New democratic movements (IV). The civic culture of the new democratic movements

Notes from the Workshop on New democratic movements, civic culture and the transformations of democracy, organized by the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Barcelona, Spain, on June 18th and 19th, 2015. More notes on this event: new_democratic_movements.

The civic culture of the new democratic movements
Introduced by Donatella della Porta and Mariona Ferrer

Donatella della Porta

The movements initiated in the squares look like they will stay in the long term. They have shown different ways of civic action that are very inclusive, horizontal, autonomous… these values are deeply rooted in important citizen values that anyone can embrace. Inclusiveness, for instance, is crucial for deliberation to take place smoothly.

Pluralism, another value of the new movements, is a continuation of the essence of former movements against globalization, but it is more inclusive than those.

The value of equality is also a continuity with the global justice movement, but it is not as a side return of representative democracy, but now a direct return of direct democracy, of direct participation in politics.

In the new movements there is a need to rebuild a new identity that is not related with past movements, but a new thing. And made of individual nodes in a network, and not made of associations or people being part of associations.

Strong emphasis on solidarity, on reciprocity.

Aim at a transnational diffusion of ideas, the idea of a different democracy, a participatory democracy based on the idea of the commons.

But will political parties tied to the social movements be able to bring on these values when they are in office, or they are in the institutions?

The idea of the commons is strictly related with the idea of consensus, with the idea of discussing probable conflicts and try to find solutions together. The idea of building cities within the city, to reorganize resources, to redistribute them.

Mariona Ferrer

Did a research on how people lived the events and their evolution after to get to the institutions.

The interviews showed a huge commitment with shared values like democracy, deliberation, the importance of listening to the others, equality, respect…

Participants acknowledged that taking part of the assemblies was very time consuming and needed a strong commitment.

Consensus is very well respected, and it is believed to be the way to respect all views and reach agreements, but at the same time consensus was felt like a difficult methodology for big assemblies.

Participants had a critical vision on leadership, and recognised instead the need of facilitators and coordinators of events, commissions, etc. Thus, it was a new kind of leadership, neutral, facilitating, that was expected, and not the usual frontman.

Representative democracy was very negatively qualified, and in the case of Spain, the Transition (the transition from Franco Dictatorship into the actual democratic regime) was also badly criticised.


José Luís Martí: we are finding out that people that were not participating in politics, that were not voting, that were saying that institutions and politicians did not represent them, they were actually not against democracy, but on the contrary, they show very strong values for democracy. We should retune our indicators to better measure what is going on, to see why these people that we labelled as not being interested in democracy were actually saying, with their actions, that they actually did. These people should be recognized as having higher civic values.

David Karpf: if we now witnessed a new movement occupying the streets, but not with these values, would we consider them as part of these new movements, or would it be a new thing?

Marianne Maeckelbergh: horizontal politics will continue to be in many other movements. But the nature of the movements is different and, thus, movements are distinguishable.

Ismael Peña-López: the difference between the social movements that were born in the 15M in Spain, or as Occupy Wall Street in the US, and what will come after is similar to the differences between the Free Software and Open Source Software: the procedures will be replicated, with success and in interesting, genuine and legitimate projects. But the ethos will necessarily be different, and one will be able to identify distinct movements by the distinct ethos attached to them.

Jane Mansbridge: what won’t happen in the next 20 years is that traditional parties or unions will occupy streets. It would just seem anachronistic that old politics would use such new practices. And part of keeping these forms within the boundaries of what’s new, and keeping them as long as possible, is part of trying to keep people into the movement, to keep the momentum of the movement, to try to make it an important part of one’s life and, all in all, to try that people feel that they are being part of History. This needs not be fully conscious: it may just be so, it may just happen, but the underlying idea is that, to mark it as you were part of making History.

Ignacia Perugorría: It is important to highlight the importance of the squatter movement. Many of the methodologies used during the camps and assemblies were already being used at places like Patio Maravillas. People that had participated in squatter movements had already the values of horizontality and consensus.

Adolfo Estalella: occupation was also about creating new infrastructures — one’s own infrastructures — and about challenging private property. In this sense, the occupations and the camps highly resonate with free software in the sense that they also create infrastructures that are needed to reach a specific goal, to be able to work, and at the same time these are community infrastructures that anyone can use and reuse.

José Luís Martí: but is this that different from what happened in the 1960s?

Jane Mansbridge: it is. On the one hand, we have the digital revolution and what comes with it, which is not only a revolution in communications, but a revolution at all levels in society. On the other hand, the economic context cannot be more different: the 1960s were living and economic boom, and everything was possible, while now we are living a dire contraction, where the feeling is that nothing is possible and that there is no future.

David Kapf: is there a certain degree of elitism in these movements, as there is in free software? if one does not have the skills to participate — or to code — can one really be part of it?

Marianne Maeckelbergh: there is a similarity between the 1960s in the US and the new social movements in the sense that they challenge the discipline of the party, the hierarchy of the democracies of that time, they bring in participatory practices, and with these, also new issues come to the public arena like the environment, feminism, racism, etc. which in many senses now resonate in new movements. And like then, there is now a second wave that struggles with keeping the essence of the assembly and the consensus while “scaping” the assembly and trying to get things done.

Jane Mansbridge: a new thing that did not exist in the 1960s is the revival of the concept of the commons and the direct challenge to redefine private property, especially in what are common spaces, common tools, common protocols.

Ismael Peña-López: the granularity of participation was also new, and not only that you could participate in many and different things and ways, but also that it was one’s choice to decide whether to participate in e.g. an assembly in a camp or blogging the whole thing from home. That is, granularity of participation that also came in a decentraized and non-hierarchical way.

Q: It’s interesting to note how the Indignados movement succeeded in gathering different ideologies and sensibilities in political matters. Maybe what they have in common is the common good.

Adolfo Estalella: Maybe. But it may be more correct to say that they have in common the concept of the commons, not of the common good.

New democratic movements (2015)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2015) “New democratic movements (IV). The civic culture of the new democratic movements” In ICTlogy, #141, June 2015. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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