The Structure of Urban Struggles: Insights from South Africa and Britain

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 26 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Mario DIANI, University of Trento, Italy
Henrik ERNSTSON, African Center for Cities, UCT, South Africa
Lorien JASNY, University of Exeter, United Kingdom
Recent waves of collective action challenging neoliberal globalization have paid systematic attention to the urban dimension. Cities have represented one of the most important arenas for attempts to integrate in broader political platforms concerns about growing inequalities and worries about environmental degradation. These collective efforts have seen the involvement of highly heterogeneous organizations, including community groups, labor organizations, and environmental groups. This paper maps the structure of alliances and cooperation between organizations mobilizing on a broad range of urban issues in Cape Town. Covering a section of the city that ranges from the extremely dispossessed to the extremely affluent, it explores some of the factors that facilitate as well as discourage alliances and joint campaigns between actors that differ substantially in terms of resources and/or political legitimacy. Particular attention is paid to the relations between community organizations, unions, and political parties. In this regard, the paper contributes to overcome conventional distinctions between unions, parties, and movement organizations by looking at them all as part of broader collective action fields. The concept of “modes of coordination” (Diani 2015) enables us in particular to identify different relational patterns, and to differentiate between social movements and other forms of organizing. A comparison with the structure of relations between organizations active on similar issues in Glasgow and Bristol (Diani 2015) illustrates the differences running between action fields located in polities in which traditional cleavages have been largely pacified, and fields located in settings, such as South Arica, in which such cleavages – in particular, the one given by the overlap of race and class – are still largely salient. The comparison also calls for a refinement of mainstream social movement theory, particularly in its organizational version.  Reference: Diani, Mario. 2015. The Cement of Civil Society: Studying Networks in Localities. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press.