Gromoglasova Elizaveta
Gglobalization and social protest
Publication Type:

ISSN 1728-2756

Today globalization has become a ‘catch-all’ word, often used to explain everything in the contemporary world. However, it still has an explanatory value, if combined with the “meta-level” theories and approaches. In this paper I try to explain why and how globalization impacts mass protest behavior. So, a priori I suggest that globalization processes do matter in contentious politics and their transnationalization. In doing so, I align with a long-standing academic tradition of studying social movements and patterns of their dissemination around the world. What is really new in my approach to the topic is the ‘meta-level’ concepts I use to explain globalization’s impact on mass protest behavior. I introduce the analytical framework heavily based on the concept of ‘consumer society’ in its sociological interpretation. It means that consumption is not only a process to satisfacty basic needs but also a human activity aimed at gaining status in the social structure. Thus, I assume that globalization most directly affects individuals wherever they live and work through consumption, transforming its processes and objects. The impact of globalization on consumer society becomes mostly obvious if we consider the interaction of consumer society and information society and the birth of the digital virtual consumption. So, consumption nowadays determines not only the day-to-day material activities of the millions of peoples. It also strongly affects their dreams and desires. But consumer society produces not only abundance and affluence, but also deficit and dissatisfaction. So I turn to the analysis of the mass protest behavior arguing that the initial point of all the protest whatever kind and scope is the feeling of the dissatisfaction and deficit. The empirical part of my paper contains several case-studies. It begins with the analysis of the 1968 student revolts. I show that the 1968 protest was perhaps one of the first manifestations of the ongoing globalization process that nevertheless wasn’t identified at that time. The 1968 global revolts embrace the First (the USA and Western European countries), the Second (the ‘Prague Spring’) and the Third (Mexico, Jamaica) worlds. I pay special attention to the fact that the student uprisings in Western countries contemporized with the birth of the affluent consumer society in the USA and West Europe. So, I interpret the 1968 student protest as a reaction to the deficit of the freedom in the interpersonal and family relations. ‘Archaic’ social taboos of the 1950s were questioned by the generation of the “1960s” who already enjoyed all the ‘fruits’ of affluence. I continue tracing the impact of globalization on the mass protest movements with another case-study: the 1989 transnational popular uprisings in the former Eastern bloc. In so doing I pay a special attention to the ‘commodity deficit’ in the socialist countries in the late 1980s as one of the factors that galvanized public unrest. It’s commonly accepted tthat the velvet revolutions and the end of the cold war opened a door to the all-embracing globalization process. After that moment the impact of globalization on the birth of new social movements became more complex. During the 1990s it was realized that globalization isn’t a force for good, and therefore it must be regulated and contained. So, the antiglobalization movement started to manifest itself worldwide in a lot of protest campaigns. In my approach I interpret the ideology of antiglobalization movement as mainly a reaction to the inequality and deficits produced by globalization especially in developing countries. In conclusion I briefly trace the newest mass protest campaigns of the 2000-2010s paying special attention to colour revolutions and popular uprisings after the global financial crisis of 2008 (Arab spring, Occupy Wall Street and Euromaidan). I suggest that new means of communication (social media) not only build a new opportunity structure for the social activists, but also allow millions of people to express their identity and become powerful actors and a force of change that couldn’t be neglected by the rulers. The era of ‘virtual digital consumption’ adds a new dimension to the mass protest movements and facilitates their dissemination around the world. Therefore, I conclude by insisting on the returning of the “masses” on the global political scene. 

Keywords: mass protest | globalization | consumer society | social movements | 1968 | student revolts | 1989 | velvet revolutions | antiglobalization movement | colour revolutions | global financial crisis | Arab spring | Occupy Wall Street | Euromaidan |

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