VOL. 20 - NO.1
While Holland goes through an economic boom, the state of the world is not so rosy. In some countries, what were thought to be established social gains are being continuously challenged, whereas in others the very framework of democracy is being tested. Within academia, we also feel these pressures. For example, as social scientists we strive to promote voice and participation at a local level and models of how this may be seen at conceptual and broader levels of political economy. Yet in our work within institutions we also feel the ‘winds of neo-liberalism’, with concepts like ‘the client’ sometimes replacing the words participants and partners*.
It is not just a question of one’s place in a hierarchy - of formal relations between citizen and state (or institution) – that defines democracy. It is more the question of the legitimacy of processes and institutions. What is it that defines legitimacy – when is it questioned? In this issue of DevISSues we decided to explore this complex theme, starting with a view from Latin America.
In the case of Venezuela, Regnault summarizes how battles over legitimacy between the more participative left (Chavismo) and conservative forces have spilled over into desperate problems and constraints for the average citizen, in spite (or maybe because) of the control of oil resources. In contrast, in the case of Brazil, it would appear that internal forces of opposition (using questionable precedent) led to the ousting of an elected President (Rousseff) and the (poorly substantiated) imprisonment of the previous president and highly regarded social reformer (Lula). Whilst the middle class and elites did very well under labour administrations, this was not enough to prevent an internal ‘revolt’. In his article, Requião relates that class differences (grounded in historical norms – e.g. slavery) still appear to question and underline the (slow and uncertain) process of democratization begun in 1988 in Brazil.
In an overview of this ‘Decline of Democracy’, Tankha describes how ‘dominant nation’ movements have become quite intolerant in the face of recent challenges to accepted boundaries (e.g. via migration) and opportunities (e.g. for blue collar workers). Yet this recent ‘disqualification of voice’ has been helped by views which support the progressive whittling down in the relevance of the state (vs dominance of markets) as the protector of rights, especially for the most needy. On the other hand, this also suggests that the space to bring about reverse movements, whilst difficult, is still open. These complexities of neo-liberalism are also well detailed in this edition’s review of the work of Wendy Harcourt, and the range of experiences of and responses to ‘body politics’ that her work is highlighting.
Along with its regular staff-student debate, Rector’s blog and review of recent achievements, we hope you are challenged by and enjoy this latest edition of DevISSues.
Dr Lee Pegler – chair, DevISSues
* A similar conflation (between market and participative values) is often evident in the objectives used to support bilateral relations and diplomacy.