Negotiating Entanglement: Social Movements and the Practice of Dispute Management

11 Jul to 12 Jul

Coordinators: Bronwen Morgan (University of New South Wales Australia), Amy Cohen (University of New South Wales Australia / Temple), Matthew Canfield (Leiden University)

Description of the meeting

Left social movements are increasingly developing their own practices of mediation and negotiation, seeing these techniques as critical stepping stones for creating their desired transformative communities. As recent ethnographic scholarship has explored, these movements are developing practices of conflict resolution not as acts of resistance to the state, but rather alternatives to the state. For some movements, instantiating new effective forms of conflict resolution are seen as the litmus test that proves one can indeed flourish in diverse communities as if the state does not exist.

This is not the first time that social movements have invented practices of mediation and negotiation to resolve interpersonal disputes or to make collective decisions about movement policy and strategy. In the 1970s and 1980s in the United States, communitarian reformers proposed experiments in community mediation Several hoped that mediation users would discover bases of social solidarity, such as working-class backgrounds and common experiences of subordination, and that they would use these solidarities to resist the imposition of state power–both the state’s penal power and its power as a facilitator of capital. In the 1980s, anthropologists viewed this left turn to informal justice with both sympathetic interest and skepticism. Responding to reformers’ promise of resistance, several scholars converged on the following question: could community mediation reconstruct, or would it reproduce, the power of the state and capital? Indeed, in the 1980s and early 1990s, when analysts were still only beginning to characterize neoliberal governance, anthropologists and sociologists used alternative forms of dispute processing to ask a then-analytically and politically pressing question: as the state delegates and privatizes its roles, how does it simultaneously proliferate its power?

Today, social movements are again turning to questions of negotiation and dispute processing, but in a moment in which the failures of neoliberalism and privatization have created openings on the left to imagine what is possible to build new kinds of social orders.  Early organizers of community mediation coalesced around an explicit set of arguments about how and why to resist state legal and penal systems. By contrast, organizers today are not defining themselves in opposition to the state as much as attempting to enact new forms of relationality beyond it. That is, movement actors speak the language of futurity rather than resistance—taking up diverse political, social, ecological, and economic problems, and attempting to amass a bricolage of practices that hold together enough to build a different future. Movement actors recognize, however, that doing so hinges upon inventing everyday practices of negotiation and dispute resolution that call forth and sustain new social worlds.     

For anthropologists and socio-legal scholars, these practices of dispute resolution offer a shared unit of analysis to examine how people use micro-social techniques to configure broader repertoires of self-governance. More specifically, today, they also offer a way to background questions of domination and resistance and foreground instead how people use prefigurative practices to mediate among social orders that are interconnected and differentiated by porous and actively constructed boundaries. For the movements we aim to examine, social change does not entail a great rupture, miraculously coordinated from above or through a revolutionary ground swelling. Rather it entails a vast number of everyday practices that presuppose current socio-economic structures and yet call forth a new social world alongside other participants who are acting to presuppose and call forth a new world as well. Social change, in other words, is, for these movements, the accumulation of millions of negotiations as people take aspects of a vast reservoir of shared communicative agreements and apply what seems relevant and appropriate to the situation at hand. Thus we ask how people use familiar and new communicative repertoires to open up and renegotiate questions that they see as settled in undesirable ways by legal (or other expert or market) systems. For our fieldwork interlocutors, these open questions include how to account for and distribute surplus, how to address harm and bad behavior, and how to standardize and circulate new techniques for participation, consensus building, and ethical exchange as people themselves work out everyday practices of interdependence and self-governance across value difference.

Inventing Negotiation builds on the anthropology of disputing and legal pluralism and on the work of legal scholars studying social movements and experiments in diverse economies and autonomous self-governance. Our conference will examine and compare four different areas where social movements have invented new, and sometimes extensive, practices of dispute resolution—commons-based social enterprise, food sovereignty, penal abolition, and alternative labor governance.

1.     Commons-based social enterprise: Commons-based forms of social enterprise operate according to principles of economic democracy. In brief, these movements hope to redraw boundaries between the polity and the economy, and to do so, members of participatory enterprises ask: what kinds of negotiated decisions should be made, and according to what kinds of political and economic logics? They may use non-market mechanisms such as democratic deliberation to determine how to control and invest enterprise surplus and how to allocate inputs such as compensating labor, even as they use market mechanisms to distribute the goods they produce. They may create novel accounting practices to track crucial practices of social reproduction such as invisible care work and link these to internal income flows within the enterprise. In practice, however, these deliberative and novel calculative processes may entail intense conflicts, in part because negotiators cannot resolve disagreements by determining which strategy will best maximize profit. Hence participatory enterprises that are building post-capitalist forms of production and distribution are also building post-capitalist forms of dispute resolution.

