Radical Alternatives and Their Political Embedding
As a consequence of prolonged economic, political and social crises, discourses on radical alternatives to development have gained ground in many parts of the Global South. In some countries, such ideas obtained political recognition and were even enshrined in constitutions, such as Buen Vivir in Bolivia, Ubuntu in South Africa and Sufficiency Economy in Thailand.
Our paper presents a research project which analyses these alternatives in a comparative way: Driven by various agents within different political contexts, we argue that a core strategy of these three alternatives is based on a discourse of indigeneity, i.e. a specific identity emphasizing local and traditional social models as a means to legitimise the demands of marginalized and exploited parts of the society. Apart form this commonality, however, the three alternatives have developed very differently. Whereas the idea of Buen Vivir was taken up and proliferated by left-wing emancipatory parties in Bolivia, the idea of Sufficiency Economy in Thailand has become part of an authoritarian conservative political project.
Drawing on Villaba (2013), we argue that in order to assess the transformative potential of a given alternative we need to look into the social and political processes by which this vision has been taken up beyond its local origins. It is within these conflictual processes that alternative visions are negotiated and consequently altered, modified or adapted.
Our empirical research is rooted in theoretical considerations about politics of contention and materialist state theory which emphasize the relationality and the adaptiveness of political actors. We will discuss questions such as: Who were/are the carriers of these visions? Which political strategies and strategies of contention dominate the struggle for alternatives? How can conflicting perceptions be integrated or related to each other within processes of generalization?