Author:Gemici, Kurtulus


The literature on collective mobilization against the spread of capitalism and the market economy describes two types of protest in the global South. (1) The first stems from the emergence of new collective actors who strengthen their bargaining and associational power as a result of the changes capitalism and the market economy have brought about. The second emerges from how capitalism and the market economy destabilize and threaten the means of livelihood of a social group and the social relations and culture that constitute it. Although there are overlaps in studies that examine both phenomena, this bifurcation in the literature parallels a distinction found in Beverly Silver's influential study on workers' movements. (2) In her investigation of labor movements that have organized to protest globalization since 1870, Silver suggests that how globalization makes and unmakes social groups leads to distinct types of contention that she labels as Marx-type and Polanyi-type protests. (3) In this article, we examine the conditions that lead to mobilization against the market when global capitalism and the market economy unmake social groups. We illustrate our arguments with two case studies from different parts of the world, India and Turkey. Through these case studies, we aim to show that a common set of mechanisms underlies what we label, following Beverly Silver's pioneering work, Polanyian contention against the market.

Our argument has three components. First, we argue that the uneven patterns of integration into world markets threaten the livelihoods of many groups in the global South. As the literature on contentious politics and the literature on moral economies suggests, such threats to livelihood are likely to lead to grievances and demands. That is because the march of the market economy and capitalist relations violates particular understandings and expectations regarding economic activities. Second, in line with the literature on contentious politics, we emphasize that frames based on understandings about a group's livelihood are not sufficient for collective mobilization. Collective mobilization for protest occurs through organizational means--resources, social ties, and networks where individuals coalesce around shared demands. Third, we suggest that the ties and networks that the spread of market relations threatens constitute such organizational means for groups that are unmade by global capitalism when these groups feature the socially proximate and dense social relations that are characteristic of tight-knit communities. (4)

Thus, we argue that the unmaking of social groups is likely to be met with resistance when these groups can organize through existing community ties and social networks. We suggest that even in widely varied settings (e.g., farming communities and urban small business zones), divergent grievances (e.g., appropriation of land and a policy that reduces businesspeoples access to credit), and diverse demands (e.g., decommodification of land and cheap credit), a common set of mechanisms fosters the collective mobilization of groups that have been unmade by the spread of capitalist markets.

This article shows that the importance of locality and community is not an anomaly; it is an expected aspect of contentious politics that stems from "the Polanyi problem" in a context where neoliberalism and globalization fragment national political arenas and weaken associational bases of collective action. (5) The combination of neoliberal reforms and market-friendly political regimes constitutes a major obstacle to the formation of novel associations to contest commodification and the spread of market relations. While the global context has an increasing impact on the livelihoods and life chances of individuals and communities, the collective action capacity of various social groups, the objectives of such groups, and the opportunity structure of contention often remain tied to a locality. One of the avowed aims of neoliberal reforms is to improve democracy and participatory power of marginal social groups through the decentralization of decision-making. However, such reforms have led to the appropriation of political power and economic control by local governments at the subnational level. This economic and political reorganization has also served to fragment opposition to privatization and neoliberal economic policies and, in some areas, reinforce fragmented social movements. (6) These trends increase the probability that local connective structures will be the bases of collective mobilization. Thus, we suggest that protests enabled by social ties in local communities should not be seen as anomalies when the consequences of the spread of market relations and commodification are considered.


The ways that capitalism and the market economy make social groups has been an important field of study in sociology since the nineteenth century. (7) The relationship between the making of social groups and the capacity of those groups for collective mobilization has also been a recurring topic, given the importance of the issue for understanding political and social dynamics. (8) Influential works in this tradition have identified two mechanisms that link capitalism and the market economy to a social group's capacity for collective mobilization: workplace bargaining power and associational power. As Silver argues in a perceptive discussion of Marx's views of labor unrest, "although 'the advance of industry' may weaken the marketplace bargaining power of labor, it tends to increase both workplace bargaining power and associational power." (9) Workplace bargaining power contributes to associational power because it increases class solidarity and decreases the dependence of labor on capital. (10) Associational power, or "organizing along the lines of class, identity, or other specific interest," (11) is a crucial determinant of the capacity for political contention because organizational bases provide the connective structures of collective mobilization. (12) It is by no means a foregone conclusion that the advance of industry that accompanies the contemporary spread of capitalism and markets will lead to greater bargaining power and associational power. That is because other political and social factors such as the absence of a collective identity might hinder an increase in the power of working classes. However, in cases where working classes obtain greater bargaining and associational power as a result of changes emanating from the globalization of capitalism and market relations, we observe a greater propensity for collective mobilization. (13)

The mechanisms that link the unmaking of social groups to protest have to do with the destructive effects of commodification and the market economy on social relations. (14) The spread of capitalism, a process that has intensified since the 1970s, has not been beneficial for a significant number of people in the world for several reasons. First, the spread of capitalism and market relations has been uneven. This has left many parts of the world marginalized. (15) Second, large differences among countries in physical capital, human resources, and technological capabilities has meant that in many places, integration with the rest of the world has failed to deliver strong and sustainable growth. (16) Thus, the idea that capitalism lifts all the boats is largely a myth. (17) The findings of several research literatures show that in many parts of the world, economic marginalization, informal employment, and increasing poverty have followed from integration into the world economy. (18) The remarkable triumph of neoliberalism since the collapse of the Bretton-Woods system in the early 1970s has exacerbated the adverse effects of globalization for the middle classes, for workers, and for other social groups that have been sidelined by market-friendly policy reforms. (19)

In other words, the widening reach of global production and consumption chains has displaced the means of livelihoods for many social groups across the world. In contrast to what the proponents of globalization contend, (20) such displacements have not necessarily led to better life chances and improved welfare for those whose livelihoods have been jeopardized. A large body of scholarship suggests that such conditions are likely to generate popular protest against the spread of market relations. (21) The root cause of resistance to the spread of market relations can be analyzed from a Polanyian point of view. Polanyi shows that markets did not become the main coordination mechanism until the second half of the nineteenth century. His analysis vividly illustrates that in the context of nineteenth-century England, the rise of a market society damaged the social fabric. Destructive effects were particularly strong in communities where the commodification of land, labor, and money was rapid. (22) Polanyi cites many reasons why the market was destabilizing, including commodincation, the vagaries of the supply-demand-price mechanism, and the loss of jobs. (23) The causal mechanisms that Polanyi highlights in his discussion of the rise of capitalism and market relations in nineteenth-century England are useful for understanding the destabilizing effects of neoliberal globalization in today's world. One finds that the increasing commodification of social relations is threatening livelihoods in rural and urban communities in places as diverse as China, India, Latin America, and Turkey. (24)

However, threatened livelihoods do not automatically generate collective mobilization. Successful collective mobilization relies on social networks and formal and informal organizations. (25) Empirical research on social movements finds that one of the best predictors of recruitment to and participation in collective action is "links to one...

To continue reading