2.     Food sovereignty: Like participatory enterprises, movements for food sovereignty wish to determine how food should be produced and provisioned through democratic processes. To that end, food sovereignty movements have shifted their focus away from the practices of standard-setting and certification that have long defined the fair trade labelling movement in order to reclaim space for place-based negotiations based on an ethic of “strong relationality”. For example, in 2014, La Via Campesina and other movement actors introduced the idea of the territorial market to the UN Committee on World Food Security in the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). These are local, regional, or national markets characterized by short supply chains where smallholders, traders, consumers, and local authorities are supposed to negotiate commonly shared rules, and where smallholders are supposed to have greater autonomy in negotiating access and price than they do in mainstream global value chains. Movement actors, however, must translate practices of solidarity and reciprocity—expressed among themselves in previously legible and varied communicative forms—into new kinds of general and scalable policy principles that can circulate within international organizations such as the FAO. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has thus recently proposed to work with social movements to “negotiate a set of principles that describe what a fair territorial market means.” To address how the food sovereignty movement is remaking lived social orders, we aim to understand how actors are reinventing the kinds of negotiations and social agreements necessary to ethically exchange locally and across global supply chains.

3.     Movements for penal abolition: Movements of people organizing for prison and police abolition wish to take back control over responding to incidents of harm, conflict, and violence, as they simultaneously organize to hold states accountable for the harms that they have perpetrated against Black, indigenous, and people of color and others through decades of violent punitive mechanisms. Facilitators convene mediative, deliberative interventions often called community accountability or transformative justice processes. These processes ask how people who have caused harm—in particular, intimate and gender-based violence—can meet the concrete needs that survivors articulate, including needs for restitution, reparation, safety, accountability, and perhaps separation. Facilitators, however, confront numerous kinds of lived dilemmas as they negotiate tensions between their commitments to supporting voluntary, autonomous action, on the one hand, and their commitments to creating solidaristic social relations, on the other hand. For example: what happens when survivors wish to use a process to advance punishment understood as the intentional infliction of suffering? How should facilitators inform conversations about how to “right-size” acts of reparations? How should processes  address recalcitrant aggressors and “resistance to accountability”? Facilitators reflexively understand their efforts to grapple with these dilemmas as their own kind of prefigurative practices: governing in the present the world they wish to build, even as it is not yet possible to know what that this world will look like apart from conscious, collective, and often hyper-local practices.

4.     Alternative labour governance: Traditional labour governance follows a corporatist model in which workers collectively bargain with employers through state regimes that seek to manage competing interests. However, as workers reckon with both the decline of labour protections as well as new technologies that reshape the meaning and forms of work, labour organizations are developing innovative approaches to labour governance that emphasize internal modes of collective self-governance which they then seek to deploy and institutionalize in their bargaining with employers. This takes a number of forms including workers’ centers, digital workers’ cooperatives, as well as worker-led social responsibility initiatives, such as those developed through the Bangladesh Accord and Florida’s Coalition of Immokalee Workers, that draw on certifications and standards to privately regulate labor. We seek to understand how new workers’ organizations are constructing new subjectivities and horizons of justice through their internal practices of organization and negotiation. How do they articulate shared visions and strategies amidst technologies and forms of workplace organization designed to facilitate individualization, competition, and conflict? We aim to gather cases that examine how these new labor organizations design disputing frameworks internally to facilitate collective self-governance as well as externally in their agreements with firms.   

 

Our experience in Oñati

Negotiating Entanglement: Social Movements and the Practice of Disputing examined how contemporary social movements are developing practices of informal dispute resolution as part of their struggles for social transformation. Over two days, participants from North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia considered a range of empirical cases seeking to understand how social movement actors imbue their values and visions into practices of disputing, as well as the challenges they face as they seek to institutionalize them into institutions of regulation and governance. The workshop focused on two groups of social movements: movements that seek to create forms of production, exchange, and labor in common, such as alternative forms of social enterprise and labor governance as well as organizations for food sovereignty, and  movements that seek to create alternatives to penal systems bymanaging community-based, gender-based and interpersonal forms of conflict and harm in common. For both kinds of movements, social change does not entail a great rupture from above as much as a vast number of everyday practices that presuppose current socio-economic structures and yet call forth new social worlds. Workshop participants therefore asked how social movement actors use familiar and new communicative repertoires to open up and renegotiate questions that they see as settled in undesirable ways by market, legal, or other professional systems. Ultimately, by analyzing the micro-social practices through which progressive actors negotiate disputes, the workshop aimed to revive longstanding sociolegal questions about the promises and limitations of informal justiceand to recenter the role of disputing in sociolegal studies of social and political change.

For more information: 

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