Around the world, democracies are breaking down. Many are being dismantled from within while others face attacks from without. In both cases, the issues underlying democracy’s erosion are not superficial but deeply entrenched and complex. As a result, democracies will not be renewed without considerable effort. Technical fixes imposed from above may slow democratic degeneration, but they cannot reverse it. Rebuilding democracy—fortifying its institutions and advancing its project—takes a movement from below.
Yet, when it comes to social mobilization, democratic societies tend to be apprehensive. A handful of exceptionally civil, organized, and focused social movements may serve as evidence of a dynamic public sphere and a healthy democratic culture. But far more often, democratic governments respond to social mobilization with less enthusiasm, treating it as anything from a nuisance to a threat. After all, what democratic purpose could social mobilization fulfill in a society with fair elections, democratic representation, and independent courts? Given the growing frequency, intensity, scale, and volatility of twenty-first century social mobilizations in democratic societies, it is difficult to see them simply as a confirmation of democratic flourishing or evidence of its undoing. Instead, from Indian farmers to Canadian truckers and Colombian taxpayers, from the Black Lives Matter movement to the Yellow Vests, these mobilizations index social, political, cultural, and economic crises that democratic governments have failed to address. In this context, what is the relationship between social mobilization and democracy? Do loosely networked local protests in disparate contexts share a global anatomy? When are social mobilizations a threat to democracy and when are they the foundation of its renewal?
The aim of It Takes a Movement is to re-examine the relationship between social mobilization and democracy by attending to the stunning complexity and diversity of twenty-first century protests and social movements. The course will employ a global perspective, comparing social mobilizations across different democratic contexts, tracing transnational connections and fissures, and establishing common features. To this end, the course will foster a robust dialogue among students, activists, and scholars assembled from all over the world. Students will leave the course with a deeper understanding of the fraught relationship between democracy and social mobilization as well as new questions and ideas about how it might be productively addressed.
The course will fund a minimum of twenty students and reserves one third of available spaces for applicants from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.