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Deliberation and Decision-Making in Social Movements

Date:06 February 2020
Author:Justo Serrano Zamora
Climate Camp in Erkelenz, Germany
Climate Camp in Erkelenz, Germany

The workshop "Deliberation and Decision-Making in Social Movements" gathered an international group of sociologists and philosophers with different methodological approaches around questions regarding deliberation, conflict and cooperation within social movements.

The workshop addressed three kinds of questions:

  • methodological (how should we approach deliberation and cooperation within social movements?)
  • conceptual (what are "deliberation," "consensus" or "efficiency"?) as well as
  • normative (What is the democratic potential of social movements? What understanding of politics should we promote?). 

Our first speaker, Francis Chateauraynaud, presented a sociological approach to public argumentation that put special emphasis on power and on the historicity of public controversies. For Chateauraynaud, sociological analysis must reconstruct the developments or trajectories of public problematizations and debates in ways that show the collective experiences and power elements that structure public debate. He demonstrated how this approach has been put at work in the analysis of public controversies around topics such as nuclear energy, genetically modified organisms and natural catastrophes.

The next speaker, Yves Sintomer, provided an analysis of the French "yellow vests“ movement, showing its evolution and internal organization. He identified, within the movement, the presence of different "political imaginaries" or ways of understanding political action, from a non-conflictual notion to a Gramcian-deliberative understanding that combines deliberation with an account of hegemony. Sintomer identified the latter as a promising view for renewing democracy in times of political authoritarianism.

Andrea Feliccetti presented his own work on collective deliberation in social movements in which he tries to develop empirically observable criteria for assessing the deliberative quality of social movements. His findings also included the fact that in online forums, especially of right wing movements, a considerable percentage of participants is simply not interested in deliberation. Marc Pauly's presentation analyzed different models of consensus-making (one from Sudan's villages and another one from Groningen urban gardens) and compared them to majority decision-making. Pauly also asked whether it would be possible to formalize the different features that distinguish consensus from majority decision making.

Lisa Herzog and Justo Serrano Zamora presented the case study of a German climate camp (see picture) as an example of a "realist epistemic utopia". They showed how participants were able to reconcile their radical democratic ideals with existing differences in expertise by putting at work patterns that create horizontal and inclusive relations despite the differences in knowledge of participants. Mischa Piraud also presented a case study, that of the French village of Saillans. For Piraud, Saillans should be approached as a case of contentious politics that takes place within municipal institutions (and not outside, as is often the case).

Finally, in the concluding discussion, participants expressed their views about current mobilizations around climate change and climate justice. They shared the concern about the possibility of high technocratic approaches to climate problems that leave democratic citizenry out of the search for solutions. They agreed, however, that even if their relation may be complex, both deliberation and social movements (including their non-deliberative elements) continue to play an important role in democratic politics. 

About the author

Justo Serrano Zamora
/staff/j.serrano.zamora/

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