been bridged, with environmental racism highlighted in the latest wave of Black Lives Matter mobilizations. Counter-movements against those views of justice have also emerged with greater force. Some movements have also held online events, such as the global digital strikes of Fridays for Future. Other forms of political participation echo this, with meetings, citizens’ assemblies and parliamentary debates alike moving online. In this section, we want to address some of the questions raised by these changes and challenges in relation to both pre-existing and emerging examples of participation and mobilization. How have the conditions for movements, social mobilizations, and political participation changed over the last year, and what reactions, innovations, new networks, or decline has resulted so far? How have the structures of conflict in our societies shifted, where have new polarizations opened and existing ones been redefined? How have liberal ideas of democracy and political discourse come under pressure? Have they been defended, or have other proposals been raised? More generally, that is, how have social movements and different types of political participation addressed all these challenges and more, and to what effect? We call for panels which reflect on these points and beyond, focusing on both the more established core interests in the study of political participation and social movements and on more recent or emerging areas of academic enquiry. The section aims in particular to bring the literature on social movements, political participation, political parties, and interest groups closer together to address the broad theme of challenges to democracy.
Code Title Details
P048 Changing repertoires of mobilization: How forms of action have shifted during the pandemic View Panel Details
P241 Local Conflicts around Migration: Civil Society in Times of Polarization and COVID-19 View Panel Details
P277 New constellations of contention? Who protests in the pandemic and why View Panel Details
P366 Rethinking contentious politics in time of pandemic: The challenges of online activism in authoritarian regimes and fragile democracies View Panel Details
P380 Shifting notions of democratic participation? How protests, pandemic, and populists alter our ideals of democratic involvement View Panel Details
P426 The new importance of the everyday/lifestyle politics? Mobilizations and the politics of solidarity in times of lockdown View Panel Details