C4 "Sub-urban movements: Social inequality and dynamics of micro-mobilization“

Katja Mielke

Keywords: urbanization, mobilization, social movements, local/urban governance, Kabul, Pakistan

Crossroads Asia’s metropolises constitute melting pots of rural migrants, conflict induced refugees and displaced persons, migrant laborers, and marginalized groups of all kinds in general (based on gender, wealth, ethnicity, political representation etc.). Due to global dynamics and results thereof, e.g. recurrent food item crises and volatile employment situations in the predominant informal, but also formal sectors, urban social landscapes seem to be object to substantial changes. It is assumed that the number of marginalized and impoverished urban dwellers is rapidly increasing. Food insecurity is a growing concern as prices tend to be artificially fixed in cartel-style. Protests due to food price rises are just one visible indicator for a number of locally perceived social grievances. Load-shedding, fuel insecurity, rising prices phenomena in other sectors like public transport and public services, lack of reforms in the education sector have become regular motives for spontaneous protests which often go along with violent escalations. It is in such processes that social grievances are politicized by interest groups from every possible spectrum of local society and merge with already existing cleavages and conflicts. Issues of social discontent thus not only threaten the survival and quality of life of urban dwellers (middle class and poor), but put societal peace and political stability at greater levels under scrutiny. To cope with these challenges the average urban dweller disposes of different strategies: members of the middle class can voluntarily take refuge elsewhere or even decide to emigrate whereas livelihoods of the poor are likely to be object to social downward mobility and result in further deprivation.

The research project departs from the assumption that grievances express collectively perceived deprivation and thus norm conflicts which form the basis of social movements. The aim is to explore non-institutionalized protest and social movements in three metropolises of Crossroads Asia – presumably Kabul, Karachi and Lahore. The focus of investigation is on the process dimension of social (non-)mobilization, especially on discursive strategies, narratives as well as the particular actors, their specific dynamics of mobilization and the results thereof, i.e. forms of conflict mediation through social protest. The motivation of discontent and deprivation (possibly land, political representation, access to resources) is of secondary concern. Following these preliminary objectives the research project aims to contribute to enhancing knowledge in at least three strands of theoretical concepts: (1) research on (new) social movements (political sociology) which forms a desideratum for the societies included in Crossroads Asia, because social movements have been primarily investigated for industrial and Latin American societies so far; (2) the political science-approaches linked with the contentious politics-school (Tarrow & Meyer 1998); (3) a further elaboration of the idea of local governance as emphasizing the social and political self-organization of local societies at micro-scale (Mielke et al. 2010) derived from development studies and political sociology.


Basic references and concepts the project will build on:

Mielke, Katja; Schetter, Conrad & Andreas Wilde (2011): Dimensions of Social Order. Empirical Fact, Analytical Framework and Boundary Concept. Amu Darya Working Paper No. 11/ZEF Working Paper Series Vol. 78 (Bonn: ZEF).

Poletta, Francesca (1998): Contending Stories. Narrative in Social Movements. In: Qualitative Sociology, 21 (4): 419-446.

Stanilaud, Paul (2010-i.E.): Cities on Fire. Social Mobilization, State Policy and Urban Insurgency. In: Comparative Political Studies, December 2010.

Tarrow, Sidney & David S. Meyer (1998): The Social Movement Society. Contentious Politics for a New Century. Lanham.