OF A GLOBAL CITIZENSHIP:
With Boaventura de Souza Santos
The Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Souza Santos has engaged in an intense intellectual activism, producing countless works, studies and reflections on globalization and the excluded, proving that science and academic knowledge can go hand in hand with social struggle. As a participant in the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Boaventura has committed himself to the creation of a global civil society, in which "the victims of the dominant model of globalization can become into the protagonists of their own liberation". The following quotes are from his article, 'The Tensions of Modernity'.
"(...) What we generally call globalization is, in fact, differentiated sets of social relations, which give rise to different globalization phenomena. In these terms, strictly speaking there is no single entity we can call globalization, on the contrary, there are globalizations (...) On the other hand, in the cleavages of social relations, globalizations involve conflicts and, consequently, winners and losers. Frequently the discourse on globalization is the history of the winners recounted by themselves. (...)
I therefore propose the following definition: globalization is the process by which any given local condition or entity extends its influence across the whole globe, and, by doing so, develops the capacity to label as local a different social condition or rival entity.
The most important implications of this definition are the following: in the first place, no genuine globalization exists under present conditions in the Western world system; what we call globalization is always a globalization that has developed out of a given localism. (...) The second implication is that globalization presupposes localization. In fact, we live as much in a localized world as we do in a globalized world. (...)"
"(...) One of the transformations most frequently associated with globalization is the time-space compression, that is, the social process by which phenomena are accelerated and spread rapidly across the globe. Although it is still apparently monolithic, this process combines highly differentiated situations and conditions and, for this reason, cannot be analyzed independently from the power relations that produce different forms of temporal and spatial mobility. On the one hand, there is the transnational capitalist class, who really control the process of time-space compression, and are capable of modifying it to suit their needs. On the other, there are the subordinated classes and groups, such as migrant workers and refugees, who over the last two decades have effected a considerable number of trans-border movements, but who have no control whatsoever over the time-space compression. (...)"
"In this context, it is useful to distinguish between top-down globalization and bottom-up globalization, or between hegemonic globalization and contra-hegemonic globalization. What I call globalized localism and localized globalism are top-down globalizations; cosmopolitanism and the common human heritage are bottom-up globalizations."
In an interview with Inmaculada López, from the editorial team of "Sem Fronteras", Boaventura spoke about alternatives to the process of globalization:
In this moment in history, how do you evaluate civil society's participation in the construction of a new world?
In the first place, it is worth clarifying what we mean by "civil society". In the Western tradition this concept helped to define the democratic arenas of citizen action, but also arenas of exclusion for those who were not considered to be citizens, such as women, workers, blacks, indigenous people... So, the effect of that original concept was that a lot of people were excluded from citizenship.
And how is the concept understood today?
In the 1980s, the "neo-liberal" development paradigm emerged, which has brought us to the current model of globalization. We shouldn't forget that this model gave much support to the idea of civil society, by transferring to it responsibilities that were supposedly wrongly assigned to the state. The model condemned state control of public enterprises, the social security system, health, education... It thus strengthened a notion of civil society closely linked to the market and privatizations.
But, isn't it the same civil society which you believe in?
Absolutely not. When we talk about civil society we are referring to something entirely different. We are talking about the union of citizens working voluntarily to converse, discuss, find solutions... without any profit motive in mind. It is that conception of civil society, based on solidarity, voluntarism and reciprocity, that we are interested in today. (...) We are trying to build a global civil society of the excluded. (...)
How will this new civil society be strengthened?
We hope that, through struggles like the World Social Forum that took place in Porto Alegre in January, these people can recover their citizen spirit. The aim of our struggle is precisely that -that the victims of the dominant model of globalization become the protagonists in their own liberation and resistance. (...)
Could you clarify the question of diversity?
We live in a world where we want to be both equal and different at the same time. (...) We do not want a false universalism that destroys all differences and imposes a white, male, Western culture as a universal model.
What kind of universalism do you defend?
we aim for today is that which has its common ground in human dignity. From
this starting point many differences emerge that must be respected. We have
the right to be equal when difference makes us inferior, and the right to
be different when equality denies our specificity.
The principle of equality necessarily points us towards redistributive policies. But, at the same time, the principle of difference obliges us to have policies of recognition and acceptance of the other. It is complicated, because it must be a parallel process. We cannot recognize the identity of indigenous peoples and, at the same time, destroy their lands and natural resources. As a result, transnational civil society is still a huge project under construction.
Is it possible to form a great transnational movement?
We can have a movement covering the great divide between the North and South, between the rich and poor, but at the same time maintaining a flexible and horizontal organizational structure. There is no room for dogmatism, intolerance or exclusionary political opportunism. We must not forget that the people who participate in these mobilizations are still a minority which represents the majority of the world's population, who very often are still illiterate and hungry, and do not have the strength to get organized.
How is the movement gaining strength?
The world encounters that are taking place are very important. In contrast to what those who are more clueless imagine, events like the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, or the recent protests in Genoa are not passing fads, which come and go from one moment to the next. The people and groups involved are in permanent contact, especially through the Internet. They all articulate with one another, there is a lot of interaction going on. Discussions are also taking place in the international organizations, like the United Nations. Indeed, an important struggle for the future will be to democratize these institutions.
Can the new civil society tackle these changes by itself, or should it articulate with governments?
We are not in a position to reject out of hand any kind of articulation. The struggle alongside the State is very important, so long as we retain our independence. In some countries, civil society can work together with the State, in others it must confront it. What's more, I believe that it would be a great mistake to minimize or deny the importance of the State, believe that it is no longer relevant. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the forces of globalization want us to do. But we are alert to the fact that the State is not weaker today than before. The only difference is that it is no longer using its strength to protect its citizens, as it does companies. (...)
What are the main challenges in the struggle to achieve full citizenship for all peoples?
One of the main areas in which we are going to have to struggle hard to impose an alternative is democracy. Since the end of the different ideologies, democracy has become a market. And with it corruption has entered the scene. (...) In other words, democracy is low intensity. Strictly speaking, if we take the ideas of the first democratic thinkers, there is no truly democratic society in the world today. Rousseau himself said: "A society is only democratic when no one is so poor that they are obliged to sell themselves, and no one is so rich that they can buy someone." A very different scenario from the present one...
What more needs to be done in the area of human rights?
We also need to broaden the notion of human rights in the sense of collective rights, such as women's or indigenous people's rights. I think the indigenous question is one of the most emancipatory struggles taking place in the Americas, which is going to require us to think about self-determination in a new way.
Are we getting anywhere in terms of mobilizing to achieve these alternatives?
The preliminary stage of mobilization has already passed, becoming consolidated after 1999 with the movement in Seattle, followed by Bangkok, Prague, Montreal, Washington, Davos, Genoa... All these mobilizations took place in countries in the North, against meetings held by international organizations and dominated by the agendas of those meetings. In this sense, the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre represented a landmark: it was the first mobilization in the Southern hemisphere, in a "developing" country, organized not against something, but in favour of an alternative."
Translated from Spanish to English by Niki Johnson