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Wegweiser: Entwicklungssoziologie / Forschung / Laufende Projekte / Aspiring to Alternative Futures in Times of Crisis: Protest and Utopian Communities in the Global South (Brazil and South Africa)

Aspiring to Alternative Futures in Times of Crisis: Protest and Utopian Communities in the Global South (Brazil and South Africa)

Laufzeit: Oktober 2016 - Oktober 2018

Projektleiter: Antje Daniel



Since the financial and banking crises of 2008, the increasing number of protests has continuously raised our awareness for critiques of economic growth in the frame of the dominant capitalist model of global neoliberal development. In April 2017, protests against austerity politics in Brazil or against the World Economic Forum in South Africa captured these negative effects of neoliberalism, while protesting students in Brazil and South Africa perceive education as subjected to a neoliberal dictate. The behavioral patterns that are associated with neoliberalism, such as individualized behavior aimed at efficiency and competitiveness, are countered by these protests. Likewise, solidarity economies, ecovillages or do-it-yourself communities show that people not only express their dissent by protests, but also develop a capacity to cope with the emerging challenges and aspire to a well-being economy. Urban gardening in South Africa, or forms of solidarity economy and ecovillages in Brazil and India, make this trend evident and can be defined as utopian communities. Thus, social movements and utopian communities all aspire to alternative futures, beyond the dominant neoliberal paradigm. But how can we understand the different collective actors, which have increasingly emerged in recent years? What are the commonalities, differences and interfaces between protest and utopian communities? What do they tell us about coping with an economic crisis which is widely perceived as a global one? Do they result from a neoliberal dictate? What are their future imaginations? Are they perceived by the society? Are there any cross-national similarities? Or do they differ in relation to the particular context?

If we want to understand how collective actors react to the current economic crises in the Global South (Brazil, South Africa), and the emerging future imaginations, we have to investigate both protests and utopian communities. This approach is analytically groundbreaking because, first, it bridges an academic gap between established debates, namely research on social movement and on utopia/utopian communities. Thus, the combination of these will contribute significantly to a new understanding of these theories. Additionally, the combination of social movement theory (sociology, political science) and research on utopia (philosophy, geography, anthropology) manifests itself as interdisciplinary. Second, the research is a response to the rising debate on (post-) decoloniality. The aim of the project is to analyze social phenomena in the Global South which have received little academic attention, as research on utopia and protest has been focused mainly on European and American societies. Thus, the research can overcome the North-South divide by consistently developing Northern theories against the backdrop of Southern cases. The comparative case study approach, in combination with an analytical framework which tests existing concepts, and a research design based on a polyphonic approach, is not only exceptional but also contributes to a needed de-provincialization of the social sciences. The research will contribute to an entanglement of places of knowledge production, instead of opposing the North and the South.

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