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New Patterns of Mobilization for and against Democracy

Zachariah Mampilly

Zachariah Mampilly is the Marxe Endowed Chair of International Affairs at the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs [], CUNY and a member of the doctoral faculty in the Department of Political Science at the Graduate Center, CUNY. He is the Co-Founder of the Program on African Social Research []. He is the author of Rebel Rulers: Insurgent Governance and Civilian Life during War  [] (Cornell U. Press 2011) and with Adam Branch, Africa Uprising: Popular Protest and Political Change [] (African Arguments, Zed Press 2015).  He is the co-editor of Rebel Governance in Civil Wars []  (Cambridge U. Press 2015) with Ana Arjona and Nelson Kasfir; and Peacemaking: From Practice to Theory [] (Praeger 2011) with Andrea Bartoli and Susan Allen Nan. His writing has also appeared in Foreign Affairs, Jacobin, The Hindu, Africa’s a Country, N+1, Dissent, Al Jazeera, The Washington Post​ and elsewhere. He has held fellowships with the Institute for Advanced Study (New Jersey), the Open Society Foundation, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Fulbright Program.

How do you perceive the general topic in relation to your hub, and how do you relate to other hubs?

I think this is a seminal period in terms of the trajectory of democracy. For a long time, the main narrative was largely about the progress of democracy, the extension of democratic rights and processes to more and more countries, particularly in the Global South. But what we’ve seen is at least a stalling, if not an actual regression, of democratic practices in many parts of the world, including countries in the Global North. As someone who has worked on Africa and South Asia, it’s always been clear to me that this form of democracy promoted by the West, a very particular neoliberal form of democracy, has failed. As a centre, this is a good opportunity to reflect on the causes of that failure, particularly by looking at the responses of societies around the world. We’re seeing, particularly at the grassroots level, a real questioning of the hollow electoralism in which the international community really pushed for elections but did not really reflect on all the other components of what we would regard as a genuinely democratic society. And linked to that, I think, are a whole series of smaller issues like the role of the political party, economic inequality, the question of populism and whether that’s a pro-democratic or anti-democratic force.

As the convenor of your hub, how do you relate to other hubs?

I think all the hubs are fascinating. One of the questions that we’re going to have to deal with jointly is how the question of violence, which has re-emerged not only in the global south but also in places like the United States, shapes the practice of democracy. How does violence intersect with social movements, with political parties, with general trends of populism and economic inequality that we’ve seen.  There has been a belief that democracy is the antithesis of violence. And I think we’re increasingly beginning to recognise that, in fact, even in places like the United States, this supposed divide between democratic politics and violent politics may not be as robust as we once believed